Black and white;Leading Article;Opinion

23rd July 1999 at 01:00
IF RACIST incidents had been proportionate to the reams of paper produced on the subject, the problem may well have been eradicated by now. In education, however, the Scottish Executive's action plan (page four) demonstrates precisely why racism persists and raises the question of whether this week's fine words will butter any parsnips.

Progress is to be engineered by advice, guidance, monitoring, recording, promoting opportunities, reviewing existing approaches. Such policies and strategies are precisely those which education authorities have been attempting to pursue for the best part of a decade. Yet, although the focus of the latest initiative is the police rather than education, we still need an action plan.

It is, of course, to be welcomed that Scottish ministers are giving a stronger lead on this issue than probably at any time in the past. New Labour's fondness for task groups, action plans and targets has found yet another promising outlet. None the less Jim Wallace, the Justice Minister, is to be commended for a rare ministerial recognition - "the problem is that for far too long we have been complacent in Scotland, seeing racism as an English problem". In Scotland, indeed, the English can be victims which demonstrates this is not just a black and white issue.

The issues are, of course, complex - not least the definition of what constitutes a racist incident, as Glasgow's education department noted in a report in January. This implies staff training, certainly in schools as Glasgow is pledged to do. For that reason among others, the decision to collate racist incidents at authority but not school level is welcome. But this should be revisited once schools gain confidence and consistency.

It is only when the public at large is sensitised to the consequences of racism that real tolerance will be possible. That means a real learning curve for majority communities. The Educational Institute of Scotland summed it up succinctly in its report: "It is everybody's business."

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