Ministers accused of dragging their feet on racism

3rd March 2000 at 00:00
A WITHERING attack on Scotland's record on anti-racism in schools, and on the Scottish Executive's plans to tackle racial intolerance, was delivered at an Edinburgh conference last week held to mark the first anniversary of the Macpherson report into the murder of the black teenager Stephen Lawrence in London.

The report dealt mainly with shortcomings by the Metropolitan Police. But it also said there were lessons for education including the need for the curriculum to promote anti-racism - the purpose of the Edinburgh conference.

The main charge was led by Professor Gus John of Strathclyde University's equality and discrimination centre, who said Scotland, like England, "has entertained the notion of education as having something to do with promoting race equality most grudgingly, and has taken a minimalist approach to it.

"It has assumed you could introduce soft measures such as multiculturalism and the new vogue of 'valuing diversity' without confronting culturally supremacist assumptions that underpin the continuing exploitation and marginalisation of black people."

Dharmendra Kanani, director of the Commission for Racial Equality in Scotland, warned: "There is still no robust action plan on race equality in Scotland." The commission is to press MSPs to consider using the education Bill to impose a new duty of promoting equal opportunities on the Education Minister and education authorities.

Professor John proposed that authorities like Glasgow should insist that teaching recruits must show evidence that their training included a grounding in anti-racist education. "Initial teacher education and continuous professional development don't begin to address these issues," he said.

Jackie Baillie, deputy minister with responsibility for social inclusion, revealed that the Executive would shortly be announcing more support for teachers in providing anti-racist education.

Professor John was the first black director of education to hold office in Britain during an eight-year stint in the London borough of Hackney. His main theme was that racial equality could not be divorced from social justice. "We shouldn't get into the situation of 'doing something for the blacks' rather than ding something because it's just," he said. That way lay the encouragement of resentment from others.

He ridiculed claims that Scotland was not as racially intolerant as England. "I have always found it difficult to fathom just how a society such as this, with its historic social divisions, inequalities and discriminatory practices based on class, gender, sexual orientation, ethnicity, not to mention sectarianism and religious intolerance and bigotry, could be such a beacon of tolerance and justice when it comes to black people."

Ms Baillie, who chairs the Executive's race equality advisory forum, said:

"Scotland cannot afford to be complacent. Racism exists in Scotland, it's entirely comparable to the situation in England, and we must do something about it."

Professor John said curricular reforms, including those for the 5-14 stages, did nothing to tackle racism. At best they might minimise the rate at which socially excluded groups were produced or ameliorate the consequences of their exclusion.

Ministers are currently considering the right framework for anti-racist education, Ms Baillie said. But despite finding some common ground, Professor John tore into the Executive's consultative paper on equality issued in January as "appalling, tentative, inadequate and lamentable". He added: "It doesn't even begin to know the time of day as far as race equality is concerned."

Schools, Professor John suggested, had to take much more fundamental steps such as confronting stereotypes of national identity which breed xenophobia and examining concepts such as Scottishness and whiteness.

He added: "If young working-class Scots were taught awareness of their past struggles for bread and for justice, they might have more affinity with the struggles of young black people rather than seeing them as a threat."

But Professor John doubted there would be much progress, judging by the way the Section 28 debate had been characterised by the "moral majority" on one hand and "politically correct would-be perverts" on the other. He added: "We are in for interesting times when (the Scottish Executive) embrace without prevarication, hesitation or deviation" the challenges he had set out.

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