July 30 2018
In our latest opinion piece, Nil by Mouth Director Dave Scott writes about the often overlooked issues of sectarianism beyond football.
Broken Hearts, not Broken Bottles
In 2015 internationally respected pollster Prof John Curtice published research into public attitudes toward sectarianism in Scotland showing that 88% of people saw it as a problem and 55% viewed football as its biggest contributor. The link between football and bigotry is well established due to the high profile, and depressingly regular, instances of it on our touchlines and terraces. This has led many to view sectarianism as simply a ‘football issue’ and not something that seeps into wider society.
Such attitudes don’t just do the issue an disservice but also provide a handy ‘get out of jail free’ card to those outside of the football bubble who may, unwittingly or otherwise, be turning a blind eye to instances of bigotry in their workplace, communities or homes.
Much of the sectarianism which occurs in Scotland wont attract headlines but it will leave its mark on those involved. At its core sectarianism is a ‘fear of difference’, a failure to grasp why others don’t view the world in the same way we do and rather than seeking to broaden our own horizons we decide to limit those of others.
It’s about making sure everyone else’s world is as small as your own
Nil by Mouth have helped numerous people who have had their lives blighted by bigotry. Some have experienced it in the most extreme ways, bearing the brunt of terrible acts of sectarian violence. But sectarianism isn’t just about broken glass bottles. Some of the saddest examples involve broken hearts and homes. We’ve met people who are estranged from family simply because of the faith or background of the person they have fallen in love with. Grandchildren who will see their grandfather cross the road rather than acknowledge they exist. We’ve worked with young people who have criminal records or lost jobs for abusing individuals on the internet and supported those who have been on the receiving end of such behaviour. We’ve met people who felt they lost jobs or encountered a ‘glass ceiling’ for promotion because they couldn’t answer that most passive aggressive of questions ‘what school did you go too?’ to the satisfaction of the person on the other side of the desk.
This last example highlights the still too prevalent problem of bigotry in the workplace. Something Nil by Mouth has been seeking to address in recent years through its ‘Beyond Religion & Belief’ programme which includes policy advice, training, workshops and one-to-one counselling and support. Since launching the project, which is delivered free of charge, we have been reminded of the challenges many people still face at work: the teacher overlooked for promotion, the nurse abused by a patient in an A&E ward because of the colour of their tabard or the name on their ID badge, staff frozen out when overtime is available, the office worker constantly subjected to ‘banter’ from colleagues and employees having to put up with sectarian abuse from members of the public.
So far the project has been a success, we’ve worked with over 12,000 staff from more than 120 workplaces including some of Scotland’s biggest public and private sector employers. Yet still we find some employers hesitant to become involved – even when instances of sectarianism within them become apparent. Not only does ignoring a problem fail to make it go away but those with sectarian attitudes then feel emboldened, untouchable and quick to excuse their own behaviour as ‘banter’. They rely on our apathy, apprehension and reluctance to become involved.
There will be people reading this piece at home today who will recognise all too well the issues it highlights. They may be an employee, a manager or a contractor. They know they will go into work tomorrow and witness, or be on the receiving end of, sectarianism. That is why we need to see employers, unions and senior staff show leadership, uphold professional standards and, most importantly, enforce laws designed to protect people at their work. Employees must have faith that complaints are being properly investigated and bosses are utilising projects like ‘Beyond Religion and Belief’ to underline the rights and responsibilities of everyone in the workplace. If you recognise yourself in this article Nil by Mouth stand ready to help. All you have to do is pick up the phone.
A version of this article originally appeared in the Sunday Mail 29th July 2018.
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