Friday, 12 June 2009

Is racism increasing among young people? A colleague and I have been puzzling over a level of racism among young people that we've come across recently. Complaints about racist behaviour were offered to us by workshop participants on several occasions, and we witnessed openly racist comments among the young people in a racially mixed school class and among a group excluded from school. These examples appeared to us to be crude and unreflective reiterations of unfiltered prejudices, in contexts where no challenge was expected. Now I just came across a post by a youth worker on the CYP forum, claiming that racist attitudes have not only vastly intensified but they have also become calculated and covert. Over the last couple of months I have been shocked by the hostile nature of the racist attitudes displayed by young people - supplemented with many references to support for the BNP... I have worked with disaffected kids for over 15 years and not one single young person has ever shown any self-motivated interest in any political party but now they know the names of their local BNP representatives. The problem is out there, unseen and festering. Whilst I roll up my sleeves and prepare for what is going to be a complicated challenge I cannot help but feel utter frustration for the damage caused by the hysterical “moral police” who have succeeded in driving this social cancer underground. And disturbingly, when it came to reflecting on the recent elections: Support for the BNP was very open throughout the day with young people joining in the revelry of “their” party. This problem has been brewing, and I'm thinking about a paper published last year by Carolyn Gaskell on 'young people's experiences of (dis)respected citizenship and the New Labour Respect Agenda'. She pointed out how hard it is for young people to assume a role as an active citizen when the state does not reflect a sense of respect and worth to them: 'feeling disrespected by the state, living in insecure and often dangerous environments, without the voice, power or belief that change could be enacted, many young people subvert their citizenship, creating an alternative framework of respect for themselves.' [Children's geographies, 6(3), 2008]

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