What is race?
Historically, there was a belief that human beings could be separated into different categories or groups that were called ‘Races’. It was believed that these separate ‘races’ who may have shared some common physical features such as skin colour, hair type, facial features, also shared similar and particular skills, characters and abilities. Racist systems and laws, and people with racist attitudes have used this idea to label certain ‘races’ as fundamentally different and inferior. This has led to persecution, oppression, and in extreme cases, genocide.
Through the discovery of genetics, and advances in scientific knowledge, it is now very clear that there is just one species to which we all belong and that people of all colours and appearances have similar potential. The physical differences between people around the world are external, not internal and are caused by the adaptation of people to different environments over long periods of time.
There are only a very small number of genes that control the code of our physical appearance and they are not in any way connected to genes that provide the code for other characteristics. In fact there will be more genetic differences within a so called ‘race’ then there would be between two so called ‘races’
There is only one race – The Human Race!
What is racism?
Although you cannot categorise people into separate races (see ‘What is race?’), we are all different and can sometimes be the target of racism because of these differences. There are four parts of a person’s identity that if targeted, would be classed as racism, they are:
1. Skin Colour
Racism is extremely negative for society. People may experience racism as a result of an individual’s actions or because an institution’s procedures disadvantage them (institutional racism).
The most extreme form of racism is called ‘Genocide’. This is the planned killing of an entire group of people because of one of the four reasons stated above. More commonly, racism in society will see people being physically or verbally abused, attacked and excluded. Racism can also be very subtle, sometimes you may not be able to prove that racism has happened or is happening, but just feel a sense of unease.
What forms does racism take?
Racism can take many forms, ranging from verbal abuse to outright physical attacks to a person or property. Racism can also be non-verbal, for example denying a person from a minority ethnic background a job or entry to a restaurant or shop, purely on the grounds of their colour, nationality or religion. This is known as race discrimination and is illegal.
There is also 'institutional racism'. This is when an organisation's procedures and policies amount to disadvantaging people from minority ethnic backgrounds. It is defined by the Stephen Lawrence enquiry as 'the collective failure of an organisation to provide an appropriate and professional service to people because of their colour, culture or ethnic origin. It can be seen or detected in processes, attitudes and behaviour which amount to discrimination through unwitting prejudice, ignorance, thoughtlessness and racial stereotyping which disadvantages minority ethnic people.'
To combat this type of racism, laws have been put in place to try and ensure that bodies like schools, universities, hospitals, the police, government departments and local councils take action (pro-active rather than reactive) to make sure they are not discriminating against people from minority ethnic backgrounds, whether they are employees or members of the public. This will help to ensure that public services meet everyone's needs.
What should I do if I experience racism?
If you see, hear or feel any form of racism, from verbal abuse to physical violence, the first thing that you must do is tell someone. This could be a teacher, an older friend, a parent or carer, a football coach, or anybody who you can trust and feel comfortable talking to. It can be difficult to admit that you have experienced racism or name calling, but it is extremely important that you don’t ignore it as it will continue happening and probably get worse. Of course, if you are the target of violence then the police should be contacted straight away.
Any racism experienced in the workplace should be reported to management, and there should be procedures in place to quickly and effectively deal with it. There is legislation to protect everyone from experiencing prejudice and discrimination and employers must take any reports seriously, offer support, and begin a thorough investigation.
What can you do if you witness racism?
If you hear friends or classmates using racist language or saying racist things whilst at school or college it is important that you challenge them. You could do this by asking questions like, ‘What do you mean by that? Or ‘How might you feel if comments like that were being made about you?’ Only directly get involved in incidents of racism if you can keep yourself safe, as your own safety is the most important thing in these situations.
Hopefully, if the person being racist is a friend or person that you know, you may be able to help them to understand the consequences of their actions and they may consider changing their behaviour. It may also be a nice idea to offer support to the person or people who have been targeted by the racism, as they are probably feeling frightened, lonely or upset. You must also report racism to teachers/adults/parents so they can ensure the problem is effectively dealt with.
If you witness racism at a football match, take a note of the person’s seat number and inform a steward about their behaviour. Make sure you keep yourself safe, we wouldn’t necessarily advise directly challenging the person, unless you know them well. Most football grounds now have a system where you can easily and anonymously report any racism or homophobia by text message, and the number will be clearly displayed around the ground. Racism and racist chanting is illegal and this behaviour should be taken seriously by the club. Supporters found guilty of racism can be banned from the ground, fined and even arrested.
