Guest post: 'If Britain really is becoming more racist, I fear for my children'
According to a British Social Attitudes Survey released this week, nearly a third of people in Britain admit to being racist on some level. In this guest post, MN blogger Kiran Chug considers what this may mean for her children.
Posted on: Fri 30-May-14 11:35:59
(75 comments )
I can't remember there being a single day or event which made me realise I was different. There was no name-calling or finger-pointing. There was no bullying or spiteful stereotyping. Instead, there was an understanding that dawned on me slowly. It happened when I was at primary school. I looked around and began to notice that there were hardly any other children with skin the same colour as mine.
Over the years, I began to hear the term 'ethnic minority' repeated. I began to learn what racism was.
This week, headlines have screamed that Britain is becoming more racist. The news items have been based on the annual British Social Attitudes survey - which found that 30 per cent of people described themselves as “very” or “a little” prejudiced against people of other races. In 2001, that figure was 25 per cent.
Whether or not the survey's results signify a rising tide of racism is open to question. But no matter how the statistics are interpreted, the survey has captured the attention of news editors for good reason. It comes at a time when the rhetoric of racism is edging its way back into our mainstream.
Many of us have spent this week digesting the gains made by UKIP thanks to voters swayed by their firm stance on immigration and Europe. As the swell of support for the far-right across Europe becomes unmistakeable, we watch police clear migrants from camps in Calais. If the raw data from the British Social Attitudes survey isn't enough to convince us that racial prejudice is worming its way back into our lives, then perhaps these events should give us pause for thought.
And then, after the shock and fear, there is always sadness.
Sadness, because racism is a blatant repression of diversity. And it is through diversity that we learn, we grow, and we celebrate each other. Without diversity, we go nowhere. Without nurturing diversity, we silence each other and ourselves.
As a British Indian, I read all of this news with a with a heavy heart. It prompted in me a familiar feeling. Fear.
My fear doesn't come from hearing racist taunts. It doesn't come from being the victim of racist attacks. In fact, I would struggle to recall a single instance where I have been treated badly because of the colour of my skin. But that doesn't make me any less afraid.
I was blind to skin colour as a young child. But as I gradually realised that I was one of only a few pupils with dark skin in my school, I felt alone. I felt different. I felt like a significant part of who I was couldn't be expressed. This wasn't because of any outright repression of my identity by others. But it was, perhaps, because I felt that the easiest way to gloss over difference (because don't all children want to do that?) was to concentrate on the parts of life that were the same.
Later, at secondary school, at parties, at sports clubs, at university socials, at corporate events - it was this same feeling of being alone that haunted me. I didn't experience outright racism. But I knew, often, I was noticeable for my skin colour. I also, conversely, felt part of me was invisible. I felt again like a section of my identity wasn't being recognised. A part of my voice, the part which set me aside from the rest of the room, wasn't being heard. That part was instead being ignored - perhaps because life was easier that way.
Certain events over the years have made me fear racist attitudes despite never being a victim myself. The blatant hatred which followed 9/11 shook me. I worried for the safety of my family. Every racist crime which makes its way onto our news channels still has the power to do the same.
My first feeling is always shock. I question how a person can have so much hatred for another, simply because of the colour of their skin or the place they were born. It is, to me, incomprehensible. The fear comes afterwards, because there is a power in hatred which makes me afraid.
And then, after the shock and fear, there is always sadness. Sadness, because racism is a blatant repression of diversity. And it is through diversity that we learn, we grow, and we celebrate each other. Without diversity, we go nowhere. Without nurturing diversity, we silence each other and ourselves.
When I read about racism in Britain, I feel fear. And now that I also have two young children, I also feel immeasurable fear on their behalf. It sickens me that they could ever be treated unfairly because of the colour of their mother's skin. And, as well as the fear, I feel sadness for them. They deserve, like every child, to grow up in a world where their voices aren't silenced. They deserve, as we all do, to grow up being themselves.
By Kiran Chug
I was on the tube last week with DD, on our way to the Natural History Museum. An older man got on with his wife and muttered a comment about "bloody foreigners", directed at some young lads on the train. I pulled him up on it, calmly stating that I didn't like that he swore in front of my child, or his casual racism. He wouldn't look at me, until he got off at which point he leant over me (I was afraid he was about to give me an earful) ... and apologised!
I am sharing this incident here to just say that I am trying to model for my daughter that kindness is best, and that people who are racist/sexist/just horrible should be called out on their behaviour. There is no place for racism in modern Britain.
There have been a few threads about how horrified people have been by UKIP's gains at the election.
What I'm trying to say (perhaps not very well!) is that I feel really bad that in 2014 that racism is even an issue, and that I hope things improve in the coming years... Everyone can do their bit to model appropriate behaviour for their kids - and schools should clamp down much harder on the insidious playground comments etc to support our young people to become non-racist adults.
