Hatred under wraps

8th April 2005 at 01:00
The Scottish Executive is determined to build a climate of ethnic diversity. But most of the country remains untouched by other cultures, and racism lingers beneath the surface. Su Clark reports on the schools that are aiming to turn around attitudes

The abduction and murder of a 15-year-old schoolboy by a gang of Asian men last March in Glasgow shocked the UK. The horror of his attack, a terror drive of 200 miles before he was beaten, repeatedly stabbed and then set on fire while still alive, left people sickened and bewildered. Worse still, it quickly became apparent that it was a racially-motivated crime.

When 20-year-old Daanish Zahid was sentenced to life in December last year, Kriss Donald became the first official victim of racially-aggravated murder in Scotland. Zahid Mohammed, also 20, admitted racially aggravated assault and abducting Kriss. Moves to extradite to Britain three teenagers suspected of involvement in the killing have stalled.

The 15-year-old's death came just three years after Kurdish asylum seeker Firsat Dag was killed when he walked through Glasgow's Sighthill housing estate. His killer, Scott Burrell, escaped a racially-aggravated charge because, according to the Commission for Racial Equality, the charge didn't exist in Scotland then. It does now. These two murders, matched in their brutality but distanced by years, represent to many the symptoms of a spiralling racial hatred.

Yet Scotland, at least on the surface, is far from race war. It has escaped much of the extremism manifest in the political activities and non-political actions of certain groups in England. Until these recent crimes, some Scots believed that racism didn't exist within their country's tolerant borders, despite the real problem of sectarianism.

"There is a complacency in Scotland about what racism means," says Rowena Arshad, senior lecturer at Edinburgh University and director of the Centre for Education for Racial Equality in Scotland. "The country holds on to its democratic, egalitarian credentials passionately, but there is a racism that is less overt: the body swerve, the moving away from someone who is different. Racism is here."

Figures from the Scottish Executive and the Commission for Racial Equality (CRE) in Scotland show that in 2004 reported racist incidents rose to 3,787, compared with 2,705 in 2001. In the Scottish Executive's 2003 survey, Attitudes to Discrimination in Scotland, 56 per cent of people said there was a great deal of prejudice in Scotland. And in an online survey, CRE found that 48 per cent of young people had experienced racial verbal abuse and 17 per cent had experienced racist physical abuse in schools.

Such statistics make it difficult to pretend racism is less rife in Scotland than in the rest of the UK. It also means bad publicity for a country currently spending heavily on its Fresh Talent Initiative, a campaign to attract people from abroad to stop its population dropping to less than five million.

But the Scottish Executive is determined to act, and at the heart of its anti-racist drive is education. "Today's young people are Scotland's future. Our country's reputation will be shaped by their actions and attitudes. That's why it's crucial they understand and value the many cultures, races and backgrounds that make up our society," says deputy education minister Euan Robson.

Scotland is a country used to migration. Throughout history, millions of Scots have moved, forcibly or voluntarily, abroad to England, Europe and the rest of the world. Immigration has not been so fluid. The ethnic minority population is 2 per cent (just over 100,000), compared to an ethnic minority population of 9 per cent in England. Nearly 50 per cent are resident in Glasgow or Edinburgh. It means that in large parts of the country there is a lack of experience when it comes to other cultures, while negative publicity surrounding asylum seekers is fuelling any underlying fear of foreigners.

In 2002, the Executive launched the One Scotland, Many Cultures campaign, and has since been gathering data on racism. Part of the campaign honed in on racism among young people, linking up with schools and other organisations such as Show Racism the Red Card, Heartstone and Young Scot.

"The Scottish Executive is firmly committed to promoting race equality and eliminating discrimination," says an Executive spokesperson. "Scotland can be more confident, successful, prosperous and more just if we find the means to engage all our people in its economic, social and political life."

It is the Race Relations Amendment Act 2000, drawn up in the wake of the murder of black teenager Stephen Lawrence in London, which has had the most profound impact. Since 2002, all public bodies in Scotland, including schools, must promote race equality.

To support this revising, the Executive has funded various organisations to develop anti-racist resources and approaches. It gave pound;98,000 to Heartstone, an art and dance group that works with schools to challenge racism and xenophobia. Based near Inverness, it is working with schools all over Scotland, taking children through the Heartstone Odyssey, which includes stories, dance and a photo library. "We work all over the UK," says its director, Sita Kumari. "But we find it is much easier to engage with children in England, and in Edinburgh or Glasgow, because there is more experience of different races, and a more progressive attitude within schools. There is a lack of confidence surrounding this topic at schools with less diversity. Our work is aimed at building up that confidence."

Funding has gone to the Centre for Education for Racial Equality in Scotland (Ceres) to continue its work of improving race relations through education. The centre recently developed an "anti-racist toolkit" (www.antiracisttoolkit.org.uk), a staff development resource that ensures teachers fulfil the Race Relations (Amendment) Act, and which Rowena Arshad would like to see embedded into education training. Ceres followed this with A Race Equality Audit for Schools, which guides teachers and school managers through an evaluation of race equality promotion.

One of the challenges is the country's lack of diversity. "There is a danger that race relation education in Scotland could simply focus on the festivals and heroes, where races and cultures are depersonalised and dehumanised, especially in areas where there is little experience of other people," says Ms Arshad. "Race equality has to be worked into the curriculum in a systematic way, so that children celebrate diversity, but at the same time understand the reality of racism."

Twenty-eight of Scotland's 32 local authorities have been working closely with Ceres, including some of the more remote communities, to turn pupils into global citizens, even though their experiences aren't hugely international. Tobermory high school on the island of Mull is one of the schools involved in the initiative. Its headteacher, Jenny Des Fountain, has been reviewing her school's approach, to ensure anti-racism is embedded in its teaching.

"While we don't have the range of cultures here on Mull that children may experience in Glasgow for instance, we hope the lessons our children learn will help them appreciate that Scotland is multicultural and to feel comfortable with that and enjoy the experience," she says.

The school held an "equal futures" conference last December for children aged five to 18, with the aim of "celebrating diversity and to raise awareness of prejudice and discrimination". Two teenage Afghan asylum seekers, from Drumchapel high, Glasgow, attended. Workshops ranging from writing anti-racist songs to working with the Show Racism the Red Card initiative gave the children insight into the positive side of diversity as well as the problems of racism. Ms Des Fountain is already recruiting speakers for this December's conference.

Cradlehall primary in Inverness has radically overhauled its reading stock to include core texts that promote diversity and anti-racism, and erected multilingual signs around the school. "We realised there was a lack of global perspective," says headteacher Lawrence Sutherland. "So we amended our approach. When looking at World War II now we consider the role of the Empire, and in Egyptian studies we now look at modern Egypt and tourism."

Cradlehall has also identified ways it can broaden its children's experiences of other cultures, not only by looking to its small but valuable minority ethnic population to enrich learning, but also by linking up with schools in Edinburgh with more ethnic diversity. Farther afield, it raised funds so children who survived the Beslan massacre in North Ossetia could spend four weeks recuperating in the Highlands.

Such activities and approaches may broaden the experiences of diversity for children and young people in Scotland, but no one is naive enough to believe it will cure racism overnight. "It is about giving children the tools to enable them to think for themselves and become global citizens, so they are able to go out into the world and feel confident and comfortable with the different peoples they will meet," says Rowena Arshad.

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