Racial abuse in the playground? That’s just England in 2019

Lola Okolosie

Schools talk about equality and diversity, but when it comes to really challenging racism, they are turning a blind eye

Fri 31 May 2019

To celebrate my youngest sister’s birthday, I take her out for lunch. With five children between us, conversation is snatched: at any given time, someone is asking for a crayon or spilling their drink or moaning. It’s a prosaic enough half-term scene until my sister is suddenly reminded of something she wants to tell me. Last week, she recounts, she’d been walking down her local high street in a suburb of Bradford and heard a man shout out “fucking dirty wog”. She thought he had been speaking to her but then realised he had been referring to her nine-month-old daughter.


This is England in 2019. I write this because the impulse might be to claim it as only a singular moment, and anachronistic. Yet yesterday the National Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children (NSPCC) reported that racial abuse and bullying of children has risen by a fifth since 2015.

Here is the inevitable result of far-right thinking on immigrants that our media and political class have given voice to in order to appear “balanced”. Nurture has won out. When John Cleese reminds us (though nobody asked him) that for him London is no longer English, he does so in large part because the place of ethnic minorities is so openly contested that a racist statement like his cannot recognise itself as such. Contorting itself to appear as merely common sense, it enables the kind of racism emboldening playground bullies.

To return to my sister, the verbal assault, an act of violence towards her baby, stunned her into silence. Her mind went blank. The incident became a jolt of hatred momentarily escaping her memory when we met. Why? Precisely because life moves on and people of colour do not surrender to being victims. Children need to be picked up from school, fed and bathed. In the frenzy of daily living, the verbal attack on both her and her child was absorbed. It’s worth outlining her reaction because it is likely a common response of the children who reported more than 10,000 incidents of racial abuse and bullying to the police in 2017-18. Babies and toddlers, police figures confirm, were also targeted.

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