It's interesting that you fear racist attitudes without ever having experienced racism. This is similar to the attitude that young women can never go out alone at night even though the most violence is committed against young men. I have constantly fought against media-inspired fear because I cannot stand the way it manipulates us. Crime is rare; violent crime is extremely rare, and yet we all seem to live in fear. The problem is within ourselves. Racism is rare in this country and we are very lucky, but I agree we must fight it wherever we see it. And fight the stupid and insidious power of the media.
I do believe that people should be colour blind, but I also question whether that isolation you experienced is all that unique to you and is possibly something every child or teenage might face.
I've got a serious illness and every inconvenience in my body gets blamed on that. Sometimes right and sometimes unfairly. I can't help wondering if your isolation falls into that sort of category.
It's all about balance. I have been on the receiving end of 'positive racism' if there is such a thing! Where at work indian women excluded me by refusing to speak English (against work policies) and of course I was the only one unable to speak their language. But it doesn't make me live in fear of Indian women, I just accept that women of all shapes and sizes (and colours) can behave well or poorly.
Only three responses to this thread and Kiran's experiences are already being dismissed as not about race - how sad.
And I think it proves a point, actually.
Unless you actually possess a brown face, I don't think you can pretend you know what it's like to be the only brown person in the room, and so I think people shouldn't be do quick to dismiss the - very valid - fears of a mother like Kiran.
Racism is rare in this country? Well, that is patently untrue, and the aforementioned survey proves this.
Diving - I felt like that with a white face.
Was just pointing that out as it's easy to use a problem as the scapegoat for everything.
But in saying that, you are not only projecting your own - very different - situation onto someone else, but dismissing their views and experiences as invalid. I get the impression that you're saying "suck it up love, everyone feels isolated and discriminated against".
Its saddening and sickening that racism is rearing its ugly head in this country and in Europe again. I have a friend from Ecuador who doesn't speak English. She was walking home from work one day and an English lad asked her a question, she shook her head to say she didn't understand and he started to harrass her, and eventually spat in her face, I'm completely disgusted that this happened, my friend was completely distressed and upset, but doesn't feel like reporting this would make any difference because people don't take this seriously as she doesn't speak English.
I was never worried about racism until I had two babies. My husband was not racially abused and I did not worry about him because he is an adult, I reasoned, and presumably had learned how to live as a 3rd generation immigrant. As soon as I had children I felt a little afraid though, but it soon passed, as when they went to school where there are children of every possible colour and religion, they have not encountered any problems.
Diving - your impression is very very wrong.
"Suck it up love" is not my style it's too fishwifey for me.
But now that you mention it, yes I do agree a lot of people are discriminated against: for age, religion, hair colour, gender ... the list goes on. But I didn't say that, you did!
Please don't put words in my mouth. If you take my experience of Indian women excluding me because I don't speak their language as me trying to devaluate racism then you need to re-read it.
This time with understanding
Kate - I'm really glad you feel less fear for your children and that they're having no problems at school. I agree thats how it should be
I don't really understand this article. Despite never having been discriminated against, the writer desperately fears discrimination. She says she felt alone simply because the colour of her skin was different from the majority. But that does not make the majority racist.
Inexplicably, her article assumes that the 30% of people who are racist are all white. She says they may object to her children "because of the colour of their mother's skin". She does not consider the possibility that there are those who might object to her children's father's white skin.
She says that "The blatant hatred that followed 9/11 shocked me". Personally I was rather more shocked by the blatant hatred that caused nearly 3000 innocent people to be murdered In horrific circumstances. Yet I too experienced the horrible reaction in Britain to these murders. In the East End of London the following day, British Muslims were openly brandishing newspapers showing the Twin Towers alight and laughing with glee. It was truly sickening.
Racism in all shapes, colours and sizes must be stamped out. Biased and divisive articles such as this one do more harm than good. In circumstances where the writer has never experienced racism in Britain, perhaps she would be better placed celebrating her experience of Britain as an inclusive and accepting society and promoting that as an example to her children.
No, in act I had glossed over your anecdote entirely
I also question whether that isolation you experienced is all that unique to you and is possibly something every child or teenage might face
It was this I'm referring to. I'm not here to argue and pick apart anyone's posts (despite how it appears) but I find it offensive when people try to dismiss a person's experiences as invalid, or as being "over sensitive" (ArgyMargy also said similar in their post). Why would you do that?
I've been reading an absolute raft of similar responses to feminist articles about the Elliott Rodger murders. "Misogyny? Don't be ridiculous, he was just crazy. Typical feminists, etc"
I fail to see the difference here. People are too willing to accept that prejudice and hatred is real and insidious. Perhaps because they would rather believe we live in a more tolerant society?
I think there is a lot of confusion about the use of the word "racism" and I don't get why the OP is so focused on skin colour. The uk is so blended with 2nd 3rd generation immigrants and mixed races now, plus with Eastern European immigrants, it is not possible to distinguish who is british or not by skin colour.
I feel the recent raise in "racism" is more to do with stereotypical behaviours associated with muslins and immigrants than skin colour. This is due to the failure of Labour to have controlled immigration policy in place and the resentment has been brewed up over the years with over political correctness, and as recently as a couple of years ago, I still remember as soon as anyone raise any concerns about immigrations they are immediately shouted down as "racists".
