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Recent political events have led to an alarming rise in hate crime across the UK. Many point to the Brexit vote and the US Presidential campaign as key factors in the normalisation of racism and discrimination across the public sphere. With politicians continuing to stoke fears against immigrants and refugees, there is a concern that the trend could continue.
Figures from the Home Office showed a 41% surge in racially or religiously aggravated hate crime in the aftermath of the Brexit vote, across England and Wales. Likewise, the National Police Chief’s Council reported a 49% increase in hate crime against EU nationals, in July 2015, compared with the same period a month previously. The spike led to at least 390 local councils, including Lancashire City Council, passing a motion condemning hate crime and urging members of public to report incidents to Police.
Across the Atlantic, Donald Trump’s Presidential campaign normalised misogynistic and xenophobic attitudes on a much larger scale. Fears against minority groups, such as Muslims, Mexican immigrants and Syrian refugees, were presented as soundbites for voters eager for a change to the White House order. Trump’s promise of policies designed to keep “America first” was delivered fast. One of his first actions as commander-in-chief was to sign an Executive Order banning immigrants and refugees from seven Muslim-majority countries. This order was met with swift derision by critics, with Amnesty International labelling the ban “discriminatory” and “inhumane”. Even before the ban was implemented, stories of Muslims facing discrimination in airports by security forces and other passengers.
It is hardly a surprise that many of Europe’s far-right, strengthened by a surge in support, have called on voters to look to Britain and America as a positive example of how the much derived “liberal elite” may be overthrown. Marine Le Pen, leader of France’s Front National, drew parallels with British and American voters at a conference with other far-right leaders earlier this year. The Islamophobic, anti-Semitic and anti-immigrant views her voters share has led to a real concern that prejudiced and hateful behaviour may increase further.
The surge in racist and hateful attacks also hits closer to home. You may have seen two separate posts on social media by Lancaster students, detailing their encounters of racism. The posts, in which one student recounted being pelted by rubbish in the library, and another by a witness of an assault in the city-centre, prompted LUSU to release a statement condemning xenophobic and racially-motivated attacks. Meanwhile, a police investigation was launched last month after the openly gay vicar for Lancaster, Rev Chris Newlands, received homophobic letters, according to the Lancaster Guardian.
When politicians stoke fears against minority groups, suspicions are raised and the marginalisation of different groups according to race, religion and/or sexual orientation is exacerbated. Tracking racist and xenophobic harassment in a public space such as social media can have many benefits. When hateful incidents are visible to a wider community, a greater number of people may feel mobilised to stand up and take action. This is especially true if an experience is shared by somebody we know personally. In response, a simple comment on Facebook or Twitter to let a person on the receiving end of a prejudiced incident know that you stand with them against hate can make a world of difference.
The fact that many of instances of hate crime go unreported can lead to those experiencing hate feeling that racism and discrimination is simply the norm. As members of an international student body, we ought to ask whether we are doing enough to look out for one another. We must also remind ourselves that we each have a right to be treated equally. Regardless of where we stand on the political spectrum, we must all be clear – one act of hatred is one too many.
If you or someone you know has experienced hate crime, you can report it to the head of your college, or to the university dean. Alternatively, you can report it on the iLancaster app using the Unisafe feature. For emergencies, call 999.