By Adrian Hart
A six-year-old child cowers tearfully in her school’s office. She knows she is in serious trouble for uttering a ‘bad’ word. Her fear is compounded by confusion.
She has been accused of racism but is far too young to understand the gravity of the charge or grasp its dire implications.
But she knows her transgression is a dreadful one: a phone call has been made to her parents; official forms have been filled in; the adults around her wear dutifully censorious expressions.
The little girl is in tumult. She has to be reassured that the police will not come and take her away.
What heinous crime has she committed? During the course of a playground game, she has called another child ‘blacky’.
The ‘victim’ has neither complained about, nor even noticed, the remark. But a playground supervisor has.
Diligently – and observing the Government procedures requiring all our schools to report ‘racist incidents’ – she has frog-marched the culprit to the office. In due course the little girl’s ‘crime’ is logged on local authority files.From there it becomes an official Government statistic.
The incident is not an isolated one. Similar scenes are enacted in primary and even nursery schools every day, all over Britain.
Local government race officials now urge schools to operate a zero-tolerance approach to anyone – even infants and toddlers – who could be construed as racist. As a result, children’s playground spats are elevated into full-blown dramas.
A nine-year-old child calls another a ‘chocolate bar’. The culprit’s parents and head teacher are duly informed; the child is reprimanded and denied play-time.
During a boisterous game of football, a girl calls a boy ‘white trash’. The heavy machinery cranks into motion again: she, too, becomes one of the estimated tens of thousands of children deemed guilty of racism since the Government’s racist incident reporting policy was implemented in 2002.
A recent survey reported 5,000 ‘racist’ incidents in Yorkshire schools alone, between 2006 and 2007.
In Essex 1,566 cases were noted in the three years up to 2005. Spurred on by a notion that even two-year-olds are capable of prejudice, Kent kindergartens have finalised a project to train staff in challenging racist statements from toddlers.
Battalions of diversity officers and ethnic minority coordinators the length and breadth of the country are doubtless applauding Kent’s brave initiative, while pursuing, with messianic zeal, their mission to unmask legions of name-calling infants as incipient racists.
Is Britain really a country mired in such bigotry? Actually – and controversially – I am daring to say it is not. Doubtless I will be accused by the anti-racist zealots of heresy, but I believe it is a myth that racism is rife in British schools.
A recent survey reported 5,000 ‘racist’ incidents in Yorkshire schools alone in one year
And I speak from first-hand experience. Eleven years ago I set up Coyote Films, and for the past decade I have worked as a community film-maker on video projects in schools in collaboration with various arts organisations.
As a result of my involvement in such projects, three years ago I was hired to make a film for Essex primary schools as part of a project called Watch Out For Racism!
It was aimed at nine to 11-year- olds because data from the county’s schools had apparently revealed that the overwhelming majority of racist incidents – verbal namecalling was the prime offence – occurred within this age group.
I went with a team of drama tutors to ‘raise awareness’ of the issues through anti-racist workshops. I expected to find a problem. Actually I did not. On the contrary, the schools I visited were good ones with vibrant, diverse communities in which black and ethnic minority children mixed harmoniously with the white majority.
However, it had been preordained: these schools had ‘issues’ and our job was to unearth them and force the children to acknowledge them.
The drama tutors’ remit was a familiar one: they wanted the kids to focus on their racial ‘identity’ and celebrate their differences.
But the children had a different view. ‘Isn’t it what’s on the inside that matters?’ asked several children, pertinently. Others were equally determined not to be railroaded by the agenda of the Government’s anti-racism missionaries.
‘I don’t think skin colour is important,’ remarked one. Meanwhile a white pupil asked – to the palpable embarrassment of every adult present – whether white kids were allowed to be proud of their identities, too.
In another session, chaos disintegrated into farce when a young black boy was asked how he identified himself. The drama tutor misheard his mumbled response. ‘Ah, a dark-skinned person!’ she said.
‘No, a dancing person,’ he elucidated. Later the same child was asked if his friends were hurt by name-calling incidents. He shrugged dismissively. ‘Some kids say things, but I say sticks and stones – you know what I mean?’
Which is precisely my point: children do insult each other; they have since time began. The school playground should be a maelstrom of exuberant sociability where kids are allowed to play games, shout, fall-out, tease each other and make up. This is how they learn and imbue important life-lessons in selfsufficiency and resilience.
It seems to me profoundly wrong that their childish games are now routinely observed and scrutinised for sinister content; that parents, and on occasion the police and Crown Prosecution Service, are even drawn in.
In some cases the consequences are the stuff of nightmares-children face official police reprimands; even court cases. Friendships fracture; animosities spring up, where none existed before – and the whole issue of race is magnified. It becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy: if someone says there is racism, it must exist.
Further, teachers’ time is wasted and their attention deflected from more serious incidents of real bullying as they are buried under the avalanche of paperwork and procedure that must accompany the so-called race-hate crimes.
Surely we should learn to trust teachers – in partnership with parents – to deal with these incidents, without heavyhanded State intervention? After all, this is what they were trained to do.
Please do not assume that I condone real racism in any way. I decry it as monstrous; any rightthinking individual would. Indeed, for 20 years I lived in East London where I campaigned against racism. I joined the Rock Against Racism march in 1979.
My experience, I feel, qualifies me to speak out. Yet most are simply too afraid to challenge the Government’s orthodoxy.
In staffrooms teachers whisper their criticisms of the ‘ zerotolerance’ approach for fear of being branded racist themselves. They worry that by ignoring minor infringements they will be construed as condoning them; so they dutifully tick all the right boxes. And in this way a deeply flawed system is perpetuated.
At the heart of the whole misconceived Government strategy lies a paradox: the schools that diligently report each minor breach of the rules are often very good ones; yet they are perceived to be the ones needing most help.
But there are no winners here. The official local government mantra typically states that schools which submit no incident returns must be ignoring, and therefore condoning, racism. They can’t win, can they?
I believe Britain is more racially harmonious today than it ever has been. We should be celebrating the fact. It is also more ethnically diverse than it has ever been. In London almost half the under-fives have a multicultural heritage.
Opportunities for transcending race have never been better. Yet the anti-racism fanatics persist in imagining a ‘celebration of difference’ is a panacea for resolving every prejudice.
In fact, the opposite is the case: what it does is enforce a sense of separation and erect boundaries that did not exist before.
• The Myth Of Racist Kids by Adrian Hart is published by Manifesto Club,