Has the murder of Stephen Lawrence made you reflect? Are you rascist?

Stephen Lawrence was a young man murdered by rascists. We’ve known this for 18 years. Many of us have looked at the Lawrence family and been inspired by their dignity in the face of such horror – again and again and again.

It seems that we should reflect on rascism as a result of the court case and  the conviction of two of up to six people responsible for Stephen’s murder.

Thanks to the dedication of his mother and his father, Stephen’s death has impacted upon the Metropolitan Police (and rightly so) and it’s certainly made me think about how rascism can creep up on you. Watching the BBC’s Panorama revealed a little of that in the behaviour of investigating officers immediately following Stephen’s death. What initial actions would have been taken if a white youth had been stabbed to death?

I, for one, am very glad that some members of that awful gang have been convicted and I hope a situation arises when others can face the same justice. However, let’s face it, their lives have been haunted by Stephen and his family these past 18 years. And that’s not going to end any time soon. Good.

But are we really any less rascist today? Or is it simply more hidden? Or simply directed elsewhere?

As a journalist, I’ve encountered rascism on numerous occasions. Often I’ve been shocked and saddened. But equally I’ve encountered such sentiments from acquaintances and that’s equally shocking. I try so hard not to be rascist – but it would be naive of me to think that I’m totally free of it.

I have many friends whose skin colour is different than mine, whose nationality is different to mine and whose culture and belief system is different. I adore all of those friends and feel enriched by them. A good friend of mine who is French recently reminded me how good our care system for the elderly is here compared with France – it was a sobering reminder of how we stack up against other countries.

But there are a few incidents I recall which I have found shameful. One was many years ago when a friend of mine (I won’t be too specific) lived in the East End of London. On visits, if you went out into the garden there was a delicious smell of curry cooking, of spices and exotic aromas. Many people living in that area were (or their parents, grandparents) from Asia. I also remember going on a bus with that friend and we were the only white faces on board and I did find it strange. It gave me a brief insight into what it must be like to be ‘the only black in the white village’.

But the most shocking thing about this was that this friend’s brother was so rascist as to be unbelievable. Always using rude words about people of colour and talking about what he’d like to do to them. Soon after my  friendship ended, this brother became (yes you’ve guessed it) an officer in the Met. I’ve often worried about someone who was so meek on the outside but so rascist on the inside, could get into a police force. This all took place a couple of years after Stephen Lawrence’s death. So when the Met was found to be institutionally rascist – I wasn’t surprised.

More recently though, another friend went through a bad time which meant he had to claim benefits for a while. He had real trouble getting it sorted, while at the same time having a family to feed. He shouted out loud about it and I understood. It was a difficult financial time.

And then he went on to say something about ‘if his skin had been a different colour, he’d wouldn’t have had this trouble’ and ‘if he’d come from Eastern Europe, he’d have been given money hand over fist’. He lost me at these comments, I’m afraid. All of my sympathy drained away. Because these broad sweeping statements are simply not true, apart from being offensive to me.

In Swindon we do have an influx of people from Eastern Europe at the moment – often from Poland. They’ve come into the more middle class area of West Swindon. But the reality is that a large number of people from Poland have come here for many, many years – they’ve just lived in different areas of the town. We also have people coming from Afghanistan, Iran and many other places. Welcome, I say. All of these people enrich our town, hardly any of them are lazy, unwilling to work – in fact often the opposite.

The lesson of Stephen Lawrence for me is that rascism is still there – just below the surface and we must destroy it, one tiny drop at a time.


Fighting the drip, drip, drip of rascism....

Are you rascist? Football matches or elsewhere? Are you sure?

No rascism even in the heat of the moment.....

I’m not a football fan – I’ve only been to a few matches and I’ve never grasped the off-side rule and, frankly, if someone explains it to me I’m asleep by the end of the very long sentence.

But I have been interested in this latest argument about FIFA’s boss and rascism. It’s made me think about rascism and how it affects us all.


Sepp Blatter has said that racist remarks on the field of play should be dealt with at the end with a match with a handshake and various other comments. Listening to a debate about this on Five Live, I listened to a female caller and a male caller argue the issue.

The woman, talked about her children, of mixed race, who  suffered abuse because of the colour of their skin. For her, dealing with such comments, even if said in the heat of the football match, was something serious which should be stamped on strongly.

For the male caller, it was a storm in a teacup. He talked about playing in football matches where things were said in the heat of the moment which would never be said in the office, in the pub or elsewhere. The emotions and adrenalin of the match caused such things to happen. He said, as a man with dark skin, he’d said things that he’d never ever say in any other environment. He said it was not rascist.

The woman countered, saying that things said in the heat of the moment, off the cuff, often revealed what someone really thought deep down. So such comments had to be punished.

I thought about this carefully. I applied it to myself. What do I think?

I have many friends whose skin isn’t the same colour of mine. I don’t think of myself as rascist at all. Just as I don’t think of myself of homophobic  – I have many gay friends. Frankly these friends are my friends and the rest is irrelevant.

But I also believe that everyone has prejudice in them and it’s dangerous to think otherwise. If we think we’re immune we may not recognise when something we say or do hurts someone else.

I’m reminded of two things that sometimes pop into my head unbidden and when they do I mentally slap myself for being so stupid.

One is seeing a gold coloured old Mercedes or BMW with a black man driving, of any age, and the words ‘drug dealer’ come into my head. Why is that? Where have I got that message from? I have no idea, no memory of where this comes from. I know it’s not real, it’s not logical and I feel ashamed to even allow this to pass fleetingly through my mind.

Another relates to groups of Irish travellers, who visit  each year in Swindon. As soon as I see a group of caravans I think ‘mess, criminal damage, petty pilfering’. I know why these thoughts come unbidden into my head, because I’ve written many stories from residents who do feel those things.

However, I have had a group of travellers move on to land near my house – nothing was stolen from me or my neighbours. There was mess and I can’t say I liked them being there. But they caused me no personal distress.

Should something we might not always be able to control be punished?

One of my children, while at pre school, refused to hold another child’s hand because she thought that child’s hand was dirty. These children were three at the time and the other child was black. I was called into the school about this matter. I was horrified that my child thought such a thing. I apologised to the child’s parent and explained to my child that this was wrong. Even though I knew she didn’t mean to be rascist. And rightly so. Years later, my child cannot believe she ever even thought such a thing.

When any of these things happened to me – or happen to me – I berate myself and remind myself that it’s unacceptable even though it’s not deliberate.

So overall, I have to agree with the mum in the argument. Things said in the heat of the moment may be rascist , and may well pop out of the mouth without the brain being engaged, but it’s still not all right.

And the moment we don’t act to stamp it out, we’re allowing rascism to creep in under the radar.


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