Eastern European pupils 'more likely to experience racism' after Brexit vote

Teachers dismiss racist remarks as 'innocent banter' because the victims are white, researcher claims

Henry Hepburn

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The “post-Brexit referendum atmosphere” has left young Eastern Europeans in the UK more likely to experience racism in schools, research suggests.

But this is often dismissed by teachers as "innocent banter", according to a researcher involved in the study.

The ongoing research, jointly carried out by the universities of Strathclyde, Plymouth and Durham, is described as “the first analysis since the Brexit referendum on how current plans for Britain to leave the European Union are impacting on young Eastern Europeans’ lives”.

"Eastern European Young People in Brexit Britain: Racism, Anxiety and a Precarious Future" – finds that many of those it surveyed “seem to experience racism on a daily basis in places where they should feel safe such as schools, public transport, parks and shops”.

The “post-Brexit referendum atmosphere” seems to have “made them more likely to experience or witness racism in their everyday lives”, the research briefing states.

'Yelling racist things'

The findings are based on an online survey of more than 1,100 Eastern Europeans aged 12-18 living in the UK for at least three years, as well as discussions with organisations which work with Eastern European young people – including schools – and more than 20 groups of young people across England and Scotland.

Some 77 per cent of those surveyed said they had experienced discrimination as a result of their nationality, accent or appearance. One 16-year-old girl, Marlyn, said that “at school I had people telling me to fuck off back to my country, a girl throwing bricks and rocks at me and yelling racist things and more incidents”.

For some, even though they have grown up in the UK, “uncertainty over the Brexit plans” is making the prospect of moving to another country “increasingly attractive”, although most say they will stay.

The researchers state: “This will mean a loss for Britain’s economy and society, in terms of the skills and knowledge young people have developed in their formative years in the UK.”

Teachers shying away

One researcher behind the project – funded by the Economic and Social Research Council (ESRC) – is the University of Strathclyde’s Daniela Sime, who told Tes: “Many young people say that teachers ignore remarks or dismiss them as innocent banter because they happen between young people who are white or they are targeting white people.

“The cases we have in our research show that racism and hate crime have no colour and whiteness is not a protective factor, as young people stand out through other markers of difference, such as accent or nationality.”

She added: "Teachers can’t shy away from discussing issues of racism, identity and migration with young people for fears of being seen as too political”.

Curriculum re-think

Dr Sime, a reader in education and social policy, said that “an increasingly diverse school population” should prompt a rethink of “what an anti-racist curriculum would look like”.

This, she added, should include discussions around “historical patterns of racism." Some people, for example, suggest that Eastern Europeans’ experiences echoes those of Irish people in the UK in the 1960s – as well the benefits of migration and definitions of hate crime and discrimination.

Dr Sime said schools could also “bring communities together” and “make sure young people born in other countries don’t feel a sense of alienation in the run-up to Brexit”.

Last year’s referendum had made these young people “question their sense of belonging, with feelings of rejection or not being wanted in the UK”, she said. Some were considering moving abroad even though English is their strongest language and, as a result, they worry about how they would cope in another country’s education system.

Dorota, a Polish 18-year-old, told researchers: “I don’t want to stay in the country in which I need to hide my nationality to be treated equally. I’m learning German now so that my job prospects will not be limited after I finish university and move out of Britain.”

The research was presented on Saturday at the Scottish Universities Insight Institute (SUII) in Glasgow, as part of ESRC's UK-wide Festival of Social Science, see bit.ly/FestSocSci

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Henry Hepburn

Henry Hepburn

Henry Hepburn is the news editor for Tes Scotland

Find me on Twitter @Henry_Hepburn

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