Whether it is covert, or overt, the young people of Peartree are routinely experiencing racism.
Many of the children and young people that attend the youth club, at Pear Tree Baptist Church, are Roma. Roma is an ethnicity that is beyond nation states. Consequently Roma in Derby can be of a number of nationalities such as Czech, Slovak, Polish, Romanian and many more including those that have gained UK Citizenship. Historically, Roma people have faced widespread prejudice and marginalisation. They were enslaved in Romania until 1856 (about the time African slaves were released from slavery in the U.S.). They are the forgotten victims of the Holocaust where between 250,000 and 500,000 Roma are estimated to have been killed by the Nazis. Now, even in the UK, Roma and sadly in this case in Derby particularly their children continue to face discrimination.
The youth club in Peartree (a community in the top 3% most deprived wards in the whole country), has been running on a shoestring for over four years engaging up to 90 young people on some evenings. This summer we decided to investigate an issue that had been consistently flagged by the young people: racism. Young people were routinely coming to the youth club with stories of racism that they had encountered especially whilst at school.
A group of young people got together to explore the issue further. Twenty seven young people were interviewed and all of them said that they had encountered racism. Often the racism that they experienced was while they were at school and they claimed it wasn’t always from other pupils but also from school staff. Many said that school was not a place where they felt safe. They argued that when they told staff that they were being threatened it was never taken seriously. Sometimes they explained that the racism would be explicit where young people would be told to “go back to their own country”. Whereas on other occasions it was a more subtle exclusion; one girl explained how, when she went to a park with her friends, people stopped what they were doing, and gave them ‘dirty’ looks resulting in the girl feeling unwelcome in the city’s public spaces.
The racist attacks against the Roma students reached fever pitch and continued unabated in the summer term this year. One young person was beaten by other students and was hospitalised needing stitches. As a result, his family have removed him from school fearing for their child’s safety. On another occasion a Roma parent waiting outside a secondary school to collect his child was attacked by two of the schools students, beaten and again hospitalised.
Consider the impact that such violent abuse has on a community already scarred by hundreds of years of persecution. How are Roma young people expected to break free of cycles of discrimination and poverty when they aren’t even protected from racism and abuse at school? All their experiences serve to do is to further disenfranchise them. As much as the youth club, and its staff, tries to provide support and a safe haven, it appears ineffectual in the face of endemic, unabated racism at all levels of society not to mention mainstream media sources.
What can be done? The youth club plans to run an awareness campaign relating to hate crime. Young people will be encouraged to report every racism related incident they encounter. Efforts will be made to raise awareness with schools and other agencies of the Roma community and the rich culture and contributions that they bring to their communities.
Young people attending the youth club will be told consistently that no one, especially not a racist, can push them down and prevent them reaching for their dreams.