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Monday, June 21, 1999 Published at 14:50 GMT 15:50 UK


Racism 'an everyday experience'

Women and children are most badly affected by everyday racism

Racism has become an everyday experience for many people in the UK, with women and children suffering the worst effects.

A report by the Joseph Rowntree Foundation suggests that racist abuse is far more common than shown in official crime statistics.

Many victims of abuse interviewed for the report said they waited until their lives became intolerable before lodging a formal complaint.

Nearly a quarter of those interviewed had not approached an official agency for 18 months after abuse began.

Some people had waited up to four years. Most described their experiences of abuse as "too numerous to mention".

Formal complaint

Many victims complained about the response of official agencies.

They were often not referred to another agency after making a formal complaint, and several said their perception of events as racist was often questioned, making them feel more isolated.

However, the families did not let their abuse go unchallenged.

Some confronted their abusers while many adopted survival strategies, including not going out at night or not going on holiday.

One said: "People think they can get away with it.

"They have an ingrained thing about superiority. I can prevent certain eventualities like I don't go to a certain area or, for example, I don't use public transport at night.

"You don't put yourself in a situation where it is going to be a hassle."

One woman said harassment was so bad she hung her washing out at night.


The authors of the report, We can't all be white, interviewed black and ethnic minority families living in Belfast, Cardiff, Glasgow and London.

[ image: GPs are the main confidante outside the family]
GPs are the main confidante outside the family
Most were women and lived on council estates.

Children were often worst affected because they could face abuse both at home, on the way to and from school and at school.

They also were affected by measures taken to curb abuse, such as stopping them from playing outside.

One interviewee described the effect of abuse on her 11-year-old daughter: "I came in from work at night and my daughter was in her bed crying.

"She asked 'why are they calling me names'. It was getting to the stage that she didn't like who she was."

Women were also more likely to be targets, mainly because they were around during the day.

This sometimes led to tensions with their partner who might not believe how serious the problem was.

Victimisation led to isolation, with many friends becoming reluctant to visit because of the abuse.

Health impact

Those interviewed described the health impact of the abuse as huge. Problems ranged from stress and anger to depression and insomnia.

One woman said she suffered a miscarriage because of stress.

GPs were the most popular confidante because they offered help for stress-related conditions, could provide a sympathetic ear, and could give practical help in the form of letters to the local housing department.

The report's authors call for an overhaul of the way agencies react to everyday racist abuse so they can tackle the problem effectively and sensitively.

Kusminder Chahal, one of the authors, said: "Racist victimisation is far more complicated than individual incidents of harassment and affects every aspect of a family's or individual's life.

"Incidents occur against a backdrop of everyday, routine levels of racist harassment which official agencies fail to take into account."

A spokeswoman for the Commission for Racial Equality supported the report, but said many organisations were challenging racism.

However, she warned that there was a danger people might become smug after the Stephen Lawrence report, thinking that just recognising institutional racism was enough.

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