Belfast Telegraph

Thursday 5 May 2016

We need to tackle racism and xenophobia across the board in Northern Ireland

By Steven Agnew

Published 06/08/2014

Racist graffiti appeared on gable walls in east Belfast last month
Racist graffiti appeared on gable walls in east Belfast last month

The Green Party welcomes OFMDFM’s long-awaited launching of consultation on the Racial Equality Strategy for Northern Ireland. We will certainly be digging in and engaging wholeheartedly with the process.

Racism is part of a wider problem. It’s a form of xenophobia, fear and hatred of the ‘foreigner’, the ‘stranger’, the ‘other’. We have a tendency in Northern Ireland to take a suspicious stance towards people who are not ‘like us’, people who are somehow different, marked off as not our ‘sort’. 

We need to tackle this across the board. Political leaders, formal and informal, need to show everyone in their respective communities that it is OK to be different; whether that means coming from another denomination, another ethnic group, being LGBT, having a disability or even simply being a woman: don’t forget, many of the recent racist incidents have also been deeply misogynist, featuring gangs of men intimidating women. But the positive example of the weekend’s Pride parade in Belfast shows that at least some of us get it. The bullies with the spray-guns and petrol bombs appear not to know any better; their leaders ought to. 

If it weren’t so utterly outrageous, some aspects of the recent spate of racist attacks in east Belfast might offer a lesson in irony. Judging by the graffiti, the racists appear to have decided that everyone they attacked was ‘Romanian’, even the Slovakians. Then there was the little soundbite doing the rounds on the internet: a woman claimed that the area was ‘definitely not racist’, and that the only reason racist incidents were occurring was because of ‘all the foreign nationals moving in’.

Apparently neither facts nor basic logic appear to matter much when it comes to racism. But this is not to say we shouldn’t look long and hard at the reasons for the surge in such attacks. And if anything, it shows that solving the problem will be far from easy.

Look across the world and you’ll find xenophobia rises where financial security falls: we should recognise that social and economic inequality are deeply interconnected.

If we’re serious about ending xenophobia in all its forms we have to start investing time and resources in areas of relative deprivation, places where skilled jobs once provided not only income, but a sense of purpose and discipline. We need to revalue manual work, and ensure sustainable jobs pay a living wage. And we need to invest further in education, showing people from the start of their lives that embracing the whole rich spectrum of human variety is a good thing. 

Paradoxically, it might just be that when we start to enjoy the riches brought to us by people who are different, we’ll start to find we have a lot in common. And who wouldn’t want to belong to a rich, diverse, yet close-knit society like that?

The annual Pride festival set a positive example for Belfast
The annual Pride festival set a positive example for Belfast

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