This blog was written for HMDT by Charlotte Lee, who is currently a member of the HMDT Youth Champion Board for the South East.
Recent news reports have told of an increase in racist incidents and hate crime following last week’s EU referendum result. Figures show an increase of 57% in reported incidents between Thursday and Sunday, compared to the same days four weeks before.
To name but a few incidents, members of the Polish community in Cambridge were subjected to laminated cards being posted through their doors, which read 'Leave the EU – no more Polish vermin'; suspected racist graffiti was found on the front entrance of the Polish Social and Cultural Association in Hammersmith; and a halal butchers shop in Walsall was targeted in a horrific petrol bomb attack.
The country was clearly divided over last Thursday’s referendum, but regardless of our politics, we should be united in opposition to these attacks.
I signed up to be part of HMDT’s Youth Champion Board because I wanted to use my voice to speak out against racism, hatred, and discrimination. As a history student, I spent much of my time at university poring over history books and wondering how past atrocities could ever have been allowed to happen. More often than not, the answer was that hatred and persecution were allowed to take root when people stood by and didn’t challenge what was happening. At best, people were afraid to speak out, at worst they were indifferent.
Commemoration of genocide may not seem immediately relevant to this situation at first glance. However, the theme for HMD 2017: How can life go on? is hugely applicable to the situation we now face. Racism and discrimination can tear communities apart, and these breakdowns and divisions can be extremely hard to recover from. We must stop ourselves from being divided by this dreadful rhetoric, and we must challenge hate when we see it. 'Dehumanisation' is stage three on Gregory H Stanton’s '8 stages of genocide' model, and is a process in which those who are perceived as 'different' are treated with no form of human rights or personal dignity. For example, the Nazis referred to Jews as 'vermin,' and during the Rwandan genocide Tutsis were also dehumanised when they were referred to as 'cockroaches.' We are fortunate in the UK that we are not at risk of genocide, but the fact that Polish communities are being referred to as 'vermin' feels particularly uncomfortable, given the connotations of its past use.
Moreover, those seeking refuge in the UK in order to escape persecution or even genocide elsewhere, may now be fearful of becoming a victim of attacks and further discrimination in Britain. How can we ever expect them to heal and recover from the trauma that they have faced, when they cannot escape the kind of fear and discrimination from which they were fleeing in the first place?
It is crucial that we commemorate the Holocaust and subsequent genocides. However, taking the time to reflect on the past does not need to equate to a lack of action in the present. In fact, quite to the contrary, our reflections should enable us to learn lessons from the past in order to create a safer, better future.
The lesson that I take from my reflections on this subject is that we have a chance to speak out against this rise in hate crime, now. We must not let this hatred take root and grow into an ugly phenomenon for another history student to study in years to come, whilst wondering 'how could they have let that happen?'
We must challenge these views, we must report hate crime when we see it, and above all we must be kind to each other. Often the latter, the simplest acts of kindness, can be the most important and the most powerful.
'I swore never to be silent whenever and wherever human beings endure suffering and humiliation. We must take sides. Neutrality helps the oppressor, never the victim. Silence encourages the tormentor, never the tormented.'
- Elie Wiesel
- If you witness an incident of hate crime, report it to the police. You can also get in touch with Tell MAMA to report anti-Muslim hate.
- If you're aged 14-24 and you may be interested in joining our Youth Champion Programme, email [email protected]
The HMDT blog highlights topics relevant to our work in Holocaust and genocide education and commemoration. We hear from a variety of guest contributors who provide a range of personal perspectives on issues relevant to them, including those who have experienced state-sponsored persecution and genocide. The views expressed are those of the author and do not necessarily represent the views of HMDT.