What is Racism?

Unsure what racism actually is? Find out what it means and how to spot if it's happening.


What is racism?: 

We’ve all heard the word being used, but what exactly is racism? ChildLine has broken it down and taken a look at racism, where it comes from, and how it can affect you.

Racism is treating someone differently or unfairly simply because they belong to a different ethnic community or have a different religion or nationality.

Racism takes many different forms. These can include:

  • personal attacks of any kind, including violence. 
  • written or verbal threats or insults. 
  • damage to property, including graffiti. 
  • inappropriate language

Why are people racist?: 

Racism comes from a belief that one ethnic community is superior to other communities. This can then lead to abusive or aggressive behaviour towards members of another community on the basis of such a belief. That is how the slave trade began many years ago.

Racists tend to feel threatened by anyone who is from a different race, religion, or culture. It comes from ignorance and fear brought on by stereotypes.

If a child or young person grows up within a racist family, or has friends who are racist, they may believe that racism is normal and acceptable. But it’s not!

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How racism affects you: 

If a young person, like yourself, experiences racism of any kind, they can feel lonely and sad. Like bullying, they may also try and avoid situations where racist behaviour could occur, and pretend to be ill, play truant from school, or be scared to leave their house.

That is why there are many ongoing campaigns to stamp out racism wherever it rears its ugly head - for example there is the Show Racism The Red Card campaign to try and combat racism in football.

Did you know that racism is an offence?: 

Under Section 18 of the Public Order Act 1986,  any person who uses "threatening, abusive or insulting words or behaviour" with the intention of inciting or stirring up racial hatred.

Meanwhile the Crime & Disorder Act 1999 makes racial harassment a serious criminal offence in Scotland. Not only that, but it is also an offence to display written material, such as posters, in the same manner.

The Equality Act 2010 also makes it illegal to discriminate on the grounds of race, including in employment and in the provision of goods and services.

Most recent figures reveal that there has been a 14% decrease in racist incidents in the past year. 

In 2012/13 there were 4,628 racist incidents, compared with 5,389 in 2011/12.

 In 2012/13, Pakistani and white British both accounted for 23% of victims. 36% of victims were aged between 26-35 compared to 12% who were aged 20 and younger.