You’re more likely to live next to a waste incinerator in the UK if you’re black compared to if you’re white, and thus more likely to be breathing in toxic fumes.
The same trend is also true globally: ‘people of colour’ living in the global south are more likely to suffer environmental harms associated with climate changed compared to the majority white populations of the global north.
This report makes the very dramatic claim the current environmental crisis is based on a history of systemic racism rooted in Colonialism and in this post I summarise this report and suggest some limitations of it.
The Environmental Crisis is Built on Systemic Racism…
(Quite a claim!)
The report notes that it is mainly countries in the global south – mainly Pakistan, India, Bangladesh and Africa – which have to bear the costs of global warming. It is these poorer countries which suffer economic setbacks because of increased sea level rises flooding land and destructive ‘extreme weather events’ such as cyclones. The report estimates that Mozambique, in Southern Africa suffered more than $3 Billion of environmental damages in 2019, for example.
Another dimension of ‘environmental racism’ is how the mainstream media under-reports man-made environmental humanitarian disasters in the global south compared to ‘white victories’ such as Elon Musk and Jeff Bezos space flight programmes….
And one further example lies in how Indigenous activists lives are put in danger.
Colonialism, Extractivism and Racism
The report also highlights three case studies of how colonial powers set up in developing countries (then simply their colonies) and systematically went about displacing indigenous peoples in order to extract resources for profit.
The three examples provided are Shell extracting Oil in Nigeria, and the displacement of the Ogoni people; the destruction of the Amazon rainforest in Brazil and the establishment of meat and soy production and also the establishment of industrial scale fishing in Western Africa which has ruined local communities which used to rely on small scale fishing.
The report also covers the waste aspect of Environmental Racism – countries such as the UK tend to ship their toxic waste to poorer countries who often have lower pollution standards – so poor people end up recycling metal from plastic by burning the plastic for example….
This contemporary report is clearly relevant to the Environment topic within the Global Development module, and you will also find lots of supporting case studies which support Dependency Theory.
In terms of social theory, this is a great contemporary example of ‘grand theorising’ – there’s nothing postmodern about this, and in fact reports leading to theorising such as this implicitly criticise the concept of postmodernity.
In case you don’t remember it, the Windrush Scandal first came to public attention in 2018 when it came to light that 83 ethnic minority immigrants to the UK had been wrongly deported, with some of them having been living in the UK (legally) for several decades.
A larger, and still unknown number of victims were subjected to Home Office interrogation over their legal immigration status in the UK and had their lives seriously disrupted as a result, some of them losing their jobs.
Previous analysis of the causes of the scandal have pointed to the ‘hostile environment’ towards immigrants which existed under the Home Office when Theresa May was in charge, but the report goes further and suggests a ‘deeper cause’ of decades of institutionalised Racism at the Home Office.
This article in the Guardian outlines the history of some of the racist immigration policies, some of which included quotas for Black and Asian people but not white people (so overt restrictions on the numbers of immigrants from the Caribbean but NOT from the USA or Europe, for example)….
Relevance to A-level Sociology
This update is a useful addition to the migration topic within the family. It shows how government policies influence the type of people that are allowed to move freely between different countries.
It might also help to explain (if you believe the stats) the higher levels of poverty, educational failure, expulsion and crime among Black Caribbean children – the analysis above points out that the experience of black migrants to the UK (and their children) has been very different (for the worse) than that of white people, resulting possibly in blocked opportunities.
This is also of more general application to any question about inequalities in British Society.
The Footballer Troy Deeney recently commissioned a YouGov survey of 1000 teachers which found that around 75% of them think the government needs to do more to help them improve the diversity of history teaching, to include a wider range of experiences and views of ethnic minorities.
Troy Deeney is one of many activists campaigning for more multiculturalism in British education, as shown by his recent open letter to the Secretary of State for Education:
Troy’s motivation, as he says in his letter, was that he was expelled from school at the age of 15, and he believes that if school curriculums reflected a more diverse range of views from ethnic minorities, this would help his own and other ethnic minority education feel more included and get more out of their formal education.
