In light of such horrific attacks as the one carried out in Croydon over the weekend, alongside the rise of hate crime in general with a Brexit backdrop, it can be easy to dis-associate ourselves from behaviour like this and a particular national identity that we don't feel comfortable with, or a part of. We all do it, I did when I first heard the news of the young asylum seeker, still a child, who had been attacked by up to 30 people- "is this what our country has come to?" I asked, followed by, "who are these people?".
Then I saw the Daily Mail headline response - "Savages" it labels the offenders. Well yes, but wait- from the Daily Mail?! Who once published the front page headline "4000 foreign murderers and rapists we can't throw out. . . and, yes, you can blame human rights again'. This sudden change of heart could be said to be laughable. But I would argue that it is also worrying. The ability the widely read paper has to flit easily between scapegoats and stereotypes, this time to vilify the young people who carried out the attacks... the sentiment behind the attack bred by hate peddled by the very same publication. With no effort to understand why it took place, what would posses people to carry so much hate inside them for another human being, and to act on it.
I'm not saying the attack wasn't awful , sickening, and that those young people had a choice not to partake in it. And I'm not saying that some form of retribution, punishment, whatever you want to call it isn't appropriate. But I am saying that perhaps we need to face up to hate crime as a society and try to understand why crimes like this are on the rise, start some kind of dialogue as opposed to solely shaming the perpetrators and telling them they're wrong to think the way they do.
I don't know why that gang of young people took to attacking a child asylum seeker, but I can put forward my thoughts in an effort to try to understand in some way. Aside from a highly inflammatory Brexit campaign based on immigration, (warped and re-written in the minds of many as intertwined with issues of asylum.... a general mass of undeserving 'foreigners'....not really relating to Europe at all) the myths are still embedded in our society. 'They get money from the government, housed in council housing, we take in too many' etc etc.
Private companies house new arrivals where clearly they have a vested interest to turn a profit, which they do so by buying up cheap housing... where the housing is the cheapest, tends to also be in areas of greatest deprivation. The housing of asylum seekers and refugees may antagonise community tensions in areas where private landlords hike up rents and council housing waiting lists are long.
The current situation for young people is getting worse by all accounts, housing benefit for under 21's slashed, low pay, part time and 0 hour contracts on the rise. I'm not saying this justifies an attack on another human being, but I do wonder if a combination of societal myths corroborated by the media, the way our government palms off responsibility of care for the most vulnerable to private companies and an ideological austerity led policy are part of the wider picture.
And when I ask myself, 'is this what our country has come to?' and Sajid Javid says " this attack does not represent Britain or Croydon in any way", I think, doesn't it? Isn't this worth addressing? Because to deny that this kind of crime or feeling of hate is in any way part of our identity, to completely disown it, is to stop conversation, to stop questioning why and how it can be resolved or at least brought to a stop. A little bit of understanding could go a long way.