It’s up to all of us to prevent hate crime

There is one childhood memory which will always stick in my head. Aged 8 or 9 our headteacher at primary school sat us down and told us about the first black child to enter our school. We were given a pep talk us that this boy was no different to the rest of us and that we were to treat him as an equal. This was middle class Surrey in 1982.

What I have seen and heard since the referendum in various parts of the UK has made me thing that in some ways we have not moved on when it comes to dealing with hatred and bigotry.

A French friend of mine was told last November to “F..k off back to France” after having his head beaten badly by youths in Hampshire, near where I went to University. A Polish schoolgirl committed suicide in Cornwall after being bullied earlier this year. A Spanish man was badly beaten for talking Spanish in Bournemouth last year. MPs have reported Polish children being spat at in school. There are more examples one could cite of the impact of the referendum vote has encouraged bigotry and hatred against EU citizens.

Daniel Hannan and Tory MEP and arch-Brexiteer has protested that the country has not become more racist since the referendum. There is no problem it would seem, all is well. No problem of course unless it is your Dad who was the one who was beaten up, or your daughter who ended their own life. One person’s statistic is another person’s loved one.

So what can we do?

Quite simply we need to challenge racism and xenophobia at its core. At a recent family event I was told that “we didn’t need foreigners”. Someone else told me that parts of Lincolnshire have an “immigrant problem”. A local Tory association in a part of my constituency was last week re-tweeting Katie Hopkins. Last year after leaving a Comments through the door of a local house, an elderly lady spent twenty minutes ranting at me. We need to send all black people home she snarled. Like my best friend who has a PhD and works for a big bank I enquired ? Yes she replied. It turned out she was a retired Geography teacher.

In all cases I could have walked away. But something inside of me said no. I remembered back to my head teacher and felt that the easy thing to do is to let this go unchallenged.

Giving up is easy when faced with a problem. Malcolm Gladwell in the book Tipping Point recounts the story of how David Gunn, Director of the New York subway heads tackled graffiti in the 1980s. A carriage which had been graffitied had to be cleaned at the end of the line before entering service again. By clearing graffiti from the trains, the theory was to send a clear message that   the vandals would not win. Eventually the subway network became graffiti free.

How about if we took that approach to racism and xenophobia ? If every time we heard a colleague, a family member or a friend speak in a way which we felt was xenophobic or racist, we called them out for it, even if it meant causing embarrassment. Or we wrote to IPSO when the tabloids made false claims about immigrants?

Or if we immediately kicked out politicians from political parties when they fell short of the standards of decency that we expect from them?

And finally perhaps a more radical solution. Every secondary school could invite parents in to watch the film Missisipi Burning with their children and have a topical discussion on what it means to them.

Racism and xenophobia will exist in our society for as long as it is allowed to.

Just as those New York trains can be scrubbed clean of graffiti, we can all work together to try to end the scourge of racism in our society. If we all took up the challenge at home, when with our families, with our friends, with our colleagues, with the media and with our politicians, who knows what we could achieve. Nothing is impossible.

* Chris Key is dad of two girls, multilingual and internationalist. Lib Dem member in Twickenham who likes holding local council and MPs to account.

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3 Comments

  • Lorenzo Cherin 23rd Sep '17 - 5:16pm

    Chris writes a very poignant article.

    I do not know if more people are victims or more of those are very keen to be heard and taken seriously now because of the Brexit fiasco.

    The problem started when the immigration levels were peaking at the same time the economy was crashing.

    High immigration in good economic times for that country the immigrants settle in, works.

    When that country experiences an economic catastrophe it is the immigration that gets blamed.

    Whether there is a correlation or not an often there is not it is when the immigrant is blamed that we see horrors , in history , leading to fears now.

    We need more of what Chris alludes to.

    More from us all to build a better understanding.

    It needs the end to austerity and cuts.

    But not a return to boom and bust!!

  • Peter Martin 27th Sep '17 - 11:29pm

    “Daniel Hannan and Tory MEP and arch-Brexiteer has protested that the country has not become more racist since the referendum.”

    It has though. But what do you expect if the centre-left has no words of criticism for the EU and leaves the field open to the extreme right?

    There’s been no coherent centre-left opposition to, or even constructive criticism of, the neoliberalism/ordoliberalism of the EU for many years now. What happened in 2015, regardless of any opinions we may have on the merits of the argument, when Greek people were deprived of access to their bank accounts was just appalling. The so-called moderate left said next to nothing. There would have been plenty opposition if the UK government, in the event of a major dispute between Westminster and Holyrood, had treated Scottish people is a similar way.

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