Relevance to A-level Sociology
This is clearly relevant to the topic of ethnicity and education within the education module.
Troy Deeney is suggesting a policy change which would make it compulsory to teach from a more diverse range of perspectives.
If we look at educational achievement at GCSE in recent years there doesn’t seem to be much of a case to be made for doing this – the achievement gap between ethnic groups has narrowed considerably, with Black Caribbean students being the only relatively large minority group falling significantly behind White students. Indian and Chinese students do better!
So the argument for more multicultural education has to come from a broader base than just differences in educational attainment, and given the problems we still have with racism in British society (think about Cricket recently!) there is certainly an argument for having a broader diversity of views taught across the curriculum.
However, IF we did this, it might just backfire, it might create more resentment, more polarisation, a sense of ‘forcing multiculutralism down peoples’ throats’.
It might be better just to leave formal education as it is and just encourage more ethnic mixing within classrooms – just get black, white and asian kids to work together collaboratively on projects and to work and play together – and let the sharing of cultures and values take place a bit more naturally?
The government relaxed the restrictions on police stop and search during Lockdown and gave the police more freedom to stop and search at their discretion. The result: the number of black people stopped and searched (under section 60) increased dramatically.
They also report that black people were up to seven times more likely to receive a fine during Lockdown compared to white people.
Black, People, Racism and Human Rights is a recent report published in November 2020 which has a whole section summarising the over representation of black people in the Criminal Justice System – from stop and search through to deaths in custody.
One interesting point to note is that families of people who have been through the CJS think that black men in particular are stereotyped by the CJS as being troublesome and violent.
This blog post summarises some interesting research published in 2016 that found ethnic minorities, especially black youths, featured heavily in ‘gang databases’ held by the London and Manchester police, even though such gang members had no formal history of violence. In fact the stats show that white people have higher rates of convictions for violent crime, but the police databases had disproprotionate amounts of black people on them simply for their being members of gangs.
This suggests an element of stereotyping the way policing was conducted.
The blog further summarises research of Prosecution teams who were more likely to draw on gang stereotypes (Rap music for example) when trying to convict black people compared to white people, and black defendants were also more likely to have their text messages used as evidence against them when undergoing trial compared to white people.
This was a short online survey (7-8 minutes) which was completed by just over 1000 students. Ethnic minorities were deliberately over-represented to boost the sample size of some of the smaller sub groups (roughly 50-50 white to ethnic minority sampling).
The survey reports that:
Just over one in ten of all students (13%) had experienced racial harassment since starting their course.
Around a quarter of students from an ethnic minority background (24%) had experienced racial harassment, compared to 9% of White students.
Men were twice as likely as women to have experienced racial harassment (16% and 8% respectively).
The main types of harassment experienced
Only 33% of cases reported
The report notes that the main reason for not reporting (cited in 44% of cases) was that the victims had no confidence that the matter would be dealt with effectively.
Survey of Universities
The EHRC’s survey of universities reveals that they receive very few complaints of racial harassment from either students or staff. The report notes that:
“Institutions received an average of 2.3 complaints of racial harassment of staff and 3.6 complaints of racial harassment of students between the start of the 2015/16 academic year and January 2019.
This equates to roughly one complaint for every 1,850 university employees and one complaint for every 4,100 students since the start of the 2015/16 academic year.”
Main reason for reporting racial harassment
Perhaps unsurprisingly, the main type of harassment reported is verbal…
Confidence levels in the reporting figures.
56% of staff are confident that the above figures are accurate, slightly lower for students
Outcomes of reports for harassment
Less than 40% of cases for students, and only 17% for staff result in some kind of redress fro the victim…
A few problems with the methodology of this study…
It’s not clear how the students were sampled (it doesn’t say in the report) – this may be a self selecting sample – students who have experienced racism are maybe more likely to take part.
