29/06/2016 12:48 BST | Updated 30/06/2017 06:12 BST

Wearing a Safety Pin Won't Stop Racism After Brexit


People are wearing safety pins in solidarity with immigrants facing racist and xenophobic abuse after the referendum result, after a shocking 57% rise in recorded hate crime.

It's a powerful gesture, but I'm not sure it will do much to change the minds of people who hold racist views.

David Cameron has said the UK "will not tolerate intolerance". Damn right, but what are we actually going to do about it? Just say we don't like it, and leave it there? Wear our safety pins and sit back, knowing we've done our bit and made it clear we are not on board with this?

We need more than symbolism, and a report from Tell Mama on Tuesday could offer one answer. It revealed that the majority of perpetrators behind a 200% rise in anti-Muslim hate crime last year were just 13-18 years old.

Think about that - most people committing this abuse are, legally, children.

It's surprising that since the spike in crime after the vote, barely anyone has mentioned education.

Kids aged 13-18 are still in the school system. Gestures like safety pins, or flowers being handed out as happened in Northampton, probably can't reach them, but teachers can.

Diversity and equality is covered in Citizenship lessons, which are statutory on the national curriculum for kids aged 11-16. Surely this needs to be assessed and reconsidered in light of what's going on.

Clues as to other actions we can take have come to light since the referendum. Some - but nowhere near all - of the Brexit votes in dispossessed communities in the north of England were driven by anti-immigration sentiment, reminding us that prejudice is rooted in real problems, often injustice and instability.

It could be the result of a perceived threat to your community, rapid and frightening change to your area, deprivation that leads to the need for a scapegoat, or even (whisper it) situations where immigration really does mean foreigners have taken jobs that non-immigrants wanted (it does happen, though it's been wildly overblown).

We need fewer tokens like safety pins, and more action to get to the core of what's causing this wave of racism. Whichever way you voted in the referendum, keep learning about what's going on in your country. Report hate crime. Campaign for politicians to not just condemn racism but take concrete steps to stop it happening in the first place. If you come across someone who supports the recent surge in abuse, don't just tell them you don't accept their views, ask why. Have a debate, keep the conversation going - it's the only way to help change minds.

We have to actively engage with people we disagree with, because xenophobic attitudes are so deeply ingrained in some areas that they are accepted as normal, as BBC reporter Sima Kotecha discovered after being subjected to a racial slur in her own hometown on Monday.

After being called a 'P**i' by a man in a pub, she spoke to a woman nearby who explained: "Without meaning to sound rude, your skin colour's different. Naive people will look at you at think you're not English. And that's the way people are around here."

By all means, wear your a safety pin in protest, but don't accept racism as just "the way people are".