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Is Racism a Big Problem Here? test

International reporting on Northern Ireland often focuses on the negative and it is commonly said that racism is just another way of expressing violence following decades of internal conflict. Racism in Ireland is not new but it probably manifests itself more painfully today because there are larger numbers of newcomers from other national and ethnic backgrounds. Some people have found the sudden change difficult and racist attitudes thrive where there are widely held negative stereotypes and myths about immigrants. 

Negative attitudes in the wider community influence individuals who act out their prejudices through aggressive actions. There have been some very high profile incidents, such as the attacks on Roma in Belfast in 2009, but the day-to-day experiences of migrants and resident minority-ethnic people should disturb us equally. The number of incidents recorded in PSNI statistics gives an idea of the scale of racial harassment although many people choose not to report what has happened.

To view PSNI statistics, click here: https://www.psni.police.uk/inside-psni/Statistics/hate-motivation-statistics/

Legislation and Public Policy test

Racist acts are outlawed under criminal law, equality legislation exists in order to stop discrimination, and there are structures in place to protect groups and individuals.

Under the Race Relations (Northern Ireland) Order 1997 it was unlawful to discriminate either directly or indirectly on racial grounds, in terms of employment and training; education; provision of goods and services; and the disposal and management of premises and advertisements.

The Belfast Agreement of 1998 refers to equality and parity of esteem for people from different social, religious and ethnic backgrounds.

Section 75 of the Northern Ireland Act 1998 obliges public bodies to promote equality of opportunity between different groups of people, including ‘racial groups’. They are also obliged to promote good relations between people of different religious belief, political opinion or racial group. Public bodies are obliged to have Equality Schemes and to submit their policies to Equality Impact Assessments that are open to public scrutiny.

The Human Rights Act 1998 gave people rights to protection under the European Convention on Human Rights.

Human Rights Commission and Equality Commission have been set up in Northern Ireland to ensure that existing legislation and practice protect and uphold human rights and equality. They also have an advisory role on these issues.

The Office of the First and Deputy First Minister (OFMDFM – now The Executive Office – TEO) published A Racial Equality Strategy in July 2005, setting out “a framework for government and all sections of civil society in Northern Ireland for the creation of a community where racism, in any of its forms, is not tolerated and where all people enjoy equality of opportunity and equal protection”.

TEO published a further strategy in 2015 – The Racial Equality Strategy 2015 – 2025, which ” establishes a framework for government departments (and others) to tackle racial inequalities, to eradicate racism and hate crime and along with Together: Building a United Community, to promote good race relations and social cohesion.”

To find out more, click here: https://www.executiveoffice-ni.gov.uk/publications/racial-equality-strategy-2015-2025

The Police Service of Northern Ireland (PSNI) has trained Hate Incident and Minority Liaison Officers in each district. From 2004 judges have been given greater powers in sentencing where hostility is based on a number of categories including race.

The Unite against Hate campaign was initiated by, among others, OFMDFM, NIO (Northern Ireland Office), ECNI, and CRC (Community Relations Council), and was launched in September 2009, in order to challenge the prejudices that result in hate crimes. This provides opportunities for ordinary people to demonstrate their opposition to the minority who carry out all forms of hate crime, including racism. To find out more or sign a petition of support, go to www.uniteagainsthate.org.uk

What Do We Mean by Racism? test

Racism can be defined as a belief in the superiority of a particular race, and prejudice arising from this belief, that often results in antagonism towards, or discrimination against, other races. Today, treating someone badly because of nationality alone is usually regarded as racism.

The official report of the Stephen Lawrence Inquiry states that ‘Racism in general terms consists of conduct or words or practices which disadvantage or advantage people because of their colour, culture, or ethnic origin. In its more subtle form it is as damaging as in its overt form.’

Many today do not hold conscious views of racial superiority, but they do retain stereotypes about people from different countries or ethnic backgrounds that lead to discriminatory attitudes and actions. They may be unaware of their own attitudes or rationalise them. We all see nasty graffiti and the brick through the window as racism but a casual lack of understanding of peoples’ needs can be just as hurtful.

Individual racism often has an element of intent but Institutional Racism (where there is collective failure to deal with people properly) may well be unintentional. It is similar to Systemic Racism where policies, practices and systems that work against certain groups of people become embedded in organisations. For example, a policy which aims to treat everyone in exactly the same way may sound fair, but it may disadvantage a group whose needs are not met by that policy.

Direct Discrimination is to be treated less favourably because of your racial or ethnic background. Indirect Discrimination is where a provision, criterion or practice is applied equally but puts someone from a particular race or ethnic background at a disadvantage.

The Police Service of Northern Ireland defines a racist incident as any incident which is perceived to be racist by the victim or any other person.

What Can You Do?

Read Responding to Racism for ideas, and learn how to report racist incidents and find information about support organisations.