There’s a lot of problems with subjectivity over definitions of terms, and whether some of the incidents being reported are actual harassment. Students reporting that they’ve been eluded from events on racial grounds for example – it’s very difficult to prove this is because of race, and I’m fairly sure it doesn’t count as harassment.
According to students in England’s universities, the experience of racial harassment is common place, with 13%, or roughly 1 out of every 7 students having been a victim of some sort of unfair treatment on the basis of race.
If we look at just ethnic minority students, 24% believe they have been a victim of racial harassment.
However, the universities seem to be largely oblivious to this – they only record 1 incident per 4000 students, which is so far away from the stated figures that the students themselves.
Maybe more worryingly 55% of universities think their own recordings are accurate. I think we can at least conclude from the above survey of students that this is something they may need to investigate!
Finally, if 33% of cases of harassment are being reported to universities, they are certainly not being recorded, again something which seems to suggest that universities are ignoring the issue!
Find out more
You could investigate the above reports for yourself, and even check out the qualitative findings if you like!
This classic ethnographic study suggests that teacher stereotypes and labelling have a negative impact on Asian and Black Caribbean students in primary schools
This classic ethnographic study of four inner city primary schools suggests that the teacher labeling of ethnic minorities leads to them having a more negative experience of school than white children.
The study took place In 1988-1989, and was published in 192. The main research methods included classroom observations and interviews with both school staff (teachers, managers and support staff) and the parents of some students.
The study involved researching almost 1000 students, 57 staff and 38 parents.
Wright’s main conclusion was that although the majority of staff seemed genuinely committed to the ideals of treating students from different ethnic background equally, in practice there was discrimination within the classroom.
Wright found that Asian students were often excluded from classroom discussions because teachers thought they had a poor grasp of the English language. When teachers did involve Asian students they often used simplistic language.
Asian girls seemed invisible to teachers and they received less attention from teachers than other students. Teachers often showed insensitivity towards their cultural norms such as disapproving when Asian girls wanted to maintain privacy in PE when getting changed.
She cites one example when a teacher was handing out permission letters for a school trip saying to the Asian girls: ‘I suppose we’l have problems with you girls. Is it worth me giving you a letter, because your parents don’t allow you be be away from home overnight’?
Wright concluded that such stereotypical comments from teachers resulted in other students becoming hostile to Asian students and the Asian students becoming isolated.
It also led to the Asian students becoming more ambivalent towards school. For example, when the school introduced a celebration of Asian culture into the curriculum while Asian students did express some pride in having their culture recognized, they also felt concerned that this might lead to more teasing and harassment from white children.
Teachers did, however, expect Asian students to be academically successful.
Black Caribbeans in Primary Schools
Teachers expected Black Caribbean students to be poorly behaved, and they expected that they would have to be punished as a result. Teachers were also insensitive to the fact that many students would have been victims of racism.
Wright cites the example in one class of a student called Marcus who was frequently criticized for shouting out the right answers to questions, while white students were not.
Black Caribbean students received a disproportionate amount of teachers negative attention. Compared to white students whose behaviour was the same they were more likely to be:
sent out of the class
sent to the head teacher
have privileges removed.
Trivializing Ethnic Minority Cultures
Teachers often mispronounced words or names related to minority ethnic groups, causing white students to laugh and embarrassment to ethnic minority children. According to Wright this situation made ‘minority ethnic values and culture appear exotic, novel, unimportant, esoteric or difficult’.
Racism from White Students
Minority ethnic students also experienced racism from other students which made their life even more difficult. White children often refused to play with Asian children and frequently subjected them to name calling and threatening behavior. Both Asian and Black Caribbean children had to suffer intimidation, rejection and occasional physical assault.