In Scotland, any incidents of racism can also be reported to Show Racism the Red Card Scotland: firstname.lastname@example.org and in England an organisation called Kick It Out are responsible for tackling racism within the game and can be contacted at email@example.com. In Wales, SRtRC and The Football Association of Wales have provided a reporting system for incidents of racism in football at all levels of the game. Visit: http://www.theredcardwales.org/reportitwales for more information.
Any incidents of hate crime can be reported to the police, this can include racist graffiti, vandalism, or direct abuse. In some areas there are anonymous reporting systems where hate crimes can be recorded and monitored by phone or online, without having to go to the police. An internet search for ‘Hate crime reporting’ along with the area you live in should provide some useful websites.
Why are people racist?
Each person has what is called a ‘world view’. To put it simply, this is the way in which we see the world, not just physically, but also the way we interpret and feel about the things around us. The beliefs that shape our world view are constructed from birth in everything we see, do, hear and feel. People who have racist ideas and attitudes are acting in line with their world view. Perhaps people who are important in that individual's life have shared their racist ideas with them or they may have had a bad experience with one person and then generalise about an entire group because of this.
The media, our education, our community can all shape the way we see situations, people and ourselves. It is very important to question our beliefs as the messages we receive are not neutral and are very often trying to get us to think in a certain way. Sometimes when we are angry about our own situation we may look to blame others for our circumstances. For example, some people say, “If ‘they’ weren’t here, there would be more houses and jobs”. The fact is the lack of resources in Britain cannot be solved in a simple and easy way and blaming minority communities is certainly not going to find a solution to this situation.
Unfortunately, people who have racist ideas can be influenced by a historical belief that some humans have more worth than others, a belief which has led to brutal and dehumanising treatment over hundreds of years (see the FAQ ‘What is race?’ for more on this). It is essential that we see behind the rumours and myths, but most of all to question the information we receive in every aspect of our lives.
Why is using the words 'Paki' or 'Chinky' wrong?
Yes, definitely! Paki and Chinky are racist words no matter how, when or why they are used. Even if these words are used to describe a local shop or take away, the words still have racist meaning.
These words have been used as weapons to hurt people, and make them feel different, unwelcome and not valued. Both words are connected to racist attacks, racist groups and racist incidents which makes them both extremely hurtful and offensive, and hte people who these words are directed at will often feel frightened and threatened.
Sometimes people use these words as slang words and have no intention of hurting or upsetting anyone. However, if you had experienced this word while being shouted at, or whilst someone attacked you or tried to hurt you, would you want to hear it being used?
It may also be said that the word Paki is simply short for Pakistani, or that Chinky is simply short for Chinese, but because of the way these words have been used, they have become damaging, hurtful and racist.
Lastly, many people who are called these words are not actually from Pakistan or China, so often people are being judged on their skin colour or appearance, plus, ask yourself this – do the people who use these words usually say them when they are inside the shop or take away? If not, why not?!
Do white people suffer racism?
Yes! We all have a skin colour, nationality, and culture and some of us have a religion, this leaves every single one of us vulnerable to experiencing racism.
Racism can take place between people who have the same skin colour but a different nationality or religion. For example a white English person could be racist to a white Irish person, or a black Christian person could be racist towards a black Muslim person.
It is important to mention that racism is usually directed at people from minority groups by people who are in the majority group. In Britain, racism is much more likely to happen to people in minority groups, but not all of those people are black. For example some Muslim people, Polish people, Gypsy, Roma and Travellers can be the targets of racist abuse, even though many of these people are white.
Is racism illegal?
Yes! In UK law it is illegal for someone to be treated differently or to suffer harassment because they have a different skin colour, nationality, religion or ethnicity. (Single Equality Act, 2010) It is illegal to commit an offence which incites racial or religious hatred (Racial and Religious Hatred Act 2006) and if someone commits a crime which is racially motivated, it is considered a racially aggravated offence which increases the seriousness of the offence and results in a heavier sentence. (Crime and Disorder Act 1998) People can also be prosecuted and charged with ‘Malicious Communication’ (Malicious Communication Act, 1988) if they are being racist online, via social media, text message, email or telephone.
Can racism ever be 'just banter'?
No! Using someone’s skin colour or ethnicity as an insult has a deep effect. It implies that it is negative to be of that background and attacks something which is a big part of that person’s identity. It is not just an attack on the individual, but on other members of their family, community or group. Allowing ‘jokes’ or ‘banter’ about someone’s skin colour, nationality, religion or culture creates a society where that behaviour is deemed acceptable and paves the way for ridicule, name calling, exclusion and more serious forms of racism like violence and murder.
