22 April 2020 is National Stephen Lawrence Day which celebrates the life and legacy of the teenager who was killed in a racist attack at just 18 years old. A new report led by Sarah Page, Senior Lecturer in Sociology and Criminology, reveals concerns that racism experiences are still prevalent 27 years on.
Data was collected through World Café discussion groups with 57 Midlands-based school and college pupils aged 14–17 years. Just under half of the participants were black and minority ethnic (BAME) pupils, and the rest were white British.
“Conversations with counter-extremism leads within the Home Office led us to understand that the extent of race hate and extremism in schools and communities wasn’t really known. We have official statistics from crimes that are reported but we didn’t know exactly what was going on at grass roots level.” Sarah explained.
“Key findings showed that regardless of ethnicity, young people can be victims, witnesses and also perpetrators of race hate crime. The extent of race hate crime was quite apparent, and the effects of race hate crime was also quite shocking to us.”
She added: “Racism was witnessed and experienced via social media according to the young people who took part in the study. With the current COVID-19 lockdown there is concern about possible increased racial abuse taking place online.”
A team of undergraduate students supported the data collection process which is a key approach of the Staffordshire University Crime and Society Research Group.
Pupils described race-hate victimisation that ranged from verbal abuse to physical assault including reports of weapons being used in some of the attacks. Islamophobic abuse such as headscarves being removed was reported along with race-hate between white and BAME pupils and between BAME pupils of different origins.
Inter-school racial conflict was also described. Schools with higher BAME pupil populations were negatively labelled by pupils from white majority schools.
Concerningly, teachers were seen to favour white pupils when incidents occurred on school premises, with some teachers described as ‘racist’. Young people felt that there needs to be harsher punishments for racist behaviour to reduce harmful behaviour.
Sarah said: “The research shows that racial tension is pervasive in the lives of these young people and that simultaneous intervention is required in school, in the community, on social media and in news reports in order to address racism.”
“We had young people tell us their hair is falling out because of the stress and the trauma from racist verbal abuse. Another concern was that some pupils described some of their teachers – not all – as racist. They recognised that when punishments were distributed in schools there was bias towards white students so they had less of a punishment than a BAME equivalent. That kind of prejudiced behaviour also concerned us."
It is twenty years since the publication of the MacPherson report which championed changes to all public sector organisations, including education to address racism more effectively following the racist murder of Stephen Lawrence.
Sarah believes this new research proves that change is still needed. She is encouraging the government to make concerted efforts to eliminate racism and race-hate related extremism within society and schools.
One suggestion is that the government funds training for all school staff on extremism and race issues - something that currently only some staff receive.
“The extent of race hate is quite clear despite it being twenty years on from the Macpherson report. What we found is that things haven’t been properly addressed and more work needs to be done in that particular area.
Sarah added: “Schools are under-resourced and that has implications for how complaints from pupils get addressed and whether or not a school wants to follow through on punishment, for example. As a result we would also advocate that the government makes sure schools get extra funding to address pastoral support and challenging behaviour.”
Young people also felt that more education for pupils on what constitutes race hate and race hate extremism would be helpful. They suggested a range of ideas for addressing race hate issues in society.
Read the full report published in the British Journal of Community Justice - ‘People get killed cause of there [their] skin. It cannot be stopped’: A Midlands case study considering racism amongst pupils in UK secondary schools and the community