Are We Moving Towards A Sense Of Belonging Without Fear?
Following a previous post on David McNarry’s comments from the Inside Politics programme on Radio Ulster that addressed racism, housing and the Racial Equality Strategy, I was contacted by Eileen Chan-Hu. Eileen is a community activist and a former member of the Race Equality Panel, she gave me her views on some positive steps that should be taken to help ease tensions and make Northern Ireland a more welcoming place. We discussed the current fears of ethnic minority people living here as outlined in the previous blog and the fear that is created by racist behaviours.
I will seek here to address what can be done after recent racist incidents and their impact upon the idea of a sense of belonging for all in Northern Ireland.
Leadership is the most important factor in tackling racism. Good leadership sets the tone for society. It discourages all forms of inequality and discrimination. Above all, people do listen when elected representatives speak with a united voice and they can influence society. When that voice is fractured and condemnations are followed by qualifications, it cannot have the same impact. Peter Robinson has failed in his duty to promote good relations and though he has clarified and apologised for his remarks, he cannot afford another error in this area.
As it is currently a sensitive time with tensions heightened it would be extremely helpful to have a Media Code of Conduct to ensure that comments by representatives are not at risk of further increasing those tensions. Views must be expressed carefully, especially in public, to ensure that our politicians are doing all they can to live up to the standards set by the Racial Equality Strategy entitled, ‘A Sense of Belonging.’ Furthermore there should be additional racial awareness training to ensure that the conduct and language of representatives is not inflammatory and to assist in legislating to promote equality.
In addition, there are not currently sufficient resources to deal effectively with the problems. The community sector is underfunded and competition to receive grants is high. An increase on the £1.1 million per annum total that is available to groups promoting good relations via the Minority Ethnic Development Fund would show a strong commitment to this work. It is time for the OFMDFM to prove that race relations are not an afterthought but a priority and recognise their important position as outlined in the Good Friday Agreement in promoting equality.
At the heart of the issue are attitudes towards minorities. It is all too easy for misconceptions and stereotypes to be spread when there is no contact or relationship between different members of our communities. Safe and controlled environments to allow members of the ethnic minority community to meet with young people and break down barriers should be created in schools and community centres. This would allow for young people’s views to be challenged and to identify with potential victims of racial incidents. Building these relationships is a crucial step in fostering trust and education is central to any solution. Dialogue is key to understanding and reducing tensions.
The ultimate goal is to see more members of the ethnic minority community in everyday life. It is uncomfortably difficult to try and name members of these communities in our society who are in the public eye, bar Anna Lo. When minorities are allowed to fully integrate into life here, we will see a change in attitudes. Northern Ireland has been through too much, with communities pitted against one another, to allow discrimination and hatred to once again be an everyday occurrence. As Her Majesty the Queen said this week,
“This city should be an example to the world of people overcoming differences.”
Today, the launch of OFMDFM’s Unite Against Hate takes place at the MAC. It is a multi-agency response to hate-crime in all its forms. Campaigns like Unite Against Hate need support from the entire community and demonstrate the desire to overcome racism. There should be no fear as we make progress towards, ‘A Sense of Belonging’.
Eileen Chan-Hu, Co-Founder/ Programme Manager CRAIC NI
Article for Situation NI, 27 June 2014
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