Are 'Pikey' and 'Gyppo' racist words?
Yes! Gyppo and Pikey are extremely racist and offensive towards anybody from any of the Traveller groups as both of them have a history of being used to hurt and offend people. These words should never be used even if it is towards someone who is not a Gypsy or Traveller.
Is it better to describe somebody as 'black' or 'coloured'?
Describing people as coloured, is old fashioned and comes from a time when black people were treated very unfairly, it is much better to use the term black.
There are lots of rumours that cause people to feel uncomfortable about saying black, but as a descriptive term it is absolutely fine, and is a term that has been chosen by and is used by black people.
Coloured was used to describe anybody who was not white, which may imply that to be white is ‘normal’ or default. This can contribute to racist ideas and behaviour, and if we consider it, every human has a skin colour, so technically we are all coloured.
Am I allowed to sing 'Baa Baa Black Sheep'?
Yes, of course! It is absolutely fine to sing Baa Baa Black sheep; it is a harmless nursery rhyme. The song is not racist in any way.
There has been a media myth that this song is banned because it is racist and offensive, along with describing things like black boards, black bin bags and black coffee. These are lies and there is no truth in them whatsoever, using the word black as a descriptive term is not racist.
Myths like this can be dangerous, making people feel annoyed and concerned that parts of British culture are being taken over or eroded, this frustration can be directed towards people from minority groups, who have had nothing to do with inventing these ideas.
Don’t believe everything you hear! Ask yourself, how do I really know that?
Is it right to be scared of Muslims? Do they pose a terrorist threat?
Many young people and adults are fearful of Muslim extremists because of the high profile of incidents such as 9/11 and 7/7. However, there are approximately 1.7billion Muslims in the world and only a very tiny percentage have ever been involved in any terrorist activity. Worryingly many people are being attacked and blamed for the actions of this very small amount of extreme people, because they may share a faith or a similar skin colour.
It is not fair for society to choose which label or aspect of someone’s identity matters the most and to judge their whole being based on which group they belong to. Being a Muslim is only one part of a person’s identity, it may not be the most important part. Within a group of people who share one characteristic, for example the religion Islam, there is a massive amount of diversity! It is so important that we question information that we see in the mainstream media about Muslim people and look for alternative evidence to back up our opinions.
Did you know?
Archaeological evidence suggests that Muslims have lived in the UK since 760AD and there have been large Muslim communities here for the past 300 years.
In 2011 there were 174 terrorist attacks in EU member states. None of these were carried out by Al-Qaeda affiliated or inspired groups. In 2009 and 2010, there were 543 terrorist attacks in Europe, of which only 4 were committed by Muslims. This means that only 0.7% of terrorist attacks - less than 1% - were committed by Muslims.
Are immigrants able to jump the housing queue?
No! The housing situation in Britain is complex. There are two different types of rented accommodation: Those which are provided by the Local Authority – social housing, and those which are let by private landlords. The majority of new immigrants are not eligible for social housing at all. However, some immigrants (mainly those from the European Union who are in employment), are allowed to join social housing queue. Those waiting for social housing in Britain are allocated points depending on their situation and according to need, so for example somebody who is escaping domestic violence with a child would be given a high number of points.
Often migrants live in difficult-to-let former local authority properties that have been sold to private landlords, and local authorities occasionally use unused social homes to temporarily house asylum seekers. This may make it may appear to the local community that these people are jumping the queue; however, this is not the truth.
Over 90% of those in social housing are UK born. Source: Social housing allocation and immigrant communities EHRC (2009)
Do Asylum Seekers come here to take advantage of the benefits system?
Asylum seekers do not come to the UK to claim benefits. In fact, most know very little about the UK asylum or benefits systems before they arrive. Asylum seekers are not allowed to work for the first 12 months of their application. They are forced to rely on state support, which is set at just 70% of the income support that British Citizens can receive; they do not receive extra perks such as mobile phones and are denied other benefits open to UK nationals such as Disability Living Allowance.
Do immigrants contribute positively to the UK?
Yes! Migrants fill skills gaps and take on jobs that UK employers can’t fill. They bring diversity to the workforce which has been shown to improve productivity. Britain has an aging population, but the majority of migrants are young and fit and contribute much more to the economy than they take out.
Did you know?
An estimated 4.7 million British born people have emigrated and now live abroad. Source: Home Office (2012).
Do the majority of new jobs go to immigrants?
Not at all, in 2010 immigrants accounted for 15% of people who were hired. This means that 85% of “new jobs” went to British workers. Source: Jonathan Portes of the National Institute of Economic and Social Research