"My humanity is bound up in yours, for we can only be human together." “When I hear people say politics and religion don't mix, I wonder what Bible they are reading.” (Archbishop Desmond Tutu)

"And what does the Lord require of you but to do justly, and to love kindness and mercy, and to humble yourself and walk humbly with your God?" Micah 6.8

"Whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable--if anything is excellent or praiseworthy--think about such things." Philippians 4.19

"Work out your salvation with fear and trembling." Philippians 2.12

Thursday, July 14, 2011

Teaching about race and challenging the tabloid worldview

My Yr 10 classes have recently begun a topic on Religion and Prejudice. This is almost always a difficult topic as the Tabloid attitude to ethnic minorities inevitably gets an airing.

We have worked hard to get the basics of definitions established: my students should, in theory, be able to talk in an informed way about prejudice, discrimination, stereotyping, scapegoating and demonising. We have moved on to examine terms such as racism, sexism, homophobia, classism, disableism, ageism and sizeism: they seem fairly clear about such terms. The exam board requires them to be able to discuss in an informed way issues of race and gender. I always add in sexuality so that they can make wider comparisons.

We have recently started to look at racism and from experience I know that there are other terms that need to be nailed before we can continue. There is much confusion about the meaning of the categories illegal immigrant, economic migrant, refugee and asylum seeker. As I suspected the kids use them interchangeably and I am pleased that by the end of the lesson they have a greater sense of clarity. I use an extract of the T.V. series U.K. Border Force in an attempt to dispel some of the myths which abound about foreigners in Britain. I want to challenge the myth that Britain is swamped by illegals and is easy to get into; I want to challenge the perception that no one bothers to track and deal with illegals; I want the kids to understand how the law works in practice and I don’t feel I can sensibly tackle racism until we have got all of this out of the way.

The extract is a good one: we see the Border Force officers at work at the channel ports using high technology to detect clandestines; we see staff at our embassy in Lagos, Nigeria, challenging visa applicants who have bought forged documentation to support their applications and we see the domestic work of the Agency as it swoops on restaurants in search of undocumented workers and on Registry Offices where there is suspicion of marriages of convenience.

My students are, in the main, unaware of this work and are staggered by what they see. They are amazed at the efforts of the Agency staff at the channel ports as they repeatedly discover clandestines in the backs of lorries. As ever, though, their sense of what is achievable falls far short of the reality.

Why does the Agency staff pass them back to the French authorities?

“They should send them all home.”

That’s not what I asked.

They have a strong sense that British authorities should be able to do what they please regardless of various national laws and the Human Rights Act.

Remember, these people may be British but they are working on the French side of the channel. They are subject to French law.

“Why can’t the French just deport them?”

Where do you deport someone to who doesn’t have a passport?

“Just put them on the first plane out.”

And the authorities at the other end, wherever that is, will just return them to France because, funnily enough, they won’t accept people without passports either.

“But if you know what language someone speaks you know where to send them.”

Where does someone come from who speaks Arabic?


There’s no such place.

Eventually, someone offers Saudi Arabia and someone else suggests Iraq.

So all Arabic speakers are sent to Iraq or Saudi Arabia? What if they’re from Egypt, Tunisia, Syria, Jordan, Yemen, Algeria, Morocco, Libya, Palestine, Lebanon?

“I’ve never heard of half of them.”

It’s a good job you’re not in charge of the Border Agency then isn’t it?

It must be the same in America.


Where do most of America’s illegal immigrants come from?


And what language do they speak there?


Try again.


So any undocumented Spanish speaker can be returned to Mexico? Where else in Central and South America do they speak Spanish?


Good. And ....?


Central and South America.

There are no takers.

Panama, El Salvador, Costa Rica, Nicaragua, Honduras, Chile, Venezuela, Paraguay, Uruguay, Columbia, Bolivia, Peru, Ecuador ..... Do you see the problem? You can’t send people with no passport home if they won’t confess to where they’re from. (Apologies to any American readers at this point. I don’t know your laws. I am merely making a point.)