Wright does point out that all of the above disadvantaging of ethnic minority students is unintentional. Schools and teachers do appear genuinely committed to the values of equality and celebrating multiculturalism, they’re just very bad at putting these into practice and their actions have the opposite effect!
Wright believes that some Black children are disadvantaged as a result of their negative experiences in primary school, and this holds them back at later stages of their school career.
Evaluation of the study
The study doesn’t explain why Black Caribbean are held back by negative experiences in primary school when this doesn’t seem to affect the later achievement of Asian children as badly.
The study has been critizied for portrayign ethnic minority students as the passive victims of racism. In contrast, studies by Mirza and Mac An Ghail see students as responding much more actively (and in much more diverse ways) to racism in schools.
Maybe obviously, the date! This is from the late 1980s!
Adapted from Harlambos and Holborn (2013) Sociology Themes and Perspectives, edition 8.
Based on available research evidence I would conclude that schools are not institutionally racist
One sociological explanation for differences in educational achievement by ethnicity is that schools are institutionally racist.
This means that the school system as a whole is racist, or that schools are organised in such a way that children from ethnic minority backgrounds are systematically disadvantaged in education compared to white children.
If schools are institutionally racist then we should find evidence of racism at all levels of school organisation – both in the way that head teachers run schools and the way in which teachers interact with pupils. We might also expect to find evidence of racism in government policies (or lack of them) and regulation.(OFSTED).
What might institutional racism in schools look like?
There are numerous places we might look to investigate whether schools are racist, for example:
The curriculum might be ethnocentric – the way some subjects are taught or the way the school year and holidays are organised may make children from some ethnic backgrounds not feel included.
We could look at school exclusion policies to see if the rules on behaviour and exclusion are biased against the cultural practices of students from particular ethnic backgrounds.
We might look at how effectively schools deal with issues of racism in school – do the victims get effective redress, or is racism just ignored?
We could look at teacher stereotypes and labelling, to see if teachers en-mass have different expectations of different ethnic groups and/ or treat pupils differently based on their ethnicity.
We can look at banding and streaming, to see if students from minority ethnic backgrounds are over-represented in the lower sets.
Below I summarise some recent research evidence which may suggest that schools are institutionally racist…
A disproportionate number of GRT and Black Caribbean students are excluded from schools
Gypsy, Roma and Traveller (GRT) children are 5 times more likely to be excluded from school than white children, while Black Caribbean and Mixed White and Black Caribbean students are three times more likely than white children.
I’ve included the temporary exclusion rates below as you can see the difference (you can’t really see the difference with permanent exclusions because the percentages are too small to really show up).
Whether or not these particular ethnic minority students are being excluded because of institutional racism is open to interpretation, and is something that needs to be investigated further. There is certainly qualitative research evidence (see below) that both groups feel discriminated against in the school system.
Schools punish Black Caribbean Pupils for Hair Styles and ‘Kissing Teeth’
Campaign Group ‘No More Exclusions’ argue that schools with strict exclusion policies are unfairly punishing Black Caribbean pupils for having different cultural norms to pupils from other ethnic backgrounds.
They cite evidence of Caribbean girls having been temporarily excluded for having braids in their hair, while other students have been sanctioned for ‘kissing teeth’, a practice mostly associated with Black students.
Such exclusions are mainly being given out by Academies with strict ‘zero tolerance rules on student behaviour, but according to David Gilborn there is a problem of discrimination when black Caribbean students are being disproportionately sanctioned as a result.
In defense of this policy, Katharine Birbalsingh, head of Michaela Community School in London, which enforces very strict rules on behaviour, argues that we should expect the same standards of behaviour from all students, and that Black students know that ‘kissing teeth’ is rude, and so should be punished for it.
