What to do about racist bullying

Estimated read: 7 minutes 
Britain is a multi-racial and multi-faith country and everyone has the right to have their culture and religion respected by others.

Key points: 
  • There are many forms of racial abuse and harassment including racist name-calling and jokes. It could also be excluding others from groups or activities because of where they come from
  • The Race Relations Act 1976 states that schools and governing bodies have a duty to ensure that students do not face any form of racial discrimination, including attacks and harassment
  • If you are experiencing racist bullying online, please report this to the service provider. Take screenshots of the abusive comments and you can block the perpetrator too
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Nobody has the right to call your child names or to treat them badly because of their colour, race or religion. It's illegal and it can be stopped. Racist bullying is not just about the colour of your skin, it can be about your ethnic background or religion too. Racist bullying is the only type of bullying that schools must record. 

What is racism

Racism takes many forms and can happen in many places. It includes prejudice, discrimination or hatred directed at someone because of their race, religion, ethnicity or national origin. There are many forms of racial abuse and harassmen including racist name-calling and jokes. It could also be excluding others from groups or activities because of where they come from. This is against the law and also known as a hate crime.

Racism is not always something that is obvious and it can be something that is ingrained in people’s actions as well as their attitudes. It can also be prevalant in systems and institutions. Institutional racism, also known as systemic racism, is a form of racism that is embedded through rules and laws within society or an organisation. It can lead to such issues as discrimination in justice, employment, housing, health care, political power and education.

What is racist bullying

In the 1999 MacPherson Report, racist bullying was defined as "any incident which is perceived to be racist by the victim or any other person".  These incidents can include racist abuse, physical threats or attacks, wearing of provocative badges, bringing racist literature or leaflets to school, inciting others to behave in a racist way, racist graffiti and refusing to co-operate with others.

What schools have to do about racist bullying

The Race Relations Act 1976 states that schools and governing bodies have a duty to ensure that students do not face any form of racial discrimination, including attacks and harassment. 

Racism means you are subjected to abuse and harassment because of your race, colour or beliefs,  or ethnic background. If you are being bullied in this way you must tell your parents and ask them to write to your head teacher about it. Keep a diary of who says and does what because that will help the school to see where the bullying is taking place. You should make a complaint to the police if the school doesn't act to sort out racial bullying.

What steps you can take 

  • Avoid getting into fights or altercations. Try to use your body language or facial expressions to show that this is not acceptable
  • If you do choose to say something, ensure that you are safe at all times. If you feel able to say something, be confident and keep it simple
  • If you are experiencing racist bullying online, please report this to the service provider. Take screenshots of the abusive comments and you can block the perpetrator too
  • Talk to your trusted friends and family if you are experiencing racist bullying for help and support
  • Avoid bottling up how you are feeling as this could end up affecting your mental and emotional health and wellbeing. Even if you felt that you’ve dealt with what happened to you really well, you should always let someone else know what occurred and how it made you feel so they can support you and help to keep you and others safe
  • If you see someone else being racist, do not join in or encourage the behaviour by smiling, laughing or staying silent as it might make you a bystander
  • If you know the person well and you feel able to do so, you could try to educate them about the things they are saying. They might not understand that their actions are derogatory

Making a complaint to the police about racist bullying

You can make a complaint to the police if the school doesn't sort out racist bullying. Most police forces have school liaison officers who should be able to warn the bullies off. In serious cases you could ask whether your local force has a hate crime unit.

The police have been recording racial incidents separately since 1988 and figures have risen nearly every year since then. This is partly due to an increased willingness to become involved but also because it is now much easier to report racist incidents, in some areas you can report them online.

Schools need to know about tensions in their local communities. This information should be provided by the local police. Disputes within the community sometimes end up in school. Schools must keep a record book of the names of perpetrators of racial problems and are expected to work with the police and other agencies including the youth service and the wider community.

If you think your child has been subjected to racial discrimination then you can ask the Equality and Human Rights Commission for advice on what to do about it. People from every background are covered by the Race Relations Act. The Act applies to all schools and colleges, whether or not they are run by your local council or are private schools. School governors and school boards also have to be mindful of the law which covers admission, how they treat pupils and exclusion as well as decisions on special educational needs.

Racist bullying is an offence

If your child has been threatened or attacked because of his/her race, then you must contact the police. Parents say that the police are generally very helpful and this may be because they are now much more aware of racist issues themselves.

It is now a criminal offence under the Crime and Disorder Act 1998 to racially harass or assault anyone and the Public Order Act 1986 makes it an offence to use threatening, abusive or insulting language or behaviour to stir up racial hatred. Racist leaflets are also outlawed.

Since 2001, amendments to the 1976 Race Relations Act mean that complaints of racial discrimination in education can be brought straight to the county courts (England, Wales and Northern Ireland) or sheriff courts (in Scotland) without having to be referred first to the Secretary of State for Education.

Further resources 

It may help to chat to other parents on our forums to find out how they are dealing with this issue within their family life. You can also talk to us online via our live chat service, email us at askus@familylives.org.uk or call us on our helpline on 0808 800 2222 to speak to trained family support worker.

 

This page was updated on August 2021

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