Image source: http://www.cheynestraining.com/detail-210
You don’t need to call me a Cxxxk to be a racist
“Stink, stink, stink like a Cxxxk,” a stranger muttered as I walked down the largely deserted platform at Crewe Station. It was in the early 90s. I had just arrived in the UK as a postgraduate student. That was the first time – as far as I was aware of – when I was a direct target of racism.
There seemed to be no obvious reason for this stranger to use racist language against me apart from my ethnicity – unmistakably oriental – which he quickly identified as “Chinese” (I could well have been Japanese or Korean). Or perhaps, there were real reasons for his hostility, I don’t know, and that was beside the point. Nevertheless, as a recipient of such a random verbal abuse, I was struck by his xenophobic attitude. I had heard of racial discrimination, but I had been fortunate enough not to have encountered it. I had regarded the UK a country relatively free of it – until it hit me between my eyes.
I was new to this country. I was alone. I had little experience outside the safety of my university campus. I certainly did not have the courage or language to challenge his behaviour. So, I did nothing. The whole incident passed as unnoticed as it took place.
In the ten plus years of being a teacher in various schools in two counties (one south, one north), I have had to deal with three incidents when students used racist language against another individual – me.
Shocking? Not really. As an ethnic minority member in predominately caucasian schools, I developed a keen ear to listen out for “typical” noises that were used to express prejudice against me on account of my racial origin. Trust me, I am not being over-sensitive. Over the years, I have learned to distinguish between innocuous utterance and a racially-motivated one. Believe me, unless you are in a similar position, you are unlikely to encounter this kind of behaviour, though verbal abuses can be based on other factors, too. Likewise, I have also learned only to reprehend the offenders when the margin for misidentification is at a minimum. Some children may be blunt in their ignorant behaviour, others are more insidious in their approaches. I have also realised the importance of addressing only the behaviour, not the person, however disagreeable the individual is. I know the serious ramifications that being labelled a “racist” can have on a young child.
On each occasion, I challenged the perpetrator(s) as the incident took place, on the corridor or in the playground. I told them what I heard and took them to either the Head of Year or another member of staff, usually someone from the Middle or Senior Management Teams. In the presence of another member of staff, I explained to them how their remarks or noises could be interpreted as racist behaviour and that we dealt with this type of incident extremely seriously at school. On each occasion, they were given the chance to explain themselves and opportunity to right their wrongs by means of apologising. They needed to learn to recognise their offence and take full responsibility for their behaviour. After each incident, I hoped that they would not do it again – to anybody.
Though I felt powerless to do anything to address the situation at Crewe Station in the early 1990s, I feel I can now at least use my position as a teacher to create a place where every student in my care feel safe enough to be themselves regardless of their racial origins, sexual orientations or gender identification.
A line has to be drawn between promotion of hatred and the freedom of speech. There are points when the line is crossed from intellectual debate to hate speech – the latter is a criminal act.