Source: The Independent (no date provided, just lots of adverts, but it must be from late 2019 as it links back to a previous article from October 2019. )
Gypsy, Roma and Traveller children feel excluded from mainstream education
Professor Kalwant Bhopal has conducted research with GRT children and found that they don’t feel represented in the school curriculum: parents believed that their histories were not adequately represented, and were uncomfortable with sex education being done in school, as this was something usually done within the family in their culture. In short, it sounds as if they are experiencing the mainstream school curriculum as being ethnocentric.
Parents and pupils also claimed that they had experienced racism from both children and teachers within schools, however, when they reported incidents of racism this tended not to be taken seriously as they were white.
Source: Find out more details at this blog post here.
Racist Incidents In Schools Are Mainly Dealt with by Fixed Period Exclusions
According to a recent Guardian article (September 2019), Hate Crimes in schools rose 120% between the years 2015 and 2018. There were 1987 hate crimes recorded by the police in 2018, of which 70% were recorded as being racist. This means that approximately 1500 racist incidents occurred in schools which were deemed serious enough to warrant police involvement.
Schools handed out 4500 fixed term exclusions for racist abuse in 2017/18, but only 13 permanent exclusions.
If the under-reporting rate is similar for children as it is for adults and if most of these racist crimes aren’t ‘very serious’ then it seems that schools are doing a pretty good job at dealing with Racism, even if they are not always involving the police. This certainly seems to be backed up by the case study below…
Case Study 1: How One School Dealt with its problem of racism:
Some pupils do experience racist abuse from other pupils. One example is the case study of eight year old Nai’m, a boy who moved to from Bermuda to Britain with his mother in 2017, who was a victim of at least five racist incidents in a year. (article link from January 2020)/
His mother was contacted by the school when one student, apparently his friend, called him a ‘black midget’. Another pupil told Niam’h that his parents had told him he wasn’t allowed to talk to black or brown people. Niam’h plays football for his local professional club and says a lot of racist name calling occurs on the football field.
Besides Niam’h being a victim staff at the school where this incident happened (The Lawrence Community Trust Primary School) had also overheard racist comments from other students – such as ‘go back to your own country’ being directed at ethnic minority students and discussion about skin colour between students.
The school seems to have taken measures to address this problem with some of the racist attitudes being verbalized by some students by taking the following actions:
they seem to have excluded at least one student
they encouraged Niam’h to give a special assembly on Bermuda
They called in Anthony Walker Charity to deliver a presentation to students on Racism
Conclusion: Are schools ‘institutionally racist’?
The above is only a small selection of evidence, but based on what I’ve found I’ve got to conclude that they are not.
Alastair Stewart recently resigned his position as a news reader for ITV, following accusations that he’d made a racist comment towards someone on Twitter.
Stuart was having a twitter conversation with Martin Shapland about the relationship between the taxpayer and the crown, and in a reply to Shapland he used a Shakespear Quote:
“But man, proud man, Dress’d in a little brief authority, Most ignorant of what he’s most assur’d— His glassy essence—like an angry ape.
Shapland, who is black, picked up on the ‘ape’ part of the quote and accused Stuart of being racist, and trying to disguise a racial slur within a quote.
Stuart resign from his 40 year career as a news anchor before he was sacked – that tweet above which broke ITV’s guidelines on the use of social media.
NB Shapland has said that he didn’t want him to resigned/ be sacked, and that an apology would have done.
But is this an example of racism?
The first thing suggesting that the tweet had no racist intent is that Stuart has used that quote with other people, which suggests that the intention is to suggest someone’s opinion is invalid because it is not properly informed with all of the facts, rather than it referring to someone’s racial background.
The second thing in Stuart’s defence is his track record: I’ve never come across a sniff of him being Racist before? Obviously all is colleagues and friends say he isn’t, but then they would… but if one was racist, you’d expect something to have ‘come out’ after 40 years in the media spotlight?
Finally, there’s the background of Shapland – some of his previous tweets suggest he’s something of a ‘race warrior’, with some of his tweets calling out white privilege.
I’ve been looking around for an example of something that appears to be racist, but on slightly closer examination . almost certainly isn’t racist, and this seems to be a good example of that!
