Civic bodies must confront racism

    Once I heard of a little-known culinary tip to encourage an
    obstinate jelly out of its mould. It involves using a hairdryer to
    apply heat so that the edges melt away and it can slip out. In a
    similar way, compassionate yet subversive challenges need to be
    made against campaigns that aim to exclude or marginalise people
    such as asylum seekers or refugees. My belief is that
    non-inflammatory, but directly applied, speaking out can make
    everyone question their attitudes.

    Racism is based on the belief that one’s own ethnicity is superior.
    Racism is then given credence by the tacit support or failure of
    civic institutions to speak out against it, as illustrated in
    Channel 4’s documentary Keep Them Out in May. Councils and
    the media appeared to support the fear-driven xenophobic campaign
    of the pressure group opposed to an asylum assessment centre at Lee
    on the Solent.

    Members of the pressure group Daedalus Action Group sought to
    protect their own lifestyles and were fearful of anything that
    might seem to threaten their own comfortable and relatively
    privileged lives. The group exhibited deep-seated and irrational
    fears of asylum seekers. And no civic institutions publicly
    challenged these attitudes.

    There was a petition in my doctor’s surgery against the centre.
    When I challenged the practice manager about it I was told there
    were “not enough resources for our own”. In addition, the chair of
    the county council supported the group and the district council did
    not remove offensive banners and posters. Local newspapers were
    supportive of the pressure group and no local authority spoke out
    against the views displayed. Civic institutions reflected the same
    attitudes as the pressure group and there was more than a whiff of
    cultural racism in the air.

    Where there are fear-led campaigns opposing asylum seekers and
    refugees, xenophobic attitudes are likely to be dominant. Ideals
    such as inclusion, diversity and compassion must be defended and
    promoted. Civic institutions must be prepared to publicly oppose
    racist views and argue for diversity and compassion. Heat needs to
    be applied by all of us if we are to rid racism from our society.

    Les Gibbons is an approved social worker, but writes from a
    personal perspective.

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