“Just drop ‘em all in the ocean.”

Do you not think that might illegal?

The fact that lorry drivers who are found with clandestines in their wagons are fined £2,000 per person strikes the kids as unfair. They are unwilling to accept that the burden of checking should be on the lorry drivers until I point out that an unscrupulous driver could make a small fortune by smuggling people in. Similarly they are surprised that employers are fined £10, 000 for employing illegal immigrants.

“But it’s not their fault.” Is the common belief.

Actually employers are required to check the immigration status of their workforce and keep copies of documents for inspection. You might want to ask yourself why a restaurant owner would be unwilling to do that given the fines.

We learn that the Mongolian chef and the Ukrainian waitress rounded up in a sweep of a restaurant in the film are both claiming to have student visas. My students seem to have little idea about visas. Swallowing right-wing tabloid reporting, they believe anyone can come into Britain at any time. They are amazed that the Mongolian chef’s fingerprints are on the system because he had already been deported from Britain. It transpired that he had borrowed a friend’s passport to get back into Britain.

“Who paid for him to be returned?”

It may come out of the fines that are paid to the agency. If not, then the tax-payer.

“They should be made to pay it back.”

How are you going to recover that once he’s back in Mongolia?

“Then he should be made to work and not deported until he has earned the fare.”

But he can’t work as an undocumented immigrant. It’s against the law. That’s the point

“I bet he’s claiming benefits too.”

How can he? He’s here illegally and has no documentation. He’s not entitled to claim anything. If he tried to sign on he’d be arrested.

We follow the story of the Ukrainian waitress.

Is the Ukraine in the E.U?



“Don’t know.”

It has come as something of a shock to my students to discover that E.U. nationals have the right to live and work in any other E.U. country and, more specifically, Britain.

A German can live and work in Finland; a Swede can live and work in Portugal; an Estonian can live and work in Hungary; an Irishman can live and work in the Czech Republic and so on. How many Brits have taken advantage of that and live and work elsewhere in Europe?

They have no idea.

Three million plus.

They are gobsmacked.

“But why?”

Because that’s how the E.U. works. It’s part of the membership deal

Prejudices are being challenged, but they are not being given up easily.

“So Poles can be here legally?

That’s right.

“They should all be sent home.”

Fine. Good luck with telling all the Brits abroad that they’ll have to give up their jobs, sell up and come home.


Because that’s how the E.U. works. All the member states have the same rights. You start discriminating against one group and you break the law and you opt out of membership. O.K you have no E.U. citizens in Britain but you have a lot of disgruntled British returners who have been thrown out of Europe as a consequence.

They process this.

“It’s more complicated than I thought.”

They then become totally inconsistent, moved by the Ukrainian waitress’s distress at finding that she’ll have to spend time in a Detention Centre because she will not give up her address so that Agency Staff can retrieve her passport for deportation. She fears that her housemates will also be rounded up.

“But she’s European.”

But not E.U.

“What harm is she doing?”

But she’s broken goodness knows how many laws. She’s not entitled to be here. How is she different from the Arab boys clinging under the chassis of lorries at Calais?

“She’s white.”

And there you have it.

In fairness the kid was shouted down by most of the others but someone was always going to say it.

1 comment:

  1. Just to complicate matters, I, like anyone born in Australia in 1944, was born a British subject. However now, when entering the UK, I have to fill in forms not required by the Spanish, Scandinavians etc on the same ship and, dependent on the whim of the official, may be questioned as to my travel plans. I always get permission to enter for 6 months but not to seek employment. I always feel like saying "But I have the same Queen". OK, I know it works the other way too. Thankfully I move quickly through immigration in both Australia and New Zealand while the Brits are questioned.
    It is wonderful nowadays that once (usually quite easily) into the EU (except UK), there are no hassles crossing all the borders (so different to back in the 70's). Wouldn't the world be wonderful if it was all like that?