What is race?
In the past people believed that there were different races of people, who shared common physical features such as skin colour, hair type, facial features, character and skills. Racists have used this idea to label certain ‘races’ as fundamentally different and inferior.
However we now know through genetics that there is just one species to which we all belong and that people of all colours and appearances have a similar potential. The physical differences between people around the world are external not internal and are caused by the adaptation of people over long periods of time to different environments.
The genes that code for our physical appearance are a very small number and are not in any way connected to genes which code for other characteristics. The genetic differences between so-called races are smaller than the differences within these groups.
What is racism?
Though race is an arbitrary social concept, racism is very real. Racism is the belief that people who have a different skin colour, nationality or culture are inferior. Racist ideas have developed over thousands of years and have been used to justify the oppression of many different groups of people.
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.
Why is racism wrong?
Racism is wrong because it judges a person and their capabilities based on a very limited set of categories, such as religion or nationality. This leads to a lack of understanding and segregation of peoples and cultures. It also encourages hostility towards any person of a different background. Racism teaches people to hate each other purely on the basis of skin colour, nationality or culture, even though we are all of one race - the human race. It is much better to live in a multi-cultural society: just think of the things that would be removed from British culture if we lived in a segregated society - e.g. different types of music, food and clothing. Historically, racism has been used to separate and segregate people of different skin colour, for example under the apartheid regime in South Africa, which ended in 1994 and has also formed the basis for justifying atrocious genocides such as the holocaust of World War Two.
Many people's lives are seriously affected by racism and discrimination every day and not just because of verbal or physical abuse. Many people from minority ethnic backgrounds are not getting the same opportunities as others whether it is in jobs, education or access to health services, or affordable housing. That clearly isn't fair or right as everyone should be given the same opportunities in life.
Why is using the words 'Paki' or 'Chinky' wrong?
Although seen by some as abbreviations for 'Pakistani' and 'Chinese', these words have often been used as terms of abuse and are often accompanied by swear words or insults. Therefore they are extremely offensive and it is not acceptable to use these terms to describe a person who is of Pakistani or Chinese origin or to describe an establishment run by a person of Pakistani or Chinese origins.
Using these words suggests that a person doesn't think about others as individuals and that they judge people on what they look like or where they come from, rather than who they are. Nobody would like people to make judgements about them just by looking at them.
Also, both words tend to be used generally for Asian people, irrespective of their national origins, such as India or Bangladesh in the case of ‘Paki’, and Korea or Japan in the case of ‘Chinky’. Therefore, as well as being offensive, the terms may not even refer to the correct country. Think about how silly you would look to others if you referred to someone from Germany as Spanish, for example.
Why are people racist?
There are many reasons why people are racist. A lot of a person's attitudes and opinions are formed during childhood. If someone is taught to be racist from an early age by a family member, for example, these attitudes are likely to stick with the person throughout their life. Often, when asked, racists are unable to explain why they hate people of a different skin colour, nationality or culture. Racists commonly use people of different ethnic backgrounds as ‘scapegoats’ on whom to blame their problems and make sweeping negative generalisations about these groups of people. The racist comment “They take our jobs and our homes” is one of the most frequently cited ‘justifications’ for racism. This is simply not true.
Racism can also be stirred up by the media. Witness recent anti-asylum seeker campaigns run by some of the newspapers in Britain. Constantly running stories about 'bogus' asylum seekers and using emotive language such as a 'flood' of refugees helps to create an atmosphere of hostility amongst sections of the general public. Britain is in tenth place in Europe per head of population for asylum applications. The vast majority of refugees go to countries in the Middle East or Africa, often the Countries that border their own. Asylum seekers in the UK receive only 70% of income support. Even though many are well educated and highly skilled and would like to contribute to society, they are not allowed to work.
Do white people suffer racism?
People of all different skin colours can have racism directed at them. Racism can be directed at some groups of white people by other whites - for example, Irish people have suffered from racial discrimination. However, white people in general are not the most common target and certainly receive far less racism than Black or Asian people. The most common form of racism against white people in the UK is against asylum seekers, travellers or migrants from Eastern Europe.
Is Islam a threat to Britain?
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. Every religious book can be interpreted in many ways: the Bible can and so can the Koran. There are extremists in every faith. A handful of Muslim clerics get a lot of media attention but the vast majority preach a peaceful religion. You cannot blame every Muslim for the actions of a few. Britain has also had Catholic and Anglican terrorism in recent years but we did not blame every Catholic for every IRA bomb.
What can you do when you are the target of racism?
If you are a school pupil and have verbal racism directed at you, then you should tell your parents and a teacher. If it is physical violence to your person, make sure you tell a teacher, your parents and as many of your friends as possible. Racists are much weaker when they realise that they do not have the support of many people.
If you are older and come across racism in the workplace, you should tell your employer and friends. Schools and employers have a legal duty to treat all racist incidents seriously and action will be taken. Whatever age you are, if you are physically attacked it is also important to get in touch with the police.
What can you do when you hear racism directed at other people?
If you hear one of your friends being racially abusive towards another person, have the courage to tell them that you think this is wrong. Try asking why they are doing that and if they are your friend they will listen to you and hopefully change their behaviour. Try to get them to apologise. If this doesn't work, ask yourself why you are friends with this person. You should also report incidents to teachers and parents as they will be in a better position to deal with them.
If you hear racism at a football match, take the number of the person's seat and inform a steward or police officer of their behaviour. They should be dealt with by the club, racist chanting is illegal inside football grounds and will lead to the racist being banned from the ground and if they are a season ticket holder they will have their season ticket taken away from them. In Scotland you should also report any incidents of racism that occurs when either playing or watching football to Show Racism the Red Card’s Glasgow office: firstname.lastname@example.org. In England and Wales a separate organisation called Kick it Out deals with racism within football so please report such matters to email@example.com.