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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