I speak as a British person, albeit an immigrant from 33 years ago, with dark skin myself. I do not feel that my skin colour makes me less british, or less entitled to be here. And it doesn't automatically mean that I don't have concerns about immigration in this country.
Divingoffthebalcony - glad you admit that you glossed over it entirely. I half expected you might try to pretend you had not been that ill-informed about what I was actually saying.
And to try to pick one section from the context of everything that I said, is equally poor reading on your part.
And nothing to do with feminism or murderers! Perhaps it is not so much divingoffthebalcony as much as it is divingoffthedeepend - at the wrong end of the pool!
Personally I don't feel the country is becoming more racist but there are growing concerns about immigration and these are greatly fuelled by the media. As for the writer's concerns anyone who is noticeably different from the majority feels isolated and self conscious, I know this as I am 6 foot 2 , not a day passes without some comment being made on my height. Strangers crack jokes about me and make comments, even around my friends and family I feel awkward. I'm not going to even mention high school. Just like the author I too worry for my children and how society will treat them. No I don't know what it's like to have a brown face but I do know about being different.
Think what is missing here is that the THREAT of racism, whether perceived or actual, is worrying to any person that may be at the receiving end of it. I haven't experienced any openly racist treatment in the UK but then again I live in London, a cosmopolitan hub! I have elsewhere outside of the UK though. I grew up in the seventies and at school there were a few names called but it never affected me as I didn't take it seriously and had good friends. Though if anything happened I did sometimes question if it was due to my ethnicity (not wanting to make it sound trivial but in an Ali G style "is it because I is black" kind of way...). Having said that my Dad was of the sort who would have preferred me to be married off to a man from the same heritage - obvs didn't happen living in the melting pot
Diving I did not mean to dismiss the OPs experiences and I'm sorry if my post came across as insensitive. It just strikes me that just because the Daily Mail says we are a racist society does not make it so. Similarly I do not recognise our society as rampantly sexist - in 30 years of employment I have never experienced sexual harassment or blatant sexism. Maybe it's just me...
It is getting frightening, IMO. Especially now with social media allowing you to see inside people's minds like never before. It's easy to think everyone's nice and tolerant until you get a glimpse into their thoughts.
A friend's husband posted something really nasty about the hijab on Facebook earlier and I reported it. FB didn't deem it offensive and let it stand.
I fear for my children, because UK is becoming less tolerant of immigrants. You don't see it when you look at us; DH is German and we are both white. We speak German, with each other and with the kids. I worry that they will be abused by idiots, that they will be called 'Nazis' or 'Krauts'.
I've rarely experienced negative comments, but I do worry that the chance of this happening will increase due to the rise of far right elements in our country.
It is impossible to really know what it is like, to live in such an atmosphere when you don't just sound different, but you look different too.
Just because she has never been racially abused, doesn't mean that the OP is unreasonable to feel nervous about the changes in political atmosphere.
I used to live in a predominately non white area and I was called a 'white so and so' a number of times, and suffered a direct violent attack when I was pregnant.
The only way I got over this was by focusing on all the people I knew who were funny, tolerant and kind; people from all different classes, and racially diverse. I realised, and still believe, that these are the majority in England, people just getting on with it and making the most of their lives.
TBH OP, I take these surveys with a big pinch of salt-no one has ever asked me or anyone I know these questions!
Also, I think it is of the upmost importance that we start celebrating our similarities instead of our differences.
Lindor- people are worried about the scale of immigration, not immigration per se. The far right will not rise here, in fact, the BNP have lost their seat. England is not a country where fascism could rule.
The ending of the scandalous and racist neglect that has left working class white boys at the bottom of the table for academic achievement;
This is what the bnp would do
Mind you also on their website that call for
( their question mark not mine)
DH and I both fear for our children. DH grew up being persecuted for his ethnicity, he moved to this country due to that ethnic persecution, as did many if his close family. I am white British.
I live in London, but would love to move out to get more space, and yet we are concerned about where we choose to go in case we experience racism.
Racism is alive and well, DH has been shouted at for being a "paki" in the south west of the country twice. My parents who are in their 70 s and live in the south west, had their garage door daubed with graffiti shortly after DH was screamed at from a passing car, whilst he stood in their driveway. I do not think that this is coincidence. DD1 has been told that she has the wrong coloured skin at school (in London). DH has experienced a glass ceiling in his previous workplace, where he worked incredibly hard and wondered why he was not being promoted. He checked one day on the org charts and realised that he was the most senior ethnic minority in the organisation. This organisation was not small, it was a national concern, that had been public sector and still received government funding for its operations.
When DH was applying for jobs 10 years ago he got no responses until he shortened his name on his CV to something that is easier to pronounce. Within days of doing this, he got asked to interview.
So yes with the views of the likes of UKIP being openly supported, under the guise of limiting immigration, plus Britain first combined with our first hand experiences of racism in this country, I definitely understand the concerns that the OP has expressed.
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