College created with photo by Ron Lach at Pexels and image by Gordon Johnson from Pixabay
Alex Bloom (name changed) discusses why practicing tolerance and celebrating difference are the key to tackling hate crimes and extremism
I grew up in Bulgaria and had to move to London with my family at 12 years old. For me, being proud of my culture means colourful dresses, dancing and beautiful roses. It also means standing up to those that degrade our identity and country.
While I haven’t been a victim of a violent hate crime, I’ve suffered from discrimination about my roots. “Thieves and criminals,” a school mate once said to me. “I hear interesting things about Eastern European women and how you lot are,” smirked another pupil.
It can be incredibly challenging to fight such misrepresentations. We look at the media and cinema, and we see these stereotypes constantly portrayed.
The more these false narratives about minority groups grow, the more extremist organisations feed off the public’s fears and anxieties.
In the year to March 2022, there were over 150,000 hate crimes recorded in England and Wales, a 26% increase on the previous year. This was the biggest increase since 2017.
Common prejudice; anti-Chinese rhetoric, Islamophobia and Homophobia have all increased in recent years
Often, hate crimes are committed by people who justify their actions by thinking they are somehow threatened. They’ve often been brainwashed by radicals into believing that a specific community jeopardises their lives or position in society.
Common prejudice includes the anti-Chinese rhetoric that spread during the Covid-19 pandemic. Islamophobia continues to be a problem in the UK and young Muslims face rising racism. Homophobic attacks, often committed by people with extreme religious views, have also increased in recent years.
I remember back in March 2020, the BBC reported that Jonathan Mok, a student from Singapore, was physically assaulted in London after a gang of men, shouted: “I don’t want your coronavirus in my country.”
Another story that shocked me happened in January 2022, when two Jewish men were attacked on their way home from locking up their shop.
This is where I want to introduce the notion of celebrating difference and promoting diversity and tolerance. The more we understand each other and recognise our unique characteristics, the more we will be able to reach a mutual understanding.
Research has shown that promoting diversity makes us more aware, innovative and creative
Issues and misconceptions can be resolved through encouraging a curiosity in other cultures and lives. Exploring and celebrating diversity should start early in our education. With a greater understanding of our disparate perspectives, tension between groups would be reduced, allowing us to coexist in harmony.
This, of course, is a big undertaking. Discrimination in its various forms is so deeply ingrained, making tackling the issue even more crucial. Research has shown that promoting diversity makes us more aware, innovative and creative.
In her article How Diversity Makes Us Smarter, Katherine W. Phillips concludes that “Diversity enhances creativity. It encourages the search for novel information and perspectives, leading to better decision making and problem solving.”
Fostering connections and dialogue between different communities, whether that be in the workplace, schools or in the media, can truly help us tackle extremism. The more we take these steps, the more likely we are to protect impressionable young people from false narratives that spread hate.
I grew up in a very diverse secondary school, which was tremendously favourable in shaping my worldview. To me, community cohesion means that we can all be proud of our individual identities, religious beliefs, culture and background, while also coexisting and thriving alongside those who are different to us.
In the words of Phillips, “Even simply being exposed to diversity can change the way you think.”