Skip to main content

Tackling racism on campus: Raising awareness and creating the conditions for confident conversations project – Blog by Jacqueline Fitzpatrick, ESOL Lecturer, Glasgow Kelvin College

For the most part of my life, I have been a silent victim of the battles of race and prejudice. Yes, it's a battle. A battle against reigning principalities, world views, ideologies etc. Physical battles are quick and easy, winning a court case against racism can be over and precedents set but changing mind-sets is a hard and wearisome task. This battle has been going on for decades. Some battles have been won - for instance, slavery, segregation, apartheid etc. We even have laws and policies to protect ethnic minorities and with these laws come certain privileges for a few. I would like to add, most often a privilege with added sorrow. With sorrow because laws are meant to be followed but laws do not change mind-sets, for this reason we have systemic racism lurking in every corner. Certain things cannot be demanded by laws or policies, such as love and respect. Here our battle lies: how do we re-educate or renew mind-sets in a society were colonial world views and ideologies are still reigning? Some resist the idea of change, because change would mean acknowledging that we are all equal. Change would mean relinquishing some of those privileges and superiority. For some the idea of master and slave is appealing. They hold onto the intoxicating idea that one’s race in society is above another, to validate their existence. The superiority of being and the idea of greatness can only have its place in the belief that someone is less than ourselves. Colonialism, slavery and other social/conspiracy theories that are solely based on dehumanisation or racial groups continue to diffuse this idea.

Modern day racism is subtle; the subtle nuances of racism, sometimes expressed in social cues. Alas! It's like fighting an invisible enemy, there or not, you almost doubt yourself.

In retrospect I was silent and still am to a point. I have been silent because the battle seemed so great and I felt that my voice was too small to be heard. A rich man though foolish will be listened to rather than a poor man though wise. This picture portrays what I sometimes experience in conversation with some of my white colleagues at work. Though this may be true it's a terrible thing to stay silent and do nothing when one witnesses an evil in society. Silence because you are afraid or because it's none of your business is foolish because every evil that happens in our world impacts all of us whether we like it or not.

The way forward is open and honest dialogue that transcends the desire to be politically correct but has a genuine desire to see love and respect for humanity in our world. Sadly, are they really hearing us? Like my brothers and sisters would say 'do you feel me?' Translated, 'Do you understand where I am coming from? Can you empathise with me?’ More than ever we need our empathetic white brothers and sisters to unite, stand with us and shout our cause.

It's often said that open dialogue between racial groups is the way forward but I wish to add that the way forward is for our leaders and people in authority to believe and understand our plight, then they will hear/listen to us, respect us and value our unique and special gifts, talents, knowledge and wisdom that we would offer to our societies.

White, yellow, red, black... brothers and sisters let's not diminish/detract one another but let us elevate one another to create a better world free of racial hatred and violence. Let us not tolerate racism but abhor it.

Well, I have taken one step forward to use my voice in writing this piece of text whatever you may wish to call it. You may have better ideas, disagree with what I have had to say or maybe you are nodding your head and shouting 'preach it sister'.

I think this is the part where I am reminded to cut to the chase…

  1. Why did you put yourself forward for the steering group?

When I got wind of the steering group and the aims and objectives of the group, which in a snap shot were: stop racial harassment through education and open dialogue (subjects close to my heart), I just wanted to be a part of it. I was bubbling to be amongst kin, folk who know what it's like to be racialised, sharing our experiences and working towards making change and impact.

  1. What are your thoughts about how the project is commencing so far?

When we gathered for the first time, we all wanted this group to be different from other groups with similar agendas that had gone before us. For me, I wanted us to make a difference, not just another record or tick box exercise, recycling information. I want this project to pioneer a basis for topics of race to be taught and included as part of the curriculum and not just in social science classes. We need to contend for positive messages about BAME groups. We need to stop propaganda, historically propaganda was used as leverage to subjugate, enslave and plunder countries of the common wealth, today developing countries. These countries form a significant number of racialised groups or origins of most racialised groups in the western world and USA. History has to be exhumed to heal the present. I would to like to see this project pioneer a strong basis for compulsory education about racism and its origins. Ignorance is the basis for most ills in our society. Both the victim and perpetrator of racism will benefit for gaining insight and understanding about racism and, in turn, heal our societies. This may sound optimistic but there was a time when slaves in the plantations never thought they would see the day when slavery would be abolished.

So far, I think we've reached a few milestones, fine-picked a creative agency who will design a toolkit (basically text that we hope someone will read or quote). We have deliberated on an online reporting platform with clear options and signposts to support both staff and students etc.

That's okay, but we need more than text. We need to get the message out to the masses. It has to be heard seen, taught, discussed, debated – that's how we can make an impact. Use a blended approach, use all forms of media and arts (music, drama, film, song, literature etc.). Issues have to be pondered and meditated on, like a cow chewing the cud, we need the message to be echoed over and over, it has to be alive. What better place for this than through the education system, through our curriculum? I say we have to be bold, strong and courageous to discuss difficult subjects, and race is a difficult subject. It causes many of us to cringe, cower, recoil and retreat instead of face, confront, defy and dare.

This is a serious issue and it has to resonate that way. Say what you may, objective, subjective. I can't help it. I write in first person singular, I am writing from personal experience and awareness. Lives, hope, dreams are dashed, destroyed, crashed, broken, lost because of racism. It cannot be an off-topic, side-lined. It has to be on every governing body's agenda until anti-racist values are neatly interwoven in the very fabric of our society.

3) In current times of the pandemic and the increase in racist incidents, why do you think this project is important?

The project was important yesterday, important today and tomorrow. The pandemic hasn't triggered anything new but what the pandemic has done or other events in the past – e.g. the September 11th bombings, is unearthed what has been concealed, covert racism. Racism(R) is a pandemic that needs to be contained. Hopefully, through this project and others alike and with the help of our governments, nationally and globally, we can gauge, monitor and control the 'R' figure and keep it as close to zero as we possibly can.

Find out more about the project.