Fact Sheet 4| Racism Today
Racism can take many forms and affects thousands of people in Ireland today. There’s the obvious everyday racism, where people are called names, abused and harassed. Then, there’s the kind of racism that is more subtle. This is the kind of racism that makes it harder for people to get jobs or housing because of their colour or nationality.
All forms of racism involve making assumptions and generalisations or stereotypes about people who are a different colour. These stereotypes often view other people as inferior, and are used to justify the exclusion of people from opportunities, resources and power. Even today, the authorities, some politicians and sections of the media will promote racist ideas to justify their views on particular issues. These might include unemployment, housing shortages and crime.
There is racially motivated abuse, which can be verbal or physical, and can include attacks on property as well as people. Racial abuse and threatening behaviour can happen in lots of different places, including work, school, in or near your home, on public transport or in the street. It can happen over a long period of time and can make life a misery for the victims.
According to the ESRI, in 2006 25% of black people say they have been racially abused or threatened in the last 12 months. The Teachers Union of Ireland found that 46% of teachers have witnessed racism in the classroom in the month prior to their conference. It also features on the internet. In 2010, Facebook closed down an Irish group entitled ‘Why I hate Romanian gypsies’, which had more than 3,000 fans.
‘Racist attacks terrorise family’, ‘Race motive in murder attack’, ‘My experience of racism- Eamon Zayed’, ‘Race motive behind attack on athlete’. Just some of the headlines on the news section of www.theredcard.ie in the last year.Institutions can add to increasing racism. A well-known case is that of Stephen Lawrence, a black 17-year-old student from south east London. He was at a bus stop in Eltham, London, with his friend Duwayne Brooks in April 1993, when they were attacked by a gang of five white youths shouting racist abuse. Duwayne managed to escape, but Stephen was stabbed to death.
The police investigation failed to bring Stephen’s killers to justice, but Stephen’s parents, Doreen and Neville Lawrence, carried on fighting for justice for their son. Their campaign persuaded the then Home Secretary Jack Straw to call for a public inquiry in July 1997, the results of which were published on 24 February 1999. The conclusion of the McPherson report pointed to endemic Institutional Racism which blocked the development of the investigation.
What is Institutional Racism?
Institutional racism describes the way in which people suffer from racism, because it is there in the structure of society – structures like the police, the legal system, businesses and so on. Macpherson’s report in the UK was issued to consider how the police had failed to apprehend the murder of Stephen Lawrence. The report brought to light the issue of institutional racism and describes institutional racism as:
The collective failure of an organization 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 racist stereotyping which disadvantage minority ethnic people.
The Macpherson Report has changed the way that police have to deal with incidents where racism might be a factor. Until the report, an incident was only treated as racist if the police thought it was. Now, if the person suffering the incident thinks it was racist, then the police have to treat it as racially motivated.