FOR all the achievements of race equality laws and the Equality Act of 2010 highlighted protected characteristics relevant to all people in our society, we are living in a time that seems to see us regress in our understanding of equality, tolerance and respect. The renewal of hatred and intolerance towards LGBTQ+ communities and the negative and alienating rhetoric towards refugee communities, are deeply disturbing.

I recently came across a clip of an interview between Professor John Miller and Enoch Powell in 1971 on the Dick Cavett Show. Professor Miller was a medical doctor who then was involved in the arts and Powell was a Conservative minister, and at that time was an MP for the Ulster Unionist Party. He was also of course, infamous for his “Rivers of Blood” speech of 1968 advocating against race equality laws and immigration.

In this particular exchange, Powell was arguing that immigrant communities were taking over our cities. Professor Miller eloquently responded: “Differences are in the nature of human existence. The differences there would be [in mixed societies] are not necessarily differences that would excite fear and horror unless someone says fear and horror are an appropriate response, someone invested with the authority of public office.

“When you do that in your role as a politician you will often convince people fear and horror are an appropriate response.”

These words are 100% accurate when witnessing the political rhetoric today too. Both the largest mainstream UK parties have all engaged in developing this same sense of fear and horror through their language and harmful policies.

Both speak of “stopping the boats” on a daily basis – it’s easy to dehumanise when you keep focusing on “boats” rather than the people who are on them – despite the fact that research from the Home Office shows that while around 30,000 people have entered the UK in the last 12 months using these small boats, more than 100,000 have come to the UK to either study, work or for other legal purposes. Yet the narrative remains that those that are the most desperate and in need are the ones to be blamed.

Racist slurs and language are important to call out and tackle but we need to look deeper. We have to open our eyes to see the underlying cesspit of institutional and systemic racism, which is becoming more and more evident in the words and policies of our mainstream political parties. Structures that continue to uphold colonial ideology and that continue to disadvantage minority ethnic communities. Structures that we are all part of in our respective industries.

Take the education sector in Scotland for instance, where still less than 2% of teachers are from minority ethnic backgrounds and only 0.2% are in any form of management position. Many children and young people will go through their entire education without ever having been taught by anyone from a different background to themselves, which denies them the relevant knowledge and experience of living in a globally connected and diverse world. This only encourages stagnated thinking.

Where is the safe space for our young people to have challenging conversations and seek support for challenging situations regarding race, faith, culture and background?

READ MORE: Nigel Farage refuses to appear on BBC after Question Time humiliation

The systemic aspect of racism needs to be taught, our young people and some adults need to understand how to apply critical thinking and ask the tough questions of our structures. Schools must be a safe space, a brave space in order to do this.

Both antisemitism and Islamophobia have seen huge increases in the last eight months. The organisation Tell Mama reported anti-Muslim hate cases trebled from 600 to more than 2000 cases between October 2023 and February 2024, compared to the same period in the last year. These attacks were mostly on social media but also reported as physical assaults, abuse and vandalism with Muslim women often being the most targeted.

March 15 is the UN International Day to Combat Islamophobia, and this year they said “Today hate entrepreneurs, political parties, armed groups, religious leaders and even state actors around the world are trampling on religious belief, discriminating, violating human rights and overlooking or even attempting to justify these violations.”

Further, the Community Security Trust have reported more than 4000 cases of antisemitism in 2023, with two thirds of that amount occurring since October 2023. Both communities, indeed all communities deserve to live, work and grow in safety.

But I am urged to question if these two issues are treated equally. The double standards have been unashamedly obvious and fully on display on our screens often through our mainstream media outlets.

This current General Election campaign, for me has been very much about the mainstream media actively promoting far-right voices and opinions, in particular towards Muslim communities, completely unchallenged. Watching Nigel Farage on Sky News on May 27 openly saying that Muslims – especially the youth – are against British values and are a problem for our societies was tough to say the least.

Then to continue seeing him being platformed on every other channel throughout that week and then to see him being given a space on the podium during debates with other party leaders. The BBC have even decided to hold a second debate just so they can include him (The National, June 18). Every opportunity is being provided to him to spread his hate and false narrative around immigrants and migration. This does not highlight impartiality, – I’d argue it’s quite the opposite.

And what about the youth that he speaks of? There have also been concerns raised last week about the more than two million 18 to 24-year-olds who are not registered to vote. There have been lots of discussions about them but not with them. Questions around why they engage in political activism, participating in demos and protests for a variety of reasons, but don’t appear at the ballot box.

An anti-racist campaigner takes part in a protest in London

I don’t think these two issues are necessarily connected. When the political narrative never seems to involve them or speak to them, it is no surprise that they do not feel an advantage to take part in a process that may result in more of the same. But the youth of today are aware and fully able to call out double standards, which is what Farage and his ilk are so afraid of.

It was especially painful watching young children in London join the far-right march, in June, proudly chanting Islamophobic obscenities. Painful not just because of how offensive it was but painful because they were children. The future of our society and pupils in classrooms the following Monday.

Schools are dealing with a lot – especially in terms of lack of funding, insecure teacher contracts and growing numbers of additional support needs and violent behaviour. However, schools are a reflection of the society in which they exist and as educators we still hold a great responsibility in tackling this form of hate head on. Schools must be a safe space for learners to ask difficult questions free of judgement or fear. Teachers must not censor or silence voices or actions of activism and solidarity with world events, all in the name of neutrality. Indeed, censoring and silencing is in fact picking a side.

Education is and always has been the answer to ignorance and intolerance. We cannot pick and choose who is deserving of equality and fairness. We cannot pick and choose whose fight for social justice we value and whose is ignored. We cannot allow our societies to be divided by negative and often false narratives by opportunistic actors.

We must encourage questioning and critical thinking to create adults of tomorrow that will call out injustice and double standards

Nuzhat Uthmani is a primary teacher and lecturer in primary education at the University of Stirling.

She specialises in global citizenship and equalities-based education. She is a trade unionist and board member of the Scottish Government’s Antiracism in Education Programme. She is also chair of the West of Scotland Development Education Centre (WOSDEC), one of Scotland’s leading global citizenship teacher education providers.