Join the Stand Up To Racism Demo: Saturday 19th March, 12pm, Portland Place (March to Trafalgar Square)
It would be nice to believe that racism and fascism are dead, and for many of us, we have been lucky enough to live in a world where we are told we have equal opportunities, equal pay, and equal rights. There are no separate bathrooms, no race-specific restaurants or hairdressers, no segregated buses. It’s even a crime to commit hate speech or offence directed at a person’s race or religion. These are all facts, written into the law. However, we should know by now that what is correct and functional on paper does not correlate to a real-world experience of living in one of the richest countries in the world in the 21st century. Racism might not be as tangible – but it’s there, living in our houses, in our streets, and on our borders.
In the U.K, the government has implemented its PREVENT strategy across schools, hospitals and universities, a legal duty that trains staff to spot signs of ‘radicalisation’ and to report them to specialised police. There have been incidences of these PREVENT officers interrogating children as young as ten without parental consent, and the strategy is largely biased towards the Muslim community; a ten-year-old Muslim was interrogated for misspelling ‘terraced’ as ‘terrorist’. It sounds unbelievable, almost dystopian, when one slip-up in front of your teacher or your nurse could result in an interrogation. But it’s the reality of the country we are living in, where the growing Islamophobia is nurtured by these racist and divisive policies and where differences in race and religion are used as a scapegoat for the country’s problems. We are told to keep an eye out for terrorists, but what they fail to mention is that war is just terrorism on a big budget: whilst our government indiscriminately drops bombs on Syrian civilians and turns a blind eye to Israel’s brutal occupation of Palestine, we should fear the Muslim boy in primary school who makes a spelling mistake.
At the University of Kent, a group of five Britain First members showed up outside our local mosque’s open day to show their disagreement. In response, a student organised a counter protest to show solidarity with our Muslim community, and approximately 600 students marched across the campus showing love and tolerance for their fellow human beings. This is the kind of action we need to see across the student movement. We are the youth of this generation, we are the future of this country, and we need to speak out against racism, in all of its ugly and varied forms. If we do not show the communities that are being scapegoated more and more by the media and the government that we support them, we only allow hate to breed hate. We must show our love.
This takes us to the problem of immigration; immigrants are also discriminated against and blamed for our government’s failures. When our government chooses to indiscriminately bomb Syria – bombs don’t know who is a ‘terrorist’ and who isn’t – we should know that the consequences of this will be increased refugees as we destroy these people’s homes, whose lives have often already been quashed by the oppressive regimes taking control of the place they call home.
The media insists that immigrants are the problem, so much so that dubbing refugees from Syria and other war-torn zones ‘migrants’ seems to dehumanize and lessen the problem of their sufferings because we choose to blame them for our economic situation and the weakening of our public services. The number of neo-Nazi protests taking place are growing, and they genuinely believe that our understaffed education system, our inability to keep our own citizens off the streets and our housing crisis are all caused by immigration. We have the same complaints, but ignorance to the true cause, which is the greed of our governments and corporations. They worm out of billions of pounds in taxes whilst minority communities and the poorest families scrape by as bills rise and wages do not. The passivity of the Conservative government who will not defend or empower our different communities has started dividing our country. We cannot let this racism go unchallenged. We need hundreds, thousands, millions of people to stand up, get on the streets, and show the world that we know better than our apathetic government and our enraged white supremacists. Racism still exists and it has been institutionalized, discreetly built in to our politics. Compassion for our fellow humans has been contorted into something dangerous, something extreme, by the media.
But why is this our problem? Why should students have anything to do with this? We have enough to deal with at the moment ourselves, with maintenance grants cruelly cut, rent rising every year with no sign of stopping, and threats that tuition fees could rise even higher. It’s our problem because it is our future, and the world that our government is creating is an ugly one, a survival-of-the-richest where racism is allowed to flourish because it is ‘not my problem’ and a disregard for others is the key incentive. In ten, twenty, thirty years time, I hope that we will look back with shame at those who supported and prolonged the suffering of people waiting at our borders, as we look back with shame on the South African apartheid that was allowed to continue for so long. The problem of Calais, the PREVENT strategy and the situations escalating across the globe is an ideology that says it’s just not our responsibility to promote peace and tolerance, as though we have more important things to focus on.
We, as students, have a responsibility to our fellow students – of different races, religions, nationalities, and beliefs – to stand up for one another, to stand up against the discrimination, to stand up and shout loud for all the voices that are being ignored, from the rise of Islamophobia to the unequal representation of Black and minority students in academia, in film and TV, in student committees. We must shout loud for those voices ignored in refugee camps, in war-torn worlds, from Calais to Syria. We must shout from inside our institutions and from the streets of London. If you will not stand up for anything else this year, stand up for your fellow human beings, because if you don’t, who will?