As a voluntary Director of Northamptonshire Rights and Equality Council (NREC), an organisation that provides anti-discrimination casework and campaigns against hate speech, I am aware both of the invaluable work such organisations do and the precarious economic environment in which they do it. I should at this point make it clear that it is with this hat on that I write - a colleague has expressed displeasure that my anti-discrimination "activism" risks the reputation of our Faculty so I must make it clear that the views expressed here, and elsewhere, are not necessarily those of my employer.
I hadn't until July of this year experienced a hate incident as a victim, and I angrily blogged about this at the time, here. Although I have received some criticism for the tone of the blog it was written in anger, through tears, and the loathing I express of those who sang racist songs at me was how I felt - I could try to temper the expression of my rage but why should I?
The blog received some attention and in the days that followed the local BBC radio station led their morning chat show with an interview with me and a discussion on racism. The police got in touch and friends in NREC organised a solidarity event. In a short blog, here, I summarised the early responses and I was positive about the attitude of both the landlady of the pub where the hate incident occurred and the police, however as the attention given to the incident has risen the landlady of the pub's attitude has changed from apologetic, to combative, to silence.
Because of my knowledge of the law and policy in this area and my white and class privilege I was able to make my voice heard and seek support. The landlady of the pub involved did bar the perpetrators for a weekend. The police, offended that I had said in my first blog that I anticipated an ineffectual response, promised to speak to each of those involved, although more than two-weeks after the incident and 11 days after they spoke to me the latest update is that they "will do soon". NREC organised a solidarity gathering and 14 anti-racists met and we went back to the pub for a drink.
I take some satisfaction from these small gains, but these are small gains. The police had the time to be present for the solidarity gathering, but not yet to speak to those spewing vile hate. The perpetrators were already back in the pub drinking when we went in and seemingly took pleasure in coming out to stare at us as we drank our drinks in the beer garden - the policy on children in the lounge area of the pub having changed coincidentally close to our arrival. A work colleague has accused my 'activism' of being unbecoming of a lawyer, although it is clear to me that saying that the law is limited to the legal process and activism has no role is akin to saying that democracy is limited to the ballot box and campaigning has no role. Law is not an objective truth isolated from the social reality in which it functions, nor is it a synonym for justice. The law allowed for the ownership of slaves, the criminalisation of homosexuality and the oppression of women and in circumstances where the law falls short it is the responsibility of those who study, practice and teach it to do so critically. Further, the law does not provide answers to all events and in the case of freedom of expression it permits pretty vile things to be said in public, but it also permits others to challenge and condemn and I welcome healthy dialectic as I argue in a previous blog, here.
I have a loud and powerful voice, I have privilege, I felt uncomfortable but never afraid, I knew what to do and what to expect, I had supportive friends and colleagues yet facing up to hate speech directed at me and dealing with it afterwards has been harrowing and my achievements minimal. Those that regularly face hate are usually the vulnerable, they're usually scared, they don't know what to expect and they may be isolated. Victims of hate often experience it in the communities they live or the spaces they work, not going back is not an option. Organisations like NREC provide support, advice and safety yet their very existence is threatened as their funding is slashed by a government wedded to the failed ideology of austerity who do too little to protect the most vulnerable. Organisations like NREC however continue to exist and will support individuals who face discrimination and hate, they can advise on how to proceed, take on employers where appropriate and equally protect anonymity when necessary. Despite me not getting full satisfaction I would strongly encourage everyone to discuss their experiences of discrimination or hate with their local anti-discrimination organisation and if you haven't experienced them that you get in touch and ask how you can help.