‘… we must not merely regard black and minority ethnic people as ‘deserving’ respect and inclusion, but reject racism as the sin of exclusion, disrespect and ‘segregation’, by grasping and cherishing the fact that all God’s children inherently share in the dignity of the Being of God.”

Rev. Arlington Trotmann, 2005, representing the then Churches Commission for Racial Justice.

What Do We Mean by Racism?

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.

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 is unlawful to discriminate either directly or indirectly on racial grounds, in terms of employment and training, education and provision of goods and services

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.

The Executive Office (formerly OFMDFM) published a 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

Hate Crime

Racially motivated crimes come under the heading of ‘hate crime’. The Police Service of Northern Ireland (PSNI) has trained Hate Incident and Minority Liaison Officers in each district to deal with hate crime. Information from the PSNI can be found in their leaflet:


You can report an incident of hate crime by dialling 999 in an emergency, or 101 in a non-emergency (but do have the permission of the victim first).  Or use the Crimestoppers number 0800 555 111. Hate crimes can also be reported online. For more information, go to https://www.psni.police.uk/crime/hate-crime/reporting-a-hate-crime/

The Northern Ireland Housing Executive (NIHE) encourages reporting of neighbourhood harassment to their district offices. Go to the Housing Executive website to find out more about hate crime, and also to discover their Hate Harassment Toolkit

The Equality Commission for Northern Ireland is responsible for preventing discrimination and promoting equality. It covers various areas of discrimination including race. If you want advice from the Equality Commission about unlawful discrimination contact them on: [email protected] or telephone (028) 9089 0890 (Enquiry Line).