We must find a way to banish racist bullying

18th January 2008 at 00:00
The child who looks or sounds different from most of the school population can be subjected to some unpleasant and unwarranted attention. We all know how a ginger-haired pupil, for example, can receive this "special favour".

At Swansea Bay Racial Equality Council (SBREC), we come across young people from many different races, colours, ethnic and national origins who face a daily struggle to maintain their dignity, a focus on their education and a sharp eye on their welfare.

Indeed, the amount of anecdotal evidence forced us to start looking at what is really happening at ground level.

We are striving to find some positive pointers for schools in our area - Swansea and Neath Port Talbot - to go about eradicating, or at the very least, minimising the impact of racist and religious bullying faced by young people from ethnic-minority backgrounds. The report, containing feedback from 2,500 pupils, is due soon.

In most cases encountered by SBREC, pupils are subjected to daily taunts, mostly over their ethnic and religious backgrounds. The propensity of such taunts, albeit often very minor on their own, makes young people dread school.

On the positive side, senior staff at a number of schools are dedicated to challenging such behaviour. However, it is still not sufficient to encourage pupils to report incidents. SBREC has found it difficult to convince those pupils who bring complaints of this nature to our attention to take matters further, which in most cases means involving the schools.

One of the main reasons given is that the young people do not think the school will take it seriously.

Some of the greatest victims of racist bullying are young people from asylum-seeker families. The problems faced by them are multi-faceted. Often they do not recognise the racist nature of the bullying until a few months, and in one case a year, after it starts, often because of inadequate English-language skills. These young people are apprehensive in challenging such behaviour.

One parent said: "We are in their country so we have to swallow our pride to some extent and allow them to have an upper hand. It makes them feel better by having a go at our children, and we have become used to telling our children not to retaliate."

SBREC has been trying to find ways of improving this situation for some of the most vulnerable people in society. We appreciate the support of the media in highlighting these issues.

We also appreciate the positive attitude of local authorities and senior staff at schools who want to eradicate racism from their establishments. But this is not necessarily sufficient to deal with the amount of pain and suffering endured by the young people.

Commitment has to come from the rank and file of teachers, most of whom have too much on their plate to cope with already and may see tackling racist bullying as just another burden.

How can young people recognise hatred and racist bullying if they do not get the guidance from their teachers, who often appear not to understand race and ethnicity issues properly?

Taha Idris is director of Swansea Bay Racial Equality Council.

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