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Community / Racist incidents in schools figures don’t show full picture, campaigner says

STATISTICS on the number of racist incidents recorded in Shetland’s schools do not tell the full picture as many go unreported, a member of a local campaign group says.

Carina Newell of the anti-discrimination group Shetland Staands said only focusing on incidents actually reported by pupils was “misleading, and could lead to complacency when racism and discrimination within schools is an ongoing battle”.

The figures, released by the Scottish Liberal Democrats this week, showed that there had been four racist incidents recorded in local schools over the last two academic years.

However, Newell said that anecdotal evidence from young adults in the lead up to the Shetland Staands wi Black Lives Matter protest and walk last year “told us a very different picture”.

The well attended event followed widespread protests across the globe after the death of George Floyd, a black man who died after being restrained by a white Minnesota police officer.

Another walk in support of the movement, around the Loch of Clickimin, was also organised by different people.

“For some young people discrimination is a daily occurrence, particularly in secondary school settings, and can be due to their ethnicity, sexuality, culture, gender or disabilities,” Newell said.

“If all these instances were reported as they happened, and the young folk felt supported in doing so, this report would read very differently.

“Conversations with young people in the run up to the Shetland Staands protest revealed that some of them have been dealing with casual racism within the education setting all their school lives.

“Some said they went along with it as a means to fit in, while others didn’t have the voice to speak out against it and some said were conditioned in to thinking it was ‘just a fun’ and the problem was their’s if they didn’t just accept it.”

Newell highlighted one example of a young person at the Anderson High School, who said some of the “worst offenders” towards them actually ended up being on the Shetland Staands walk, carrying banners and sharing photos on social media.

“This young person had previously been on the receiving end of derogatory terms used against them because of their mixed heritage,” she said.

“You could only hope that this was an example of the turn in attitudes towards racism after the death of George Floyd.”

Newell hoped that the Shetland Staands wi Black Lives Matter event, which saw hundreds of people across the isles add their voice against racism, has “helped young persons of colour and ethnic minorities feel safer”.

“We hope it has empowered them to call out racist remarks made towards them, report them, and know they don’t have to accept it as ‘just a bit of fun’ any longer.

“We also hope other young people find strength and feel justified in calling out all types of racism, refusing to stand by any longer while their friends are subjected to discrimination.”

Key to this, Newell said, was the response to any reports of racism in schools.

Shetland Islands Council quality improvement officer James Johnston said in response to the figures that racist incidents were recorded at an average of 1.3 local schools a year since 2015.

He said staff in schools participate in a range of whole school approaches which create a culture of respect and understanding of equality.

“Where incidents do occur, school staff will challenge any racial prejudice while promoting learning across a wide range of other equalities issues,” Johnston said.

But Newell warned that young folk “will not report instances of discrimination if the feel that they won’t be taken seriously”.

“Reports must be carried forward and the appropriate supports put in place to address the issues,” she said.

“Acceptance that racism and discrimination exists is the first step in addressing the issues. This is the responsibility of everyone in the community.

“Discussions that have taken place over the last year through various campaigns, have shown that while it’s obvious that there is still work to be done, Shetland as a community continues to move forward in the battle against discrimination of all forms.”