Culture of acceptance

6th December 2002 at 00:00
Last Saturday was the deadline under the Race Relations (Amendment) Act 2000 for local authorities to have policies promoting race equality in place. Raymond Ross talks to human rights lawyer Aamer Anwar about racism in education and visits schools which have outstanding policies

Scottish schools are institutionally racist and are failing black pupils, says leading civil liberties lawyer Aamer Anwar, who represented the Chhokar family in their fight for justice over the murder of their son Surjit. He says the Race Relations (Amendment) Act 2000, which came into force in April 2001, will make little difference.

The Act gave local authorities a statutory duty to promote race equality and required them to have their policies published and in place by this week. But Mr Anwar says: "No local authorities are up to scratch yet with the amendment.

"They are saying, alongside central government, that it can be implemented without extra funding. But if it is to be meaningful and not just a tick in the box exercise, they will need resources from central government.

"Racial equality education has to be embedded in the mainstream curriculum and racism needs to be addressed in the way sexism and homophobia are."

As well as implementing racial equality education, Mr Anwar says there should be "a wholesale restructuring of the curriculum to put black history in the mainstream", that the number of exclusions and suspensions of black pupils needs to be monitored and that racism in and around schools - perpetrated by both teachers and pupils - needs to be tackled head on.

"It's too late for the softly, softly approach, the steel band and samosa approach. I'm afraid holding hands just isn't enough.

"People in schools and in charge of our schools are putting their heads in the sand. But with the murder of Imran Khan in Shawlands a few years ago and recent attacks on asylum seekers in Glasgow, it should be apparent this is a bomb that is waiting to explode.

"Tackling racism means dealing with it institutionally, not just doing multi-racial education," he says.

Mr Anwar says he gets complaints every week about teachers behaving in a racist manner towards pupils but nothing is ever done. "I know of no teacher in Scotland who has ever been disciplined, who has ever been dealt with properly.

"Like the police, schools investigate themselves and complaints of racism are not taken seriously," he says.

While a cocky young white boy might be seen as talented or precocious, Mr Anwar says a cocky young black boy is more likely to be seen as trouble. There are no figures on the number of black children excluded or suspended. Establishing these figures should be a priority, says Mr Anwar, who believes the "hidden" amount is "horrendous".

He says a lot of black children move from schools because they have been subject to racial abuse which has not been taken seriously and also that a lot of parents are subject to racism by schools.

"Since September 11 last year, a lot of Muslim pupils - and Scotland's black population is mostly Muslim - get called 'Taliban' or 'Bin Laden' and so forth. We need a consistent programme across the country to tackle this and issues like it."

Mr Anwar views the Race Relations (Amendment) Act with "a healthy cynicism".

"Legislation is one thing but cases need to be funded. We need more legal aid channelled to help those who are complaining of racist treatment because they are often very poor.

"You also have the problem of finding lawyers to represent them. A lot of lawyers won't take this kind of work," he says.

Although there have been major improvements in multicultural education over the past 15 to 20 years, Mr Anwar argues that there is still a need to teach black history, not just Euro-centric history. "There have been black people in this country for 200 years," he says. "There are good teachers, yes, but the approach to black history is still very much ad hoc, a tagged on extra. That's patronising to both black and white pupils."

He adds: "No child is born a racist. Somewhere down the line someone fails them: parents, schools, teachers. Racism must be tackled in all schools, whether they are all white, mostly white or largely multiracial.

"No one should give up on a child. Schools have a heavy responsibility and they are not facing up to it.

"When school closes at four o'clock, black kids still go one way and white kids another. They are not mixing and that's storing up problems for the future. We need to break this down."

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