Illustrations by Hannah Robinson
In the midst of the pervasive pain and fulminating fury at the centre of Black Lives Matter’s powerful protests – presenting a turning point in Britain’s egregious story of race relations – another misery-etched face emerges to tell its tale.
It is the face of hate crime. A scourge on any society: that extra vicious twist of the dagger in what are already heinous crimes. Hate crimes are motivated by a prejudice regarding “protected characteristics”, that includes race, religion, disability and sexual orientation.
Last Friday, the extent of hate crime in Scotland for 2019-20 was revealed. The Crown Office and Procurator Fiscal Service published its official statistics. Compared to the previous year, Scotland has witnessed a considerable increase in the number of reported charges. Race crime is the most commonly reported hate crime, with a total of 3,038 charges reported in the past year, up by 4 percent. This is just another example of what the Black Lives Matter movement stands against, and what we must fight.
These jarring statistics reveal what is often the most violent expression of institutionalised and everyday racism. Clearly, Scotland – often praised for its progressive policies – is by no means immune from the very worst acts of racism.
A central element of current public discussion is about education. Certainly, education must form part of the solution in the fight against racism, particularly re-assessing school curriculums and considering how colonisation and the slave trade is taught. For as long as a warped history is remembered, we remain shackled to misconceptions and bound by ignorance.
Yet, facing up to inertia is as important in tackling everyday racism and the blight that is hate crime. The best approach may be twofold. First, strengthening and increasing our efforts at educating younger generations and secondly, resisting the passivity of our society towards racism and hate crimes.
In educating, we must ask ourselves: why citizens not only harbour racial hatred, but also why they act upon it? It is only when we understand “why”, that we can ever hope of changing attitudes.
You can legislate against hate crime. And we do. You can enforce legislation. You can punish the perpetrators. You can support the victims. But to try and stop it?
You need to get inside the minds of those commit hate crimes. You need to educate to change attitudes – something which is rightly at the very core of the American and British Black Lives Matter movement.
Indeed, the US Civil Rights Movement was eventually enabled by legislation, but required bolstering by education. It took generations of education before minds began to become more tolerant and a near half century before a black president made it to the White House. The evolution of mind-sets is still a work in progress.
However, inaction is just as much our enemy as ignorance. From a prison cell in Birmingham, Alabama, Martin Luther King Jr. wrote “Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere”. In that letter in 1963, King despaired at the passivity of white churchmen. He recognised that whilst white Christians were not the perpetrators of these crimes against black people, they were complicit by their inaction. Never let that be said of this Scottish nation.
The age-old solution is education. All the enforcement in the world is futile if you do not back it up with educating the young to become something their elders are not. But for the Black Lives Matter movement to succeed, for hate crimes to become a thing of the past, every one of us must guard against the everyday inertia which has been permissible for far too long.