International Day for the Elimination of Racial Discrimination

International Day for the Elimination of Racial Discrimination

March 21, 2019

I started writing this blog last week. I was going to tell you about the racial discrimination I had experienced during my lifetime and how, in my opinion, discrimination had and had not changed. I was going to write about my experiences in the private sector and the similarities (and differences) I have observed during my more recent experiences working for UpRising and in local government. How hard it can be to recognise institutional racism and how we can break down the structures that enable it.

And then I woke up last Friday to news of the terrorist attacks in Christchurch.

Like you, my heart sank at the news. I have visited New Zealand a few times since my sister moved there 10 years ago. The country is beautiful, the people laid-back. I was always struck by the other worldliness of the place: it seemed so far away from the madness of the western world. But even this haven is not safe from extremism.

Obviously this attack was at the very extreme of racial discrimination. Any type of prejudice has a spectrum which ranges from unconscious thoughts through to conscious actions. I don’t believe that anyone is completely free from prejudice, but our ability to identify our own unconscious bias and avoid discrimination (treating people differently) is of utmost importance.

Our prejudices are formed by our upbringing and experiences. I believe that our fears underpin our prejudices, and the more we broaden our experiences, the better prepared we are to fight those fears.

The media has an important role to play. Much has been said by commentators over the last few days of the presentation of the white terrorist responsible for the attacks: pictures of the attacker as a blonde, blue-eyed boy, asking how this “angelic” child could become a white supremacist, contrast starkly with the presentation of Islamist attacks.

This isn’t a new phenomenon. The presentation of people from a BAME background has been skewed in the media, sometimes subtle, sometimes not. Analysis of Asian grooming gangs question upbringing and culture; yet when white paedophile gangs are jailed there is no similar probing. When black children die on our streets from knife crime, our media does not demand action until white faces are on the front page. Editors allow columnists to call our capital “Londonistan” or encourage people to blow themselves up in Tower Hamlets as it is away “from where the rest of us live”. Politicians are given column inches and allowed to mock Islamic dress. Journalists get away with blaming absent fathers for crimes conducted by black youths.

Again, we’ve heard a lot over the last few days about the role of social media. Anyone can now voice their opinions and gain validation of those views with a number of clicks and likes. The policing of accounts is limited: look how long it took to get Stephen Yaxley-Lennon to be banned from social media. Hate speech is allowed to flourish, unsubstantiated and unchecked.

Concerns are raised, but action does not follow.

Given this, the rise in white supremacist extremism is unsurprising. But where are the calls for Prevent programmes? Where is the demand on the white community to help solve the problem? Where is the screening, the revoking of citizenship, the deportations, the Guantanamo bay, the demand for integration, the condemnation of the Far-Right?

I’m not saying that this is what’s needed, afterall, an eye for an eye leaves the whole world blind.  But quite clearly the difference in treatment by the media and our leaders of different types of extremists is discrimination in itself.

So how do we eliminate discrimination? How do we fight against the powerful, the gatekeepers of power and influence?

I wish I had the answer. But this is my view……

We go back to our spectrum of discrimination and we start with ourselves. We look at our own lives and spheres of influence. We challenge behaviours, call-out hypocrisy and do not tolerate discriminating talk and actions. We broaden our friendship groups and learn from those we would not normally mix with. We encourage diversity and inclusion in our workplace and our groups and associations.

Beyond that, demand better from the media. Demand better from your leaders, write to your MP. Report hate speech in all its forms. Prosecute hate crime. Sign petitions. Campaign. March. Follow those who promote tolerance and inclusion. Unfollow those who promote fear and division: drown out their voice.

I don’t believe I will see the elimination of racial discrimination in my lifetime. The fact we still need a Black Lives Matter campaign is proof enough for me. But I am hopeful that my niece and nephew will grow up in a world where they are treated equally, without fear, and with every opportunity available to them.



Photo by Spenser on Unsplash