#WeStandWithFara: Racism on campus

Warwick Anti Racism has created a petition pressuring the university to take serious action

in response to the racist incident which took place on campus

When the news broke yesterday that a black student at the University of Warwick had been the victim of an overtly racist act, where the words “ni**a” and “monkey” were written on bananas at her university home, I was shocked. I was not shocked that racism is alive and well in the UK (that certainly is no surprise) but at the nature of the racism – so conspicuous and open; the kind of racism that I associate more with the United States than Britain, where the infamous reserved manner seems to extend even to the way in which racism is usually expressed.

It is not uncommon to hear of openly racist incidents on American campuses – white students mocking black culture at parties and the like, but in the UK these stories are less common, or at least less often publicised. And so, reading about the bananas with racial slurs etched on them being left for a black student at a British university, I found myself taken aback.

I thought: Have we gone back to the 1950s and the kind of open racism and acts of intimidation by white supremacist vigilantes and skinheads that the Windrush generation were victim to? In 2016, when racists tend to express their views behind the anonymous barrier that is the internet via social media, there is something extra unsettling about this particular incident. The perpetrator of this hate crime must have planned the act to some extent (apparently a photo of Donald Trump was also left on Ms Ifaturoti’s fridge) and also not particularly feared being suspected, if not successfully identified, as a racist. That is not to say that whoever did this is not a coward, they are, but more to consider what made them think that they could get away with it? Knowing that racist hate crimes are not treated as seriously as other crimes? Being confident that their peers share their racist views and will not betray them? Perhaps thinking that Faramade would be too scared to speak out?

In recent years Islamaphobia and attacks on Muslims have been very much apparent in the UK, with it being reported just a few weeks ago that a Muslim women had been called a “f**king Muslim” and had her headscarf ripped off by schoolchildren in a Poundland store in south London, but such open and violent attacks on blacks have not been as prevalent.

What had this student possibly done to evoke the kind of bitterness, anger or hatred necessary to carry out such an act? Of course, that was the wrong question to ask as it suggests that the victim somehow encouraged the shameful, hateful act. Rather, the question we must ask is: what kind of culture exists at Warwick University whereby someone was confident enough to carry out such a boldly racist act and presumably not fear any serious consequences? And, crucially, is the culture at Warwick simply a microcosm of wider British society? In other words, could this incident have happened at any university across the country? In a workplace?

Warwick University is one of the top higher education institutions in the UK which, as with most universities in England has a diverse and international community, and so the fact that an incident of this nature took place at the university only adds to the dismay. Racist acts like this are generally attributed to ignorant, narrow-minded, uneducated individuals who are fearful of or unaccustomed to people of other races and cultures but we can assume that the Warwick university’s students are intelligent, well-educated people who are spending most of their time surrounded by students from all backgrounds and walks of life. So what reduced one student (or one group of students) to such a childlike, crude act?

In fact the extent to which Warwick is a multicultural and diverse student body is questionable despite the university’s pledge on its website which states:

“It is expected that we will all contribute to ensuring that the University of Warwick continues to be a safe, welcoming and productive environment, where there is equality of opportunity, fostered in an environment of mutual respect and dignity.”

Ifaturoti has indicated that this is not the first time she has witnessed racism at the university and judging by some of the reactions on Twitter she is not the first black student at the university to have experienced racism. As one Twitter user put it: “Sad but not necessarily surprised to see my old university is still a seething cesspit of passive aggressive racism.”

One thing for sure is that Faramade does not feel that she is in a “safe, welcoming environment” or one where she can enjoy “mutual respect and dignity,” not only at her place of learning but within her very own home. Indeed, what makes this racist crime so cruel and disconcerting is that it happened within the victim’s own home, possibly (as suggested by Ms Ifaturoti) by the people she shares her ‘home’ with.

Trying to understand the motive or reasoning behind incidents like this is largely a fruitless exercise since such acts of racism are senseless but now people are looking for appropriate action to be taken. How is the university going to deal with this and – most importantly – how are they going to ensure that Faramade and other black students feel safe on campus and in their homes and that an incident like this does not occur again?

What is inspiring and provides hope that things have moved on from the days when blacks were commonly victims of racist attacks in Britain is the reaction to Tuesday’s incident: people of all races and ethnicities have rallied behind Faramade expressing their disgust at what happened and demanding that those responsible be held accountable for their actions. On Twitter users have been showing solidarity using the caption #WeStandWithFara and an online petition putting pressure on the University of Warwick to deal with the matter seriously and urgently is circulating.

Whilst incidents like this serve as a horrible reminder that racial hatred against blacks persists in Britain in the twenty-first century, the fact that Faramade was able to speak out and the overwhelming anti-racism response are testimony to the gains made towards racial equality in England in the decades since the 1950s when incidents like this were nothing shocking, the norm.

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