For this assignment I intend to look at the issue of Racism, why it persists and what should be done about it. I shall also look at the links between slavery and those of the asylum seekers living in Britain. I intend also to try and give a brief explanation of the racism and discrimination in the Chhoka case.
There are many different definitions of racism, all of them having one thing in common. Racism is the belief that someone is either inferior or superior regarding race, colour, and religion.
Racism is “The belief in the inherent superiority of one race over all others and thereby the right to dominance”.
The first place that most people associate with racist language is the home or the playground. For some parents, its not unheard of to “go to the Paki shop”, or “the Chinkies”, so our children are being schooled in the art of racist language from an early age.
The media is the next most powerful weapon. We open our papers daily and read about muggings, killings mostly to do with black youths, but when a white youth is mugged or murdered or intimidated, it will make front page for sensationalism, again fuelling people’s hatred or misgivings.
We can associate the use of language as being racist, for example anything black is understood to be evil or bad whereas white is the epitome of everything good and pure. Goodness will always triumph over bad.
We can place certain people into 2 categories, those who are the targets and those who are the agents. By doing this it is easier to gain an insight into how some establishments or communities work.
Targets: Are individuals or groups of people who are victimised by other individuals,
groups of people, institutions, educational establishments, the lawmakers of the land plus the people entrusted to carry out and implement these laws. These people are the oppressed. Asylum seekers are perfect targets for any agent group. Even within this group, there can be agents who prey on the weakest of the group.
Agents: These are the dominant social groups, people who would never describe themselves as dominant over another human being. They have a superior attitude, which sets them apart from sometimes even others in the same agent group. Agents are the groups or individuals of people who perpetrate acts of physical, verbal abuse towards others, but do not get their hands dirty in the physical sense of the word.
They are instigators and normally to be found in high positions where their ideals are carried through on the pretext of professionalism.
Targets can be found in the playground, in the media, in educational establishments, in high society and any other walk of life. These people are known as the oppressors. They blame the targets for any misfortune inflicted upon themselves. As before, there can be targets included in this group, as well as other agents as power is their ultimate weapon or tool.
Slavery was at its most popular during the late fifteenth century. From the 1640’s a period of free trade opened up and Britain was one of the countries who exploited this to their advantage. Slave trading opened up new markets for British and European goods in Africa. Sugar, coffee and cotton were common commodities now.
By the middle of the eighteenth century, British ships were carrying approximately 50,000 slaves a year. Royal Navy sailors complained of smelling the stench from the slave ships as they crossed from Africa across the Atlantic. It was with great delight to some and great sorrow to others when this trade was outlawed in 1807.
Most British towns and cities were built on the labours and exploitation of the slave trade. The vast profits from American plantations were ploughed into cities such as Glasgow and Bristol and to anyone who suggested that “they don’t need to be here, they can go back to their own countries”, then we must ask them, who forced these people over here in the first place. We, the British people did.
According to the Geneva Convention the term “refugee” applies to anyone who: “owing to well-founded fear of being persecuted for reasons of race, religion nationality, membership of a particular social group or political opinion, is outside the country of his nationality and is unable or, owing to such fear, is unwilling to avail himself of the protection of that country”.
Asylum seekers did not choose to leave their own homes and countries, but were forced too. They left behind their families and their homelands due to war, oppression, violence and hate. They escaped fascist regimes, and the daily threat of hunger, oppression and death.
Britain is the land of the unskilled, under-educated, socially excluded, yet many of the refugees are professionals in medicine, health, education and yet some see them as being scroungers of the state.
Asylum seekers are discriminated as soon as they set foot in Britain.
They are issued with sub-standard housing, in tower blocks full of dampness and repairs which will never be done, they are not allowed to work or offer their expertise and are sometimes trapped in their own homes for fear of their emotional and physical wellbeing. These people did not leave their own countries to become scapegoats for a society that pretends it cares. They are issued with food vouchers which is humiliating and degrading and are once again, under threat of a regime that they do not necessarily understand.
Problems surrounding the recent events concerning the refugees are not helped by the fact that there has been no educational programme to teach young people and others in the community about the refugees backgrounds, no local support for the existing members of the community and a distinctly second rate police service, which is not being utilised to the best of its advantage or for the people to whom it is supposed to protect.
There are four key elements in place to support and reinforce each other. Sometimes these processes can be in force one at a time, but in the Chhoka case the four levels were present:
Structural: Combining physical, legal and political structures such as the law, the government and all political processes.
