Crawley Observer Column, Wednesday 7th September 2016

Last weekend I was pleased to attend Crawley Campaign Against Racism’s fortieth anniversary. When 16 year old Danny Martin wrote to the Crawley Observer calling for the community to make a stand in the face of the National Front, who could have predicted four decades later the organisation founded in his letter’s wake would still be working to bring Crawley’s community of all faiths, ethnicities and nationalities together?

The passage of the Race Relations Act the same year CCAR was founded created for the first-time an all-out prohibition in law for discrimination on grounds of race and the Commission for Racial Equality was established to work to ensure this was achieved.

That racism still exists is tragic, but there are grounds for optimism. Racism is no longer found on the same scale, it is no longer rampant within institutions and for society is has become taboo. While it lingers in the background, the fact people feel it necessary to qualify statements with “I’m not racist, but…” is an achievement, even if the subsequent remark is clearly racist.

Yet, we cannot afford to be complacent. Over recent weeks Harlow, another New Town, has seen one Polish man murdered and other Polish members of Harlow’s community attacked. While we’ve seen nothing of this scale locally I’ve been disturbed by reports of increasing ‘low-level’ racism, all-too-often unreported, in Crawley.

I’ve written previously about how the UK’s history of liberalism and tolerance were at the root of Britain’s past economic success. The actions of bigots have nothing to do with Britain’s past and it’s up us all to prevent it becoming England’s future.

History shows eight steps leading to genocide, the first is to classify a group as ‘other’, the second involves dehumanising them, spreading stories about that group which make them seem something ‘less’ than ‘us’. Britain is clearly past the first step and remarks made on social media and even published in some national papers suggests we are now at risk of passing the second. The question for us as a community is how far are we prepared to let things go?

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