The Challenging Perceptions Summit took place within Hate Crime Awareness Week with the release of the latest figures of hate crime statistics showing an increase of 27% in hate crimes over the last year, (Independent figures 2017 ). The summit included a wide range of organisations, community groups and individuals within the Lincolnshire area with a commitment to help increase knowledge and understanding and share it, creating a coordinated approach to tackle negative public perceptions and hate crime. The summit also encouraged individuals and organisations to partake in difficult conversations about prejudice that are often avoided.
Lawrence Harvey: Unconscious Bias
Lawrence Harvey argues that unconscious bias is pivotal to infringements on equality and diversity and assumptions are often made about people whether that is face to face, or at the other end of a phone, or computer. This is often unconsciously to protect ourselves from perceived harm which Ledoux (1999) notes as the ‘danger detector’. Such unconscious bias thoughts are ultimately powerful negatives, as often in the initial stages these assumptions create negative stereotypes which can influence values and attitudes and later effect behaviour.
Perceptions, therefore, need to be managed to ensure that behaviour does not change, that people are not treated unfairly, or alternatively we unjustly favour others. This, of course, could ultimately break employment laws and policies. As Ross (2008) discussed unconscious bias is “so deeply buried (…) that even knowing that it is there makes it difficult, or impossible, to see its impact on our thinking and on what we see as real [and therefore make up the] ways we make decisions every day in favour of one group, and to the detriment of others, without even realizing we’re doing it’’.
Sylvia Lancaster: Sophie’s Story
Sylvia’s story of her daughter, Sophie, is a powerful and emotive story of the night, when Sophie, a bright young woman lost her life and fell victim to hate crime. Sophie and her boyfriend Rob Maltby were at a park interacting with a group of young people. From a friendly beginning, things took an unpleasant turn and the group turned on Rob. It subsequently became apparent that the attack was motivated by the way that Rob and Sophie dressed; visibly part of the Goth Subculture.
As Sylvia proudly recollects Sophie then stepped in to cover Rob’s head from further injury, however, the youths then attacked Sophie too, both being left for dead and in comas, from which Sophie sadly did not recover. Sophie’s death captured the nation in 2007, as the nation questioned how it could be possible that a bright young woman lost a life to individuals younger than herself and for no other reason than her and Rob’s appearance and the alternative sub-culture that was part of their identity.
However, crime never affects one person, one victim or one family, it affects the community in what it represents. As Wilcox (2003) argues hate crime “increases individual perceptions of community danger’’, especially with Sophie’s death as she was an innocent victim, her only crime being; ‘being different’. Sylvia is now working to fight against hate crime through the charity, The Sophie Lancaster Foundation, that she founded, as well as campaigning to have UK Hate Crime legislation extended to include people from alternative subcultures or Lifestyle and dress. The charity particularly highlights how sections of the community can be labelled with derogatory name calling and placed on the outside of society.
This name calling highlights that ‘violence can’t start with silence’, that it can begin in shared views and voices. Garland (2015) similarly describes how within alternative sub-cultures the level of victimisation that they are subjected to, the fear of ‘other’ and difference from mainstream groups, makes them become “regular victims of targeted hostility and ‘everyday’ harassment’’. Within the Foundation, Sylvia educates young people on how words can affect people and how violence can make people unrecognisable, that there is a difference from video games and films where people don’t bounce back. Ross (2008) describes this as humankind re-learning ‘’the language of diversity, then we can relearn how to respect and treat each other’’. Please see the following links to know more about Sophie’s story and Sylvia’s foundation:
- https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=KC6Lr8-Cs0A&list=PLcvEcrsF_9zJ6k0JFbFbm95XUaWfJufqF – Black Roses BBC Radio Program
- https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=skMmLD0qXRA – Murdered for being Different – BBC documentary
- https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=qW2ve6_BkRA – Dark Angel Animation
Lord John Bird: A Journey from Poverty to Riches
Lord John Bird reflected on the five teenagers who killed Sophie and was compelling in arguing how we should encourage changes to our system so that innocent people are not affected by such groups, who fuelled by anger and hate undertake criminal actions. As Bourguignon (1999) considers ‘crime is a social cost of poverty and inequality’.
John Bird could relate to this group mentality of hatred due to his own background, where growing up in poverty in Notting Hill he was maltreated by his own family and found himself in an orphanage. He recalled being treated as a social failure surrounded by bigotry and prejudice and entered a circle of what he explains as poison, which involved drug and alcohol misuse, stealing and imprisonment, the only positive that while imprisoned he learnt to read and write. His anger at the effects of poverty, such as homelessness, resulted in him founding the magazine the ‘Big Issue’ in 1991.
The Big Issue gives the opportunity to the homeless, or individuals in poverty, to gain some financial stability by selling a magazine on the streets so that those individuals can have a living and do not have to use criminal routes to obtain basic needs. In order to break the cycle of poverty and ignorance, John Bird argues that poverty creates injustice and grievances that can become self-destructive, and we should give everyone the tools to fight against it. Moreover, the costs of addressing social issues caused by poverty, such as crime, would be better placed in prevention. Money for placing young people in offender institutions, for example, would be better spent ensuring that every child has a good education. Since founding the Big Issue, he has sought to reform education and prevent future injustices to future generations through political campaigning, recently being made a cross-bench peer in the House of Lords.
These talks explicitly demonstrated that unconscious bias forms the background to a hateful climate within the community. It was powerful in encouraging individuals in Lincolnshire’s community to reflect that they, we are all subject to unconscious bias, but that we are all equally involved in changing the narrative, as prevention costs less than the cure. As a community, we need to expose ourselves to all parts of society so that we can understand and stand with the voiceless and their struggles.
Recommendations for future action would be for everyone to check themselves on how they are responding to their conscious and unconscious bias and to make sure that they are changing their behaviour. Furthermore, community services and organisations should be integrated together to ensure that the issues are tackled together, with talks and discussions within all sectors of the community on unconscious bias.