Child helpline callers' litany of racism

26th July 1996 at 01:00
"I hate myself. I hate my father, he made me black," said one caller to the children's helpline which this week published a shocking report on racism. Child victims of racist bullying describe name-calling, being punched, kicked, spat at and beaten up.

Mary MacLeod, research director of Childline, the free national helpline for children in trouble, based the report on 1,616 callers who identified themselves as being black or belonging to an ethnic minority, or who said racism was a problem in their lives.

She discovered that 430 callers had experienced racist bullying; 247 young people had encountered racism within their families, including 63 callers where pregnancy had resulted from a "forbidden" relationship; 216 had felt religious or cultural pressures; 56 had suffered racist street violence; 26 called about physical, sexual or emotional abuse where racism was a factor; and 14 were experiencing racism at school from teachers or other school staff.

Ms MacLeod says of the child who hated his father because he was black, and other children who had lost their self-esteem: "They felt hated and they felt despised. These feelings were exacerbated by the sense that the views embodied in the harassment were widely held. It is extremely difficult to maintain a sense of self-worth against such relentless persecution as the children here described.

"So it was not surprising, though disquieting, to find that a number of youngsters described feelings of self-hatred and rejection of their colour or culture, and sometimes of their family or parents."

Nineteen of the callers described having attempted suicide or feeling suicidal. This was 4.4 per cent of the sample, a slightly higher rate than the 4 per cent found in the Childline study of bullying across the board.

The 52-page report mainly consists of the children's own descriptions of how they have suffered from racism.

* "I have race problems at school and so does my brother. We're picked on all the time. I get punched and kicked and had my head put down the toilet. "

* "I'm Indian. People at school keep calling me names. . . 'wog', 'paki', 'brownie', 'chocolate drop', things like that. . . there's been physical violence too. . . they pull my hair a lot. . . it's long. . . they spit and burn fags on me. . . my sister gets it too. I feel so angry and depressed. Mum is ill so we don't want to worry her."

* "I'm black and my mum is white . . . She has a new boyfriend who is completely racist . . . He is nice to me when my mum or friends are there, but is horrible when we are alone . . . He says things like, 'You need a bath'. "

Childline offers information and advice to its callers but only meets the children in exceptional circumstances. The report makes 12 recommendations which includes the importance of schools to address racial harassment in their anti-bullying strategies - sadly, some of the most upsetting cases came from rural areas were the caller was the only child from an ethnic minority in the community.

The report also recommends that children should discuss and practise coping strategies for racism; counselling and advice for young people in family conflict; publicly posted information about sources for help in schools and youth, guiding and scouting groups; and anti-racism programmes involving young people themselves. The report ends with the words of Shang, 13, who is Chinese: "I've lived here all my life. . . but I feel left out."

Children and Racism: a Childline study is available at Pounds 3 from Childline (racism report), 2nd Floor, Royal Mail Building, Studd Street, London N1 OQW.

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