See bottom of page for help on how to report an incident where you have been discriminated due to your race
Racism doesn’t always come in the form of a physical attack, or a direct reference to the colour of your skin and your racial identity. A person who has made a racially aggravated degrading remark may not necessarily outwardly say, I’m saying this because of your race. As a result, this can lead to a student left feeling confused. This works to simply alienate students of colour even more. What makes a situation like this more troubling for the person affected, is the feeling that this more indirect and implicit form of racism is something that may not be understood by the services that offer support and respond to incidents of such discrimination. Unfortunately, students of colour have become quite accustomed to ignoring and shrugging off such comments and remarks. In some cases, and speaking from my own experiences and those of other people of colour I have spoken to, sometimes we pretend we don’t hear comments, remarks and slurs muttered quietly, as a coping mechanism.
The fact is, people of colour are able to sense when someone is being racist without explicitly being racist – it is like a sixth sense you learn quickly, that you have grown to detect. Racism can be receiving cold treatment from someone who has been quite friendly with others but when they come to you, their demeanour suddenly changes – they perhaps are not as welcoming, or friendly. A common example of this happens in supermarkets: when you go to the checkout to pay, there is a customer in front of you and the cashier is making friendly conversation with them, being quite warm, asking questions, engaging, and then suddenly, when it’s your turn, the cashier doesn’t even look to you, say hello – the only time they speak is when telling you how much your shopping has cost. Also, a personal experience, is when I went to the dentist, years ago now, and the receptionist had made a judgement, likely based on the cultural clothing my mum was wearing, that my mum is illiterate, unable to speak proper English and proceeds to speak to her like she is a nursery-child, in a very hostile manner – without outrightly saying, the reason why I am speaking to you like this is because I have made a prejudicial judgement that you would be unable to speak English.
These are very indirect forms of racism. And because of the indirect nature of these forms of racism and prejudice, it means that the person affected is doubtful of whether it will even be taken seriously as racism. Whether they are being too dramatic and overreacting, whether there is a point in reporting it, making a big deal of something that occurred within the span of a few seconds. Such thoughts have frequently crossed my own mind.
But there comes a point, when it becomes exhausting to put up with and shrug off racial remarks – where it is no longer enough to just ignore it, to pretend it isn’t happening, and where your mental health, self-esteem and confidence are deeply affected by such experiences. And particularly when you are student within a department, a course that is predominantly white, where you are one of a handful, it leads to feelings of exclusion and alienation. Of course, it is not every member of staff and every student that has discriminatory attitudes. But, being in a place where you don’t see much of yourself reflected around you, not being able to relate – especially to the staff members and course content – it all contributes to the sense of exclusion.
What I have found though is that, even though you tell yourself it’s nothing at the time, you catch yourself remembering the incident a few days later, a few weeks – a few years later, too. So, clearly, this is having a mental impact. And, what I have also become more aware of is the danger of normalising racism and discrimination. Yes, you might tell yourself, the system has failed us, there’s nothing we can do so we might as well just settle for it. You might tell yourself, there are people who have it worse. But that is no justification. Just because you may consider yourself to be in a better position, it doesn’t mean you don’t call out injustice. It is not a privilege to be treated fairly; it is your right. It is not called being angry, being defensive, being outspoken, being confrontational to demand fairness.
The Equality Act (2010) bluntly states you cannotbe discriminated because of your race. It isn’t your job to settle for it. [Race can mean your colour, your nationality, your ethnic and national origins – which may not be the same as your nationality. For example, you may have Chinese national origins and be living in Britain with a British passport. Race also covers your ethnic and racial groups. And racial harassment – which the Act defines as ‘when someone makes you feel humiliated, offended or degraded… can never be justified.’]
So, it is your right to expect to be treated fairly, to not be discriminated or silenced or undermined for the colour of your skin. And this is something that is of paramount importance to tell yourself when you have been subject to racism – when you feel yourself shrink inside, become small, feeling like you are abnormal, that you don’t belong. And for the universities, for the justice systems and for the government, tackling racism is not something that should be done as a political move, or superficially, to be politically correct – it is their duty. And as students and citizens, we have the right to demand that of our government and university, and to take action to create a society and an institution that is inclusive.
If you catch yourself thinking, ‘is it worth reporting’, ‘it’s not a big deal’, please do not let it sit inside of you and let that incident be quietly swept under the carpet. Even if you don’t know the name of the perpetrator, you can still report it – there may be witnesses, CCTV footage, staff can be employed in a place where racial incidents appear to be quite frequent. If the reason why you hesitate is because you don’t want to become involved in a lengthy process of reporting and resolving the incident – that is fine, you can choose to not be involved. If you are worried that it may affect a relationship with your classmates or your tutors, or your grades, you can choose to remain anonymous. Even if you do not want to go through with reporting the incident, that is fine – you can reach out to us and let us know that this has happened, and just get some support – have someone to talk to.
What to do when you have been subject to discrimination and/or harassment due to your race:
- If you know the name of the person/people involved, note it down. You can still report something even if you do not know the name of the person/people involved. Also, note down what it is they have said, or how it is they have behaved to you in a way that you have found discriminatory.
- Contact the EDI Collective over email and ask if it is possible for you to arrange to speak to someone over a video call or preferred method of communication.
[University emails are monitored, so we recommend that if you would like to limit the number of people being aware the incident, to organise a video/audio call with someone at the Collective.]
- We will then get back to you as soon as possible to organise a time where a member of the Collective can meet with you (virtually), and you can tell us what has happened.
- Following this, we will begin the process of seeking action for the perpetrator(s) involved and provide you with any support you need.
- You can also report any discrimination and harassment you have received due to your gender, religion, disability and sexual orientation.
- If you would like to know more about how we work to respond to an incident, and what process we take following a report, get in touch with us.
Written by Saaleha Iqbal