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Racism in Northern Irish Society Essay

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Racism in Ireland and Northern Ireland is on the rise. Critically assess the explanations for this rise in either Ireland or Northern Ireland. (Word Count 2265) This working paper attempts to gain a better understanding of the causes of racism within Northern Ireland. In order to do this effectively, it is first necessary to look at the diverse meaning of racism as well as providing statistics to show that racism is a continuing problem within contemporary society.

These statistics alone pose many problems through their collection and their questionable inability of response by the police and the criminal justice system (Haughey 2012). Policies and strategies that are put in place to tackle racist incidents within the state institutions and individuals will also be addressed. Theoretical perspectives will be drew upon in order to understand the causes for racism within Northern Ireland. In 2004, Northern Ireland was classified as the ‘race hate capital of Europe’ (Haughey 2012: 1).

This goes hand in hand with previous research which looked at minority ethnic people living in Northern Ireland and found that almost half (44%) had experience verbal abuse with just under a third (29%) have experienced criminal damage to their property (Connolly and Keenan 2001). It is thus clear that Northern Irish society is racist and it can be argued that this is due to nationalism which is an anxious culture that fears the unknown as threat is experienced (Abercrombie and Warde 1988). The concept of race is controversial as it is a diverse term that is socially constructed and holds various meanings that can change from time and place.

The general agreement of when this term came into existence is from the mid to late eighteenth century (Bulmer and Solomos 1999). Phizacklea and Miles would define race as a system of shared beliefs held by it’s members which identify themselves in terms of biology or any other natural characteristic they deem to possess (Cited in Husband 1982). Whilst Garner would go on to say that racism is a form of discrimination that occurs on the grounds of an individuals race due to power relationships and ideologies (Garner 2010). There are many forms of racism, from verbal abuse to criminal damage of roperty and physical abuse. Research suggests that incidents are usually random and can occur at any time or place resulting in a tendency for ethnic minorities to feel fearful and socially isolated (Connolly and Kennan 2001). In order for racism to be monitored in Northern Ireland, the Home Office categorise racism as a hate crime which they define as, ‘any criminal offence which is perceived by the victim or any other person, to be motivated by hostility or prejudice based on a personal characteristic’ (Home Office 2013).

It is important to note here that the Republic of Ireland do not provide a definition of hate crime therefore it goes un- monitored (Braniff 2013). According to the PSNI recorded incidents, racism has increased in Northern Ireland from 41 incidents in 1996, to 990 in 2009. However, a slight decline was revealed in 2011 as recorded incidents fell to 842. It has been suggested that this rise in race- hate crime is due to people being more willing to report, better recording by the police, the change in definition of racism following the incident of Steven Lawrence and the actual increase in racist incidents (Haughey 2012).

On the other hand however, the under- reporting of hate crime poses one of the greatest challenges that the government face (Fergus 2010). It is estimated that 95% of race- hate crime goes under- reported due to various factors, such as; fears of retaliation, the view that there is no point reporting as there will be nothing done, poor experiences and lack of trust concerning the police (Haughey 2012). In relation to police response to hate crime, it can be argued to be inadequate concerning; investigation, support and engagement with the community.

Alongside the police, the Criminal Justice System (CJS) treatment of ethnic minorities has also been questioned. This reflects the CJS and the Police’s inability to respond to hate crime, as the clearance rate has fallen from 20. 5% in 2005/2006 to 12. 5% in 2008/2009 (Haughey 2012). Only 12 out of 14,000 incidents of hate crime in the last five years have lead to successful prosecutions. Patrick Yu (executive director of Northern Ireland for ethnic minorities) would stress the importance of a blueprint to tackle hate race crime, similar to that of the Macpherson Report in England and Wales (Fergus 2010).

The European Convention of Human Rights (ECHR) which is implemented by the Human Rights Act 1998, states that authorities, ‘have the duty to act in a way which is compatible with the individual rights and freedoms contained in the ECHR,’ (Morrow, 2012: 1). If this policy is not adhered to, many violations occur, including; right to a fair trial, right to life and freedom of expression, etc (Morrow 2012). Under the Race Relations (NI) Order 1997, it is of statutory functions to, ‘promote good relations between persons of different racial groups’ (Equality Commission for Northern Ireland 2012).

In looking at the racial equality strategy of 2005-2010, the strategy aimed to; eliminate unlawful discrimination, promote equality of opportunity and to pr tackle racial inequalities, eradicate racism and hate crime alongside the policy for ‘A shared future’ to promote good relations (A racial Equality Strategy for Northern Ireland 2007). However, Haughey would argue, ‘moves towards tackling racism in Northern Ireland have been largely impeded by lack of policy and legislation implementation’ (Fergus 2011:1).

In looking at the reasons for high levels of racism within Northern Ireland, it is crucial to point out that it exists throughout the state as well as individuals. State policies and institutions can be said to be contributing to this pattern of racism (Gilligan 2009). Racist myths such as ‘immigrants have caused the social housing crisis’ underlay racist attitudes and this is not actually the case as immigrants generally are not entitled to social housing (Belfast counterfire 2011).

This is why many immigrants tend to privately rent accommodation which leads to major over0 crowding of households. The case is similar to that of benefit entitlement, which has meant many immigrants, especially Romanian, have been reduced to begging on the streets. It can therefore be said that UK restrictions on migrants is racist in itself as it in a way promotes immigrants as second class citizens (Gilligan 2009). There is also the perception that ‘immigrants take ‘our’ jobs,’ however, unemployment was lower five years ago when immigration was at it’s peak.

