Rowena Arshad: nNever be complacent about racism

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Hate crimes are any crime where bias, prejudice and bigotry is a motivating factor.

It would be too easy to see each hate crime as an isolated incident conducted by a mindless individual – the one bad apple in the barrel. There are only so many “isolated” incidents we can talk about before we have to start talking about a trend.

In 2014, the Crown Office reported that the number of reported racial hate crimes in Scotland went up by three per cent. However, everyone accepts that a significant number more go unreported.

In Scotland, we pride ourselves on being tolerant and that we welcome everyone – we are all Jock Tamsin’s bairns. However, we need to be careful that while we might aspire to such a situation, we do not indulge in denial. That would be dangerous.

The fact is the number of people prepared to say they are racist in Scotland has also risen. In 2000, 14 per cent surveyed as part of the British Social Attitudes (BSA) survey admitted to being racially prejudiced. In 2013/14, this had risen to 25 per cent.

You could say that this simply reflects that people are being more honest in 2014 then they were in 2000. Well, that is one explanation. Another and more worrying reason might be that people now feel it is more acceptable to make racist comments – presumably under the banner of freedom of speech.

The Scottish Government takes a zero tolerance view to hate crimes. In February this year, they launched the Speak Up Against Hate Crime initiative. This is to be commended. We need victims to speak up so that they can receive adequate and appropriate support. However, this will in itself not reduce hate crimes.

Equally, focusing attention solely on the perpertrator is not going to reduce hate crimes. We need to acknowledge in tough times with economic recession and social fracture, that people will attempt to find scapegoats.

As caring concerned citizens who would oppose racism, bigotry and prejudice in any shape or form, we must not avoid asking tough questions of why racism, or any other form of discrimination is continuing to flourish in our society. What is it that makes individuals or groups feel it is all right to abuse those who are in the minority or those who look different, dress different and sound different. How many of us stand by, watch, disapprove silently, but do not speak out?

Education has a big part to play in helping to tackle hate crime.

At every level of education, in the early years to adult and community education, there should be opportunities opened up to help learners develop an understanding of discrimination, to build capacity to challenge discrimination and to take action for equality.

• Rowena Arshad, Centre for Education for Racial Equality in Scotland (CERES), University of Edinburgh