IT’S been three weeks since the horrific massacre of 50 Muslims in two Christchurch mosques, which affected Muslims around the world in a very personal way. That memory and those feelings of pain can never be erased. Muslims around the world, including those in New Zealand, weren’t surprised that they were targeted. The Islamic Women’s Council of New Zealand produced a report back in 2015 appealing to the government and police to address anti-Muslim racism because they were concerned at the increased levels of hate crime and rise of the far-right as well as racism in accessing jobs, but nothing was done to address their fears.

Even before Christchurch, many commentators, activists and politicians argued that racism can be eradicated through better education, that somehow education is the solution.

I agree that education about the history of racism and how it works is critical but it won’t work on its own because it won’t put an end to the racist policies of governments, including the British government. It won’t end British immigration laws which favour the entry of white people from America, Australia and Canada but place stringent restrictions on people from black and brown countries. Nor will it stop the collective criminalisation of Muslims as potential terrorists which is a result of Britain’s counterterrorism apparatus.

Better education will not make the racism unleashed by Brexit go away because it won’t remove the racism of some Brexiteers.

The education sector is absolutely critical to addressing racism but we must not stop there. The education system is where the ideas of our future generations are shaped but its institutions are among those that reproduce racist ideologies.

To counteract those processes, we must demand that our young people are taught by anti-racist teachers from diverse backgrounds who are trained and supported to challenge racism, and that racism within education be identified and dealt with effectively and openly. What is taught across the curriculum must reflect a true account of the histories and contributions of black and brown people. This requires the education sector in its entirety to go through a rigorous process of decolonising the curriculum as well as structures. That means black and brown people must be represented throughout, at every level. I know that won’t happen overnight but we must demand that a firm commitment is made.

Everyone can participate in eradicating racism but before white Scottish people can truly be anti-racist, it is necessary to acknowledge (not apologise for) Scotland’s part in slavery and empire building and commit to learning about the true history of Scotland and how early forms of racism defined black and brown people as inferior due to their physical features and, of course, skin colour.

READ MORE: Scotland Back in the Day: No sugaring the pill of our country’s slave trade role

Early racism didn’t just exploit on the basis of colour ... remember that Ireland was Britain’s first colony. Today’s racism has evolved into more sophisticated forms where it is now expressed in cultural terms, making it incredibly flexible and able to adapt to the needs of racists, politicians and the media. This in-built flexibility means that while Muslims were never defined as a race, we are now the targets of anti-Muslim racism.

Islamophobia isn’t just anti-Muslim prejudice or anti-Muslim hate, because that means that would be to focus only on the far-right and attacks on Muslims. Islamophobia is racism against Muslims. Let’s not be shy about naming the problem.

Anti-Muslim racist tropes and ideologies, which were created by the state to dehumanise Muslims and used to justify illegal wars against Muslim countries such as Afghanistan and Iraq, have become embedded into migration policies. While the British state sanctions the destruction of Iraq – resulting in its people becoming refugees – it stops those same refugees coming to Britain. So, the Muslim is defined as the terrorist, the illegal migrant and now the paedophile. Visible Muslim women are defined as being controlled and submissive and not even allowed to choose how they dress.

Those racist and dehumanising tropes have become institutionalised in our everyday lives. They affect how jobs and positions are filled. They are the reason why there are only two Muslim MSPs and no black representation in the Scottish Parliament. They explain the recent, well-publicised incident of the patient who went into a GP surgery in Glasgow and was unable to accept a Muslim doctor could be Scottish and why that patient wanted to be seen by a white doctor. Then there’s the case of the Muslim woman standing for the council elections who was told by a voter that he hadn’t voted for her but voted for the “Scottish man instead”.

Glasgow City Council was recently accused of institutional racism because, in the full knowledge of the under-representation of Black and minority ethnic communities in its workforce, it nevertheless targeted recruitment events at these communities to fill only low-paid roles in cleaning, cooking and home-care jobs.

And let’s not forget that the death in police custody of Sheku Bayoh, a 31-year-old Black man with two young sons, has resulted in no prosecutions. His family and legal team are demanding that the Scottish Government’s justice secretary intervene in the case and agree to a public inquiry into his death.

These few examples demonstrate that racism and Islamophobia is widespread within Scottish society and institutions.

While I commend the SNP leadership for speaking out against the rantings of Tory politicians including Boris Johnson and Theresa May, our Scottish Government generally tends to address racism and Islamophobia in a very superficial way.

It has encouraged Scots to believe that racism and Islamophobia isn’t as bad here as it is in England. This “Scottish exceptionalism” has become an excuse not to do very much. It’s easy to justify not dealing with the problem when the scale of the problem is minimised.

The Scottish Government and local authorities don’t require schools to record racist and Islamophobic incidents experienced either by staff or pupils. This is somewhat of a backwards step, because I remember the old days of Strathclyde Region which had a policy on recording of racist incidents in schools. Why are these figures not collected? Could it possibly be to perpetuate the myth that racism isn’t so bad here?

We all have a responsibility to hold our politicians to account and challenge racism and Islamophobia wherever it exists – within our families, among our friends and in our places of work.

I invite you to continue this conversation at a conference that I am helping to organise called Tackling Scotland’s Racism Problem on Friday, May 10, at the University of Glasgow, jointly organised by the University of Edinburgh and Coalition of Race Equality and Rights.

Neil Davidson and colleagues in the sociology department at the University of Glasgow published No Problem Here: Understanding Racism In Scotland over a year ago which addressed the commonly held belief that racism either doesn’t exist in Scotland or is less of a problem here.

If you work in the public or voluntary sectors in Scotland or you’re an activist, we want you there to be part of the solution. Our speakers are key voices on racism and anti-racism in Scotland. They will discuss the history of racism and anti-racism in Scotland and Britain and what works to tackle it. Teacher educators will discuss how to make our education system anti-racist. The conference will close with a panel of elected politicians represented at Holyrood who will tell us how their parties will address racism.

The conference is free but you must book on the Eventbrite link below which also gives more information.