Man's inhumanity to man will not win

3rd March 2000 at 00:00
Soon after Fundo Mhura arrived in Scotland from Malawi as a toddler, he solemnly announced to his mum, Tamara, that he would like her to give him a new nose and straight hair like the other children. Today he is 6 feet tall, well-built, and a star of the Holy Rood senior football team. Far from yearning for more European features, Fundo booms with laughter at the enhanced status he enjoys in school and on the football field because of his colour.

Like many of his contemporaries, he aspires to a career in professional football, and likes to hear the visiting emissaries of senior clubs appreciating his skills. "Look at that big black guy play," they mutter.

Fundo is popular in school. He is intrigued and amused at the attention he sometimes evokes in younger pupils. "Hi, Fundo," they call and Fundo returns their greeting, without having a clue as to their identity. When I interviewed him, I found his positive attitude reassuring to the point it was almost stretching credibility.

He resolutely maintains that his race has never been a problem, and that he gets on well with everybody. It was, thus, all the more traumatic for Fundo recently, when his mother was quite savagely beaten up in a bus queue at Edinburgh's Haymarket.

His own positive experience left him unprepared for the low life, who spew hatred into the streets and project their inadequacy onto vulnerable minorities.

It was at least gratifying to learn from Tamara Mhura that she considers our school more tolerant and inclusive than the city surrounding it. She feels she has often been offered special attention by Holy Rood staff, who appreciate the particular problems her family faces.

However, it cuts deeply when she senses that bus passengers would rather stand than sit next to her. Tamara hoped that she had left tribalism behind her in Africa, and expected sophisticated Europeans to showmore tolerance. She now carries the bruises, which testify that her confidence in our civilised society was badly misplaced.

A dilemma arises for headteachers when issues of racism crop up. We run the risk of drawing unwelcome attention to a small group of pupils, who are already struggling with linguistic and cultural hurdles. Dire public warnings may put the wrong ideas in unthinking or narrowminded heads.

This week I met with Fundo, Imran Parvaiz and Salma Raqeeb. Each one is a credit to their parents, school and country of origin. Fundo originated in Malawi, while Imran and Salma have their roots in Pakistan.

They are proud of their heritage and culture, but accept compromises as the cost of integrating inconspicuously in Edinburgh life. Salma looks every inch the Holy Rood senior pupil, resplendent in her uniform but confides that, as soon as she is home, she dons an attire more consistent with her cultural background.

Imran tells me that the Asian community in Edinburgh has become more cautious as a result of Mrs Mhura's experience. Families are reluctant to let their mothers and daughters travel alone. He sees himself as a trail-blazer for other young black and Asian people in Holy Rood, whose numbers are soaring. He is keen to recommend the school to other Muslim families through the mosque they attend and his parents' business links with their community.

The entire Holy Rood community is committed to tackling racism wherever it occurs.

We share the shame of the city of Edinburgh at the vicious, brutal attack on Tamara Mhura, and pledge our support to those who suffer the pain of such appalling and blatant abuse and discrimination.

We acknowledge the absolute dignity of all those who share the characteristics of the only race that matters, the human race.

Pat Sweeney is headteacher at Holy Rood High School, Edinburgh

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