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Children are not born with prejudices, but it doesn’t take long before discriminatory attitudes develop.
One three-year-old girl was forced to change nursery after unkind comments from other youngsters about her different coloured skin, hair and features.
Another adolescent was found desperately trying to scrub away the brown colour of her skin.
These are real stories from Scottish support workers helping youngsters struggling to find their identity.
But Scotland is increasingly a multi-cultural, diverse nation in which people of all backgrounds and races can find a place.
“The effects of racism are detrimental to everybody,” says Emma Crawshaw, from the YWCA Roundabout Centre, a multi-cultural community centre in Edinburgh.
“If children grow up lacking in confidence in later life, they won’t achieve their full potential and we will all suffer.
“I work with kids from toddler age to teens, and all age groups have experienced racism, but equally all age groups show amazing resilience in coping with it with dignity as well.”
The centre promotes diversity and understanding and is one of many projects that received funding from the Scottish Executive through its Race Equality, Integration and Community Support Fund to tackle racism by bringing communities together.
Tackling racist attitudes and discrimination early, throughout young people’s school years, is now regarded as fundamental in tackling the problem.
Younger people often identify it as bullying rather than racism.
But for minority ethnic pupils, racism, both direct and indirect, is seen as a feature of daily life. Recent figures from Glasgow City Council show the majority of recorded racist incidents were in primary schools, and the largest group of victims are young people of African/ Caribbean origin and young people of Pakistani origin.
Around 20 per cent of the perpetrators and one third of the victims are girls. Shockingly, almost two thirds of the racist incidents come from children aged between eight and 12 years old.
Jatin Haria, from Glasgow Anti-Racism Alliance, says: “A recent report on public attitudes towards asylum seekers showed that young people were the most intolerant and felt comfortable expressing their prejudice.”
But schools are at the heart of preparing young people to live in a multi-cultural and inclusive society.
And the Executive is taking forward a number of initiatives within schools aimed at promoting equality and tackling racism.
Here we speak to some young people who describe what it’s like being a member of a minority ethnic community in Scotland.
(Posted on July 31, 2006)