Uni­ver­si­ties chal­lenged over racism but de­ci­sion to in­clude na­tion­al­ity is bizarre

The Press and Journal (Aberdeen and Aberdeenshire) - - AGENDA - Lindsay Razaq

“This my daddy,” my two-year-old de­clares proudly with an ap­pro­pri­ately the­atri­cal ac­com­pa­ny­ing ges­ture.

Our group, com­posed en­tirely of fam­ily, who un­sur­pris­ingly know ex­actly who Mr R is, sup­press gig­gles. He on the other hand is beam­ing from ear to ear.

It’s a lovely mo­ment in it­self, but also be­cause, for a spell, Maya was get­ting a lit­tle mud­dled up.

Much to my be­muse­ment – and ini­tial amuse­ment – on one oc­ca­sion, Mo Farah, pic­tured inside his chil­dren’s book Ready Steady Mo, was “daddy”. On an­other, he was Amer­i­can co­me­dian Dave Chap­pelle, whose photo she saw on a DVD sleeve. Per­haps she couldn’t get past the shaved heads?

But then, in a par­tic­u­larly em­bar­rass­ing in­ci­dent, when our neigh­bour – also of Pak­istani her­itage – knocked to find out whether we too had been af­fected by a power cut, Maya pointed at him and cried: “Daddy!” He has a full head of hair…

In typ­i­cal first-time par­ent fash­ion, we started to panic.

“She’s never made this type of mis­take when it comes to her white rel­a­tives…”

“Surely our daugh­ter doesn’t think all black and brown peo­ple look the same?”

“I thought chil­dren were blind to colour?” “How do we ap­proach this?” Thank­fully, the phase didn’t last long and by and large, she seems to have worked it out, for now at any rate. Phew!

It’s cer­tainly a big re­lief as I hadn’t an­tic­i­pated hav­ing to nav­i­gate this kind of con­ver­sa­tion with a tod­dler, although – as with ba­sic man­ners and be­hav­iour – I guess it’s never too early to teach a child right from wrong on any sub­ject.

I was re­minded of Maya’s re­cur­ring faux pas as I came across a damning new re­port “Tack­ling Racial Ha­rass­ment: Uni­ver­si­ties Chal­lenged” pub­lished by Bri­tain’s equal­ity watch­dog, ex­pos­ing the scale of racism at uni­ver­si­ties in Eng­land, Scot­land and Wales.

The Equal­ity and Hu­man Rights Com­mis­sion (EHRC) has warned that many higher ed­u­ca­tion in­sti­tu­tions are not only un­aware of the ex­tent of the prob­lem, but also “over­con­fi­dent in their abil­ity to han­dle” it, with many in­ci­dents go­ing un­re­ported. Ac­cord­ing to the find­ings, 24% of stu­dents from an eth­nic mi­nor­ity back­ground said they had ex­pe­ri­enced racial ha­rass­ment since start­ing their course. Ex­am­ples un­cov­ered in­cluded phys­i­cal at­tacks as well as racist name-calling, in­sults and jokes, and ex­clu­sion from group ac­tiv­i­ties.

The in­quiry, based on a range of re­search meth­ods, also con­cluded that while in most cases stu­dents said the person tar­get­ing them was a fel­low stu­dent, a “large num­ber” said it was their tu­tor or an­other aca­demic.

Black stu­dents re­ported the high­est rate of racial ha­rass­ment, with 29% ex­pe­ri­enc­ing some form of abuse, while among Asian stu­dents it was 27%.

The pub­li­ca­tion fol­lows a re­port by Uni­ver­si­ties UK ear­lier this month that found in­sti­tu­tions have been pri­ori­tis­ing sex­ual ha­rass­ment and gen­der-based vi­o­lence, with less stand­ing given to race-based in­ci­dents.

Such wide­spread ev­i­dence of on-cam­pus racism is ex­tremely dis­turb­ing.

Clearly, racism is hor­ri­fy­ing wher­ever it is un­earthed. But to dis­cover it is preva­lent in our places of learn­ing, where peo­ple go to broaden their hori­zons and pre­pare them­selves for adult life, is as­ton­ish­ing. More­over, that aca­demics – those we trust to guide our young­sters and help shape their minds – are some­times the per­pe­tra­tors is down­right de­spi­ca­ble.

The EHRC’s in­ter­ven­tion is there­fore un­doubt­edly wel­come in terms of shin­ing a much-needed and un­for­giv­ing spot­light on an un­com­fort­able truth. Sadly, its im­pact might be lim­ited, how­ever, be­cause of a bizarre de­ci­sion to in­clude – along­side the eth­nic mi­nor­ity sta­tis­tics – in­ci­dents against white stu­dents.

Nine per cent said they had ex­pe­ri­enced racial ha­rass­ment since start­ing their course, the in­quiry re­ported. Mean­while, the re­port it­self refers to ev­i­dence of “anti-English sen­ti­ment at Scot­tish and Welsh uni­ver­si­ties and of­fen­sive com­ments about Gypsy and Ir­ish Trav­eller stu­dents”.

An EHRC spokesman said it had used the Equal­ity Act’s def­i­ni­tion of race, which in­cludes race, eth­nic­ity and na­tion­al­ity. They also in­sisted that while the re­port was clear that racial ha­rass­ment “pre­dom­i­nantly im­pacts black and Asian stu­dents”, it would have been wrong to ig­nore the other ex­am­ples.

But this seems mis­guided at best and at worst care­less or danger­ous even.

Of course, all prej­u­dice is de­plorable and should never go unchecked. There is no place for xeno­pho­bic at­ti­tudes or be­hav­iour on cam­pus – or any­where else in our so­ci­ety for that mat­ter.

It’s cru­cial, how­ever, not to con­flate these two things or sug­gest they are on a par. And in­clud­ing ha­rass­ment based on na­tion­al­ity in a re­port about racism risks do­ing just that. It also risks di­lut­ing its im­pact by un­der­min­ing the watch­dog’s cred­i­bil­ity.

Be­cause, if these bod­ies are to wield any power or be able to ef­fect any sort of change, peo­ple need to have faith in them.

Let’s not beat about the bush – there is a dis­tinct and im­por­tant dif­fer­ence between dis­crim­i­na­tion based on a person’s skin colour and the coun­try from which they hail.

If we are to tackle these is­sues prop­erly, we need to do so with hon­esty and pre­ci­sion. It’s very tempt­ing to want to cat­e­gorise your vic­tim­hood if you’ve been un­fairly tar­geted based on who you are. As some­one who hasn’t al­ways fit­ted in eas­ily, I un­der­stand that.

But we must be mind­ful not to triv­i­alise the is­sue by wa­ter­ing down the def­i­ni­tion.

Black stu­dents re­ported the high­est rate of racial ha­rass­ment, with 29% ex­pe­ri­enc­ing some form of abuse, while among Asian stu­dents it was 27%

Olympic cham­pion Mo Farah has what it takes to be mis­taken for Maya’s daddy – namely brown skin and a shaved head

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