SRtRC is becoming increasingly concerned by the anti-immigrant sentiment displayed by young people and adults during educational workshops and campaign activities.
As the EU referendum draws ever closer, Show Racism the Red Card (SRtRC) is becoming increasingly concerned by the anti-immigrant sentiment displayed by young people and adults during education workshops and campaign activities.
There has been a noticeable rise in a ‘them’ and ‘us’ mentality among young people amidst the backdrop of near constant media and political focus on immigration throughout the last 18 months, however as the referendum campaigning reaches fever-pitch, the impact of a worryingly over-simplified rhetoric is evident in feedback from teachers and discussions with young people.
SRtRC believe that not enough consideration is being given to the language used and the over-simplification of arguments which focus too heavily on the movement of people in the absence of factual information about economic impacts or policy reform; ‘A referendum on border control’ as one SRtRC Education Worker described the tenor of debate recently.
The EU referendum and the commentary surrounding it taps into some of people’s most deep rooted fears; that things will change, or get worse, and that other people will have control over our lives. This culminates in a perception that those who are viewed as less entitled will get a slice of the pie.
The way in which borders and issues of sovereignty have become such heavy capital in this debate indicates that many are concerned about ‘others’ making decisions about a nation that they are not connected to by birth.
It shows that there is not only a perceived hierarchy of entitlements within a country but also a strong sense that those from outside Britain’s shores should not be entitled to a say in the UK’s affairs.
The impact of this broad-brush approach by both media outlets and politicians definitely filters down to young people in primary schools and secondary schools, despite the perception that conversations are taking place in a space which does not include young people under legal voting age, or require their input.
In an introductory activity undertaken by SRtRC on the subject of immigration, young people are asked to suggest the first word they think of when presented with the term ‘immigrant’. It is not uncommon for the words offered up by young people to be almost exclusively negative; with phrases like ‘bad’, ‘evil’, ‘dangerous’ and ‘threatening’ regularly being suggested.
Through workshops, SRtRC staff are able to then provide more accurate information about the different motivations for moving from one country to another, and are able to support young people in differentiating types of migrants whilst simultaneously deconstructing the homogenisation of the terms like ‘immigrant’, which have come to represent distinct groups including Refugees, Asylum Seekers, Students and Economic Migrants (both EU & non-EU) in the consciousness of young people and adults.
When SRtRC surveyed the attitudes of young people throughout England between 2012-14, those questioned provided an average estimate of the percentage of people living in Britain who were not born here of 47%, in contrast with 2011 census data which indicates that the percentage of non-British born people living in the UK is c. 13%.
In addition, 28% of respondents believed that jobs being taking by foreign workers might stop them reaching their goals, 49% of respondents ‘agreed’ or ‘agreed strongly’ with the statement ‘Migration to the UK is out of control/not being managed properly’.
A full breakdown of the results from SRtRC’s survey into the attitudes of young people and their perceptions of society can be viewed here.
If negative perceptions of people moving to Britain are prevalent, then SRtRC is concerned about the potential for these ideas and attitudes to manifest themselves in more direct forms of racism and prejudice. There is a real fear that this misuse of language and the perpetuation of misinformation could lead to an increase in racism within schools; alienating and marginalising those viewed as ‘different’ or ‘other’ and placing a heavy burden on those who may carry out acts of discrimination.
This misrepresentation of ideas and concepts is not limited to young people, but has also been evident in discussions at SRtRC campaign events with an adult audience as Chief Executive Ged Grebby explains “The numbers of people espousing inaccurate information and using potentially inflammatory language has certainly increased over recent months”.
“Obviously, it can not be considered racist to have an opinion about concepts like border control and the number of people coming into the country, but what is concerning is the anecdotal evidence about overt examples of racism aimed at people who are perceived to be immigrants in the UK, even from those who are part of minority communities themselves.”
From what SRtRC have witnessed in classrooms and adult training sessions, such sentiment can very easily slip into a disclosure of insecurities about an invasion of migrants and catastrophising doom that many say would be brought with this; despite the fact that never in history has an entire nation tried to gain access to Britain (many are using arguments about Turkey and previously Romania’s entry to the EU quoting statistics which state entire nations would travel from their country to Britain).
Whilst SRtRC recognises that everybody holds and is entitled to their own outlook on immigration, it is important to be aware that within these debates prejudice will undoubtedly arise as it so often does when discussing any matter which concerns the movement of people.
The EU referendum is much more than a referendum on the UK’s borders and people must do the decision justice by seeing immigration as just one consideration amongst thousands of others, which ever way they intend to vote.