Again, this goes hand in hand with restrictions in UK law which makes it very difficult for immigrants to get jobs. Some would argue that the measures introduced by David Cameron have brought about unemployment alongside the recession (Belfast Counterfire 2011). According to the Guardian (2010) a report showed how race crime increased in the run up to The British National Party (BNP) election (Booth 2010). The ideas promoted by BNP can be seen as racist as they strive a ‘white workers state’ and to end all non- European immigration (Braniff 2013).

Sam Terry (organised for Hope Not Hate Campaign) too believes that the BNP could be responsible for the rise in race hate crimes. In the year of 2006 race hate incidents more than doubled when Jeffrey Steed won a council seat for the BNP. On the contrary, Sharon Goosen (Detective Chief Inspector) would argue that these figures cannot be directly linked to particular political party. This would go against Booth’s assumption that the more seats BNP win will co- exist with the levels of racist incidents (Booth 2010)

Racism has been a growing problem since the signing of the Good Friday Agreement (1998) whereby there was a shift from outward migration to inward migration (Coward 2009). According to police recorded incidents of racism, it rose from 93 incidents in 2003/2004 to almost five times as many incidents in 2008/2009. This high level of inward migration is said to have provoked this hatred of immigrants and to some, it can be seen as the ‘new sectarianism’ (Gilligan 2009). The ‘hangover’ of the troubles, along with lack of cohesion and community trust could be a trigger of these high levels of racism (khan 2009).

Racism is increasingly being linked to the Ulster Young Militants group (the youth wing of Northern Irelands major protestant paramilitary group, Ulster Defence Association) as they believe that ‘Northern Ireland is only for white British’. These loyal extremists have sent letters to immigrants forcing them to evacuate their homes as they are not wanted in ‘our’ Queen’s country (Coward 2009). However, Gilligan looks at the increase in inward migration from 531 in 2000/2001 to 12,255 in 2005/2006. He would thus argue that according to these findings, racial incidents have reduced when taking into the account the amount of new immigrants.

Therefore, this argument of ‘rise of racism’ says that the more immigrant in Northern Ireland effectively the more racism there will be (Gilligan 2009). Esmond Birnie (an economist and Ulster unionist politician) argues that statistics indicate that hate race is no worse than England, and although this does not condone racism, it simply puts it into perspective. He also commented on organisations of racist incidents and argued that they are not directly organised or encouraged by paramilitaries, therefore racist violence is not systematically organised (Khan 2009).

It is important to note here that racism is not a fact but a concept and it’s mere existence is questionable. The concept of race alone has changed dramatically from meaning ‘family’ in the sixteenth century, to evolving today into a single entity (Bulmer and Solomos 1999). This separation when categorising one’s self into a race seems irrelevant as the biggest difference between individuals is estimated at 1% (Garner 2010). Guillaumin’s work on the controversial nature of the term race argues that it is an evolved term built up from elements such as; social customs and physical traits.

The United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation’s (UNESCO) statement in 1951 on the term race declared, ‘race is a word misused in connection with national, linguistic and religious differences… race is used for logical classification of groups showing definite combinations of physical (including psychological) traits’ (Cited in Blumer and Solomos 1999). Notwithstanding of this argument, Thomas and Thomas (1932) known as the ‘Thomas Theorem’ argues, ‘If men define situations as real, they are real in their consequences’ (Adjibolosoo 2001).

Therefore if society identifies race as real, it will become real and people will act on this which leads to the ‘self- fulfilling prophecy,’ which in a sense causes the situation it developed (Brym and Lie 2009). Miles argument would go hand in hand with this thought as he would say that people continue to act as if there are races due to socially constructed ideologies. He turns to racism within mainstream Marxist Social theory in contemporary Britain. Peoples physical appearance is used as an indicator of their cultural and intellectual abilities known as ‘racial categorization. Thus the relationship between the two are referred to ‘race relations’ whereby beliefs constructed in a society cannot be fully understood unless the underlying factors are analysed (Husband 1987). In looking at race from a different stance, Rex in opposition to Miles, would put forward the concept of class when studying race in terms of models of social action. He would go on to say how restraints such as scarce sources, occupational segregation, cultural diversity and differential access to power reinforces racism within society.

Rex went on to complete two studies whereby he concluded that all the rights won by the white working class discriminated against ethnic minorities. Rex would categorise migrant workers as an ‘underclass’ as they were systematically disadvantaged thus why they become segregated and are forced to establish their own organisations (Solomos and Back 1994). Gender in the context of race relations is also an important area to explore. Carby and Parmar contributed to one of the first books that looks at the role of gender in relation to race.

They sought to highlight the relationship between class, gender and race as it had been largely ignored (Solomos and Back 1994). In looking at Black Feminism, Collins would argue that they are at a major disadvantage in comparison with their white counterparts as they are subject to racism, exploitation and oppression. She would go on to argue that although all African- American women are subject to racism, class can differentiate how that racism is experienced (Blumer and Solomos 1999). Alexander (1996) looked at young black Britons and their experience of stereotypical images of the ‘black mugger. She argued that these labels led to high levels of segregation and alienation. Alexander concluded in her study that ethnic identity is not only a label but a ‘mode of being’ which are fluid and fast moving (Cited in Fulcher and Scott 2011). In summary to looking at racism within Northern Ireland, it is necessary to stress the diversity of the concept that is open to much debate (Bulmer and Solomos 1999). It is prevalent that racism remains a considerable problem within Northern Ireland and their view that racism is the new sectarianism is subject to many alternative views.

Concluding the reasons for racism in Northern Ireland, it has been suggested that they are merely ‘myths’ (Belfast Counterfire 2011). In relation to the contribution of groups such as; The Ulster Young Militants and the BNP’s, it is necessary to say that there are no conclusive facts to prove or disprove these as motives of racism. Theorising race as a concept poses many problems as its mere existence can be debated. It is necessary to note tat racism is interlinked among various factor, such as; class and gender, therefore this poses the question if race alone can be studied.

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