By Bea Mahmood
There has never been a moment in history where racial relations in Britain have been perfect, but there have certainly been periods where relations have been relatively good. However, recently hate crimes are dominating the media.
Racism has most certainly not been left in the past with oil-lanterns and looms where it belongs, instead it has been unwittingly dragged through the centuries and has stubbornly established its existence in our society in modern times. Although racial abuse has undeniably dissipated somewhat in recent years, it is evident that racism itself never disappeared but instead lay concealed, waiting for a moment to reveal itself.
Two weeks ago, the British public were surrounded by the shocking story of the Woolwich murder and the news of innocent soldier, Lee Rigby's death was ubiquitous. While this crime was not exactly racially motivated (but driven by extremist thinking), it has sparked a torrent of 'retaliation' hate crimes. Last week, the EDL (English Defence League) set fire to an Islamic community centre in North London, confirming fears amongst many that reprisals to the Woolwich murder are to be expected.
Right-wing groups like the EDL shatter any illusions amongst the forward-thinking British population that the days of racially-motivated violence, of the 1980s Brixton race riots and of the 2001 Bradford riots have now been relegated to the history books. They snuff out any glimmer of hope that eventually racism will diminish completely and that one day peace will reign supreme in Britain. Instead, the EDL serve as a frightening reminder that racism unfortunately still exists.
29 year old student Laila who is Vietnamese says: 'I have suffered many incidents of racial abuse. Once an elderly white man told me to go back to Japan!' Racism is not something which will disappear overnight, however as long as new generations are taught that racism is unacceptable, the future of racial relations will be slowly begin to improve. It is obvious that the UK is taking positive steps towards eliminating racial prejudice entirely. In schools popular nursery rhyme lyrics are being changed in favour of political correctness. Students are now required to sing 'Baa baa pink sheep' as it was felt that the original alienated ethnic minorities.
Laila continues, 'while I have had my fair share of racist comments thrown at me, I do believe society has become more tolerant now. I have experienced less racial abuse now than I did before.' So, although racism exists, it is clear that attitudes towards ethnic minorities are changing but what about the recent events including the EDL attacks? Does this negate the view that racism is in fact dwindling?
In effect, the answer to this is ‘no’ since it is only in the wake of a hate crime that there is a rise in attacks. Therefore it is actually reprisal attacks that are a cause for concern.
In the week following the Woolwich murder, there were 136 complaints of anti-Muslim incidents reported online to the police according to figures from the Association of Chief Police Officers (ACPO). This number is actually five times the number recorded in the week preceding the murder. From the statistics, it can be inferred that, yes, racism does exist and hate crimes do occur, however when a crime in the name of a race or religion takes place, the amount of hate crimes in retaliation increases considerably. In an article for the Guardian, the Metropolitan police's head of counter-terrorism, Cressida Dick, agrees that there has been an increase in counter attacks and also concedes that 'compared to previous times we have had slightly less [complaints of attacks].'
25 year old law student Sami agrees that generally, racism is at a low in Britain: 'in general, people are quite tolerant of minorities. But it is only when an event happens, like 9/11 or even the Woolwich murder that the cracks begin to appear and we're sent hurtling backwards in our journey towards peace.'
Monitoring groups have recorded that since the Woolwich murder, a total of 11 mosques have been targeted and women wearing hijabs have complained about being spat at, or having their headscarves pulled off. Sami continues, 'It only takes for an event like the Woolwich murder to remind people of their racist inclinations. My sister wears a hijab and was afraid to leave her house after she heard about the murder because she feared she would be targeted.'
It is important to remember that groups like the EDL are a minority in themselves. They do not represent nor do they espouse ideals which can be assigned to all English people. It is unfair to judge an entire race on one group of demagogues.
We must continually fight to keep racism at bay. Crime against minorities following incidents such as the Woolwich murder are an example of how one event is enough to incite racial hatred in an otherwise forward-thinking and tolerant country.