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.

People can also experience racist prejudice because of their 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.

The thing is, we are not born racist. It’s not in our genes. It comes from our views and beliefs that develop as we grow up. We can be influenced by friends, family, newspapers, and society in general. 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!

Prejudice of any kind is usually based on ignorance and fear. Often people have opinions on things they know nothing about, and that includes on people, religions and cultures.

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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.

It’s serious stuff and something that we all want to avoid. Most people in Scotland believe they are not racist and say they would like to live in a country free from prejudice.

That is why there are many ongoing campaigns to stamp out racism wherever it rears its ugly head eg. sport - Show Racism The Red Card and Kick Racism Out Of Football; employment - One Workplace Equal Rights; all areas of life - One Scotland.

Did you know that racism is an offence?: 

Yes it is! If you want to get technical, it’s an offence under Section 18 of the Public Order Act 1986 for any person to use "threatening, abusive or insulting words or behaviour" with the intention of inciting or stirring up racial hatred or if, in the circumstances, this is likely to happen.

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 Scots believe they are not racists and would like to live in a country free from prejudice.

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.