Northern Ireland has a problem with racism. I witnessed enough of it when I worked for Northern Ireland’s only ever ethnic minority MLA. The amount of abuse Anna Lo endured was staggering and we regularly dealt with constituents who had suffered similar treatment. This isn’t just anecdotal – there are figures to back it up: the results from the 2017 Life and Times Survey show high levels of intolerance towards people from minority ethnic communities.
More than half of people surveyed would not willingly accept a Muslim (52%) or an Irish Traveller (56%) if they became a relative through marriage. Almost half (47%) of people asked would not willingly accept a Muslim as a close friend; and a quarter (25%) of people would not willingly accept someone from an ethnic minority as a colleague at work.
Anna always used to say racism and sectarianism are two sides of the same coin. In a society which has in part been molded by segregation and suspicion, the continued distrust of outsiders is not just symptomatic of that which remains unresolved – it is also part of a worrying narrative in global politics.
In a city where PSNI figures show that racially-motivated crimes now exceed those connected to sectarianism, where seeing Confederate flags is not unusual (not to mention the previous Swastikas and KKK banner), where a functioning government is not in place to make much needed legislative changes, we know more needs to be done. It’s why any elected representative who puts out a leaflet which advocates “local homes for local people” is not just deeply disappointing, it’s actually dangerous. Politicians need to wake up to the racial prejudice that exists, not fuel or exploit it for political gain.
The Belfast Agenda states that “We are ambitious and inclusive. We have come together to set stretching goals that will create a better quality of life for all. We want sustainable success for the city and we want to make sure this success reaches everyone who lives here.” Electing local Councillors who are committed to this agenda, to making the city better for *everyone* who lives here, really shouldn’t be too much to ask.