A friend who teaches at an old-fashioned Sussex boarding school has a zero-tolerance approach to racism. The moment he hears one of the foreign boys claiming to be a victim of it, that’s them chucked out of the class for the rest of the lesson. ‘Well I’m sorry,’ says my friend Duncan, quite unapologetically. ‘But they’re bright kids and they’re enjoying the best education money can buy in a multi-ethnic school where racism just isn’t an issue. I think it’s an absolute bloody outrage that they should try that line…’
Had he been working in the state sector, of course, he would be out of his job by now. Which is an awful pity because people of Duncan’s courage and robust convictions are what the world sorely needs. That overused ‘r’ word has done more to stifle open political debate and poison social cohesion than perhaps any other word in the English language. It’s time we stamped on it and stamped on it hard. But how? To appreciate the scale of the problem, you only had to observe the way an incident involving attacks by locals on over 100 Romanians in Belfast was reported last week. What wasn’t at all clear from any of the initial reports — neither in the BBC, nor, more surprisingly in the right-leaning newspapers — was what had brought the natives of Belfast to this unfortunate pass. Other than their disgusting, abominable and thoroughly to-be-condemned racism, that is.
I first heard the story myself on the Today programme. In the news report, the victims were all carefully described as Romanians, with no clue offered as to their ethno-cultural identity. But then, a Belfast race-relations worker interviewed by the BBC let the cat out of the bag by referring to them more accurately as ‘Roma’. At which point, I swore a lot at my radio then blogged about it for the Daily Telegraph. My main complaint was that we listeners were being treated here like children: children who could not be trusted to be told the whole truth lest they reach the ‘wrong’ conclusions.
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