Cultural: The assumptions and norms of a shared society that bind individuals and institutions together and also their behaviours.
Institutional: Educational establishments, the police force, government departments, businesses, the health system and the welfare system.
Personal: Attitudes and beliefs of individuals and their behaviour towards others, either directly or indirectly.
The case of Surjit Singh Chhokar, a 32 year old waiter who was stabbed to death has highlighted the flaws and faults in our so called civilised society. No one has ever been convicted of Surjit’s murder although it has taken over three years and two murder trials involving three men. The Chhokar case has shown how structural,
cultural, institutional and personal racism all become linked.
There were no interpreters available for the Chhokar family which was the first step in the cultural discrimination. This was a heartbroken family grieving at the loss of a son, a brother and who wanted answers. They trusted the police, the government, only wanting answers and no one even explained to them why the accused walked away free. They were treated inhumanely again when lawyers corresponded with them in English without translations or an interpreter available.
When the news first broke, the murder only warranted a five line statement in the Evening Times, but when it became clear that there was more to the story, there was a sudden media frenzy
Elements of institutional racism were found in the procedures of the police and the procurator fiscals offices.
Police immediately ruled out a racial motive and the case would probably have been filed away and closed had it not been for Lord McCluskey, Scotland’s most senior judge. He questioned the Crown’s decision to accuse only one man of murder when it was obvious that there were another two involved.
Lord Hardie, the then Lord Advocate said,”from the preliminary report given to me, I am satisfied the action taken in this case was the most appropriate in the circumstances”.
Lord Hardie obviously did not realise the impact that this case would have on the whole judiciary system and the questions that would be raised.
The key findings from the report were
” The Crown Office quality and practice review unit should be reinforced and reconstituted as a formal inspectorate of the Crown Office and Procurator fiscal Service.
The inspectorate should conduct a thematic review of the service’s response on race matters within two to three years.
The police should make it their priority to translate policies into practical instructions for officers.
HM Inspectorate of Constabulary should make it an early priority to conduct a thematic inspection of family liaison.
More systematic communication, co-operation and exchange of ideas between the Crown Office and the police at the most senior levels.”
The family’s lawyer also faced criticism when he took on the dual role of interpreter and public campaign organiser.
The judiciary system made a mockery of our so called justice courts, but hopefully lessons have been learned, sad though it is that an innocent family had to suffer before this level of racism and discrimination was dragged into the forefront of every household.
Hopefully the Race Relations (Amendment) Act 2000 will “shake up” what authorities need to be, in order for trust and respect to be shown and given by the people for whom their services are intended.
The main purposes of this Act are to extend further the Race Relations Act 1976 in relation to public authorities; to make chief officers of police vicariously liable for acts of racial discrimination by police officers; and to amend the exemption under the Act for acts done for the purposed of safeguarding national security thus remedying a European Convention on Human Rights incompatibility in that legislation.
The primary school that my youngest child attended has a anti-racism attitude (not in an official capacity) and they do their best to highlight every child’s culture, race, religion and involve the other children in a way that is enjoyable and educational. Parents are also invited to any concerts put on by the children and are asked to be involved in any specific food days, in which a group of children bring in their national food or sweet, letting again, the other children share in a culture which they would otherwise never have the experience of. It was with outrage one day when all parents were given letters by the local council stating that this practice would stop, as it was encouraging children outwith the school area to participate in bullying the small minority of ethnic children.
Parents quickly sprang into action and with the support of parents of all nationalities, the local counsellor and a cover story by the local newspaper that our children were again allowed to enjoy the sharing and learning about each others culture, but it was shameful that children of that age were witness to the powers that be in the education system who would have stopped which is a learning experience in a close and safe environment, where hatred and name calling is not allowed and all the children are equal. This is only a small school with 160 children, but if they can succeed in an area where poverty, high unemployment, drugs and crime are linked then we should all take lessons from these teachers and children.
My conclusion is that each of these events starting from the slave trade and the exploitation of the slaves by the British has paved the way for the terrible way in which we as a society treat the refugees, or asylum seekers. Until there is an educational system in place starting from nursery schools and ending in nursing homes, we will never be able to eradicate racism or discrimination.
We need to challenge government, the school system, the law makers and decide on a curriculum which will enable our young people, the next generation, to grow without hate or prejudice and to pass their skills and knowledge onto the next.
We need to see and accept that the asylum seekers are bringing with them a wealth of culture, expertise and experience and together we can all learn and enjoy each other as a multi-cultural society.
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