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Spotted: racism at Exeter?

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Flora Carr, Copy Editor, ponders why racism is still an issue at Exeter. 

‘Police’s fatal shooting of black teenager’ ‘Unarmed teen shot dead by police.’ There was something oddly déjà vu about the jeadlines on the recent shooting of Michael Brown in Ferguson, Missouri. A story about an African-American teen shot at close range whilst allegedly unarmed; it seemed as if the media were retelling an old news story. Brown’s shooting in August led to widespread controversy. The debate over the law’s treatment of young black men is once again reignited. The statistics show that black men are far more likely to be arrested than their white counterparts, and not just in the US. In 2013 the Ministry of Justice reported that black people are three times more likely to be arrested in the UK than white people.

Thinking about the Ferguson case, I was reminded of the new ‘Spotted’ page on Facebook: ‘Spotted: Racism in Exeter.’ Scrolling through it, I was struck by one particular post: ‘”No, but where are you really from?” “London.” “No, where are you from? Like, what country are you from?” “UK.” “Where are your parents from?” I was born and raised in England but according to some students at Exeter, I can’t be truly English when I’ve got brown skin. It doesn’t matter where my parents are from: I’m from this country.’

The conversation quoted in the
post is typical of
a kind of casual,
sweeping racism
that I’ve heard
time and time
again in the UK.
At home for the
holidays, a friend
made a joke about
not being able to
see another friend
at night time, because of how dark
their skin is. It’s the
kind of racism that is often shrugged off. Of course, outside of London few places in the UK can truly be called multicultural. One anonymous student I spoke to blamed the new ‘Spotted’ page on a lack of diversity in Exeter city: ‘Exeter is something like 98 percent white and is a long way from major cities.’ When you think of multiculturalism, Devon is hardly the first place you’d thing of. A quick flick through the Student Room online confirms this. One international student started a thread asking about the ‘culture mix’ at Exeter. The result? Responses ranged from ‘It’s the whitest city in the UK to be honest,’ to ‘It’s very white… don’t get offended by locals using racist humour.’

In 2009 actress Emma Thompson famously stated that the leader of the BNP, Nick Griffin, ‘would be happy’ in Exeter, stating that ‘Exeter is very white and middle class and it needs to be cracked open a but.’ Her comments came after her adopted son Tindeyebawa Agaba alleged that he had experience racial bullying during his time at Exeter. He described one of the incidents when he was a victim of such bullying, his attackers being ‘three or four tattoed and macho-looking bouncers at a club.’ On the Exeter ‘Spotted: Racism’ page a similar episode was reported involving Arena bouncers. When the victims reported the abuse to the manager they were told, ‘it’s just banter, don’t take things too seriously.’

Vanessa Michaela, a second year, agrees with Thompson. ‘I’m second generation black British, and I just wasn’t prepared for the ignorance of some students.’ Nomnso Okeke, who lives in Lagos in Nigeria, agrees that the general demographic of Exeter students plays a big part in the casual racism he has encountered. ‘Some people are also quite ignorant of simple geographic and ethnic facts and tend to make broad, often silly assumptions,” he says. “Perhaps it is innocently done, and perhaps it’s due to their sheltered backgrounds and lack of exposure [to the rest of the world].”

Racial prejudice is a major issue across UK universities, not just Exeter. A study conducted by the LSE analysed university applications made in 2008 by 50,000 would-be students. They found that degree applications from 12 minority groups analysed were “significantly” less likely to result in an offer. Thompson is right when she says that we ‘need to open our eyes and doors and see what’s been going on,’ and where better to start than a university smack bang in the middle of ‘the whitest city in the UK’?

Flora Carr, Copy Editor

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