This feels like ‘trial by social media and political correctness’
As I understand it, in the eyes of the law (certainly where hate crime is concerned) if a victim perceives there to be racial intent, then there is racial intent, so in that sense, ITV had no choice to but to let Stuart go.
However, in this case, the objective truth seems more likely to be that there was any racial intent in that tweet:
It’s probably even the case that even Shapland himself didn’t really think Stuart was being racist: rather it feels like what happened is that Shapland sent off a terse reply ‘playing the race card’ without really thinking about it as part of a social media tiff.
And in the rapid world of social media, you might be able to delete those kind of tweets, but not before someone else has screen shotted and retweeted them!
To my mind this is a very postmodern event – this kind of thing just couldn’t happen outside of social media.
I don’t think this has turned out too well for Shapland either – he’s getting a lot of actual abuse on twitter now, Stuart has been a popular part of our media landscape for generations!
Also, careful how you use Twitter, it’s not a great case for ‘debates’!
Sonita Alleyne is 51 years old studied Philosophy at Cambridge 30 years ago and went on to establish a successful career in journalism and has been awarded and OBE. She is a real champion for diversity and inclusion.
At first sight this seems like a very progressive move to promote equality and diversity, especially when Oxbridge universities have been under so much criticism recently over their disproportionately low numbers of black students and staff.
However, critics might suggest this is an ‘easy trophy appointment’ – what do Heads of Colleges do after all? They’re basically figure heads who liaise with other educational establishments, businesses and the wider communities.
Surely addressing the lack of black female staff (and especially professors) would have more of an impact in promoting equality and diversity? I mean these are the people who students interact with on a day to day basis, so surely appointments to these positions would have more of a role-model effect, and surely make a difference to the lives of more people (i.e. the people appointed and the students they might inspire.
This appointment is progress, yes, but maybe not the most effective way of promoting equality and diversity
Relevance to A-level sociology
This is most obviously relevant to the sociology of education. You can use this as contemporary evidence against the view that elite universities are institutionally racist.
The Unite the Right Ralley in Charlotsville back in August 2017 was attended by various right wing groups, such as the Ku Klux Klan, Skin heads, Neo-Nazis and various Militias, but the most newly formed in attendance, the so-called ‘alt right’, a disparate group of clean cut, smartly dressed, young white men, the latest ‘wave’ of white U.S. white nationalists who are unafraid to express their racist views.
The alt-right is an eclectic, decentralized movement of extreme-conservative, who want a white-only ethno-state: they mainly operate online, via forums such as Reddit and 4chan, sharing memes which support Donald Trump and Hitler, as well as those disparaging Barrack Obama.
But who are these young men, and how do they develop their racist views?
This article in the Washington Post is based on interviews with six young men, tracing their trajectories as members of the alt-right. The following themes stand out:
Many self-radicalised on the internet, finding others with similar views, and they went through stages of meeting others at local and regional meetings and gradually learnt not be ashamed of their racist views.
Thought most members don’t blame impersonal economic factors, many feel that there are no jobs for white people any more – they go to Walmart and McDonalds and see mainly ethnic minorities working in such places.
There are also deeper ‘structural reasons’ – the decline of factor jobs, and the feeling of being left behind, having had the ladder kicked away, and feelings of loneliness and alienation.
NB – these are just the stand-out factors, there are also middle-class people in the movement.
The Charlotsville Rally represented a culmination of a movement that’s been brewing for years online, many drove hundreds, some thousands of miles to get there, possibly emboldened by Donald Trump, they came armed for violence, and of course were met by it.
Whatever you think of the alt-right, the underlying causes which have given rise to it, and the communications networks which maintain it aren’t going anywhere, so I think we can expect this to be a potent force in US politics for years to come.
NB – It reminds me of the kind of white nationalism expressed by the BNP, but just a step-up!
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