Benjamin Zephaniah: We must stand up to hatred

Share
Related Topics

Genocide is an appalling crime against humanity that we hope will never again be repeated. Today, as we approach

Holocaust Memorial Day
, we might stop and reflect on the fact that it still has the potential to be repeated and perpetrated around the world, unless we are on our guard and understand that our actions today have consequences tomorrow.

The use of the term genocide can be problematic and contentious but it shouldn't disguise historical fact. One of the first modern day genocides took place in Armenia, a part of modern day Turkey in 1915. This massacre of 1.5 million people, indiscriminate of age or gender, is still not acknowledged as genocide by Turkey - long after it took place. The United States did not recognise or act on the events at the time and consequently Hitler admitted looking at the Armenians and deciding that if they can get away with it, he could also. If people don't recognise something, its entire existence is erased. It begs the question - if the United Kingdom and United States had not recognised the Holocaust when it happened, would anyone think it had ever existed? Who decides what we remember and what we don't – and does it mean that things we don't remember or recognise didn't exist and don't count?

My earliest recollection of hatred was in the late 60s when I was eight years old, and I still have the scar to prove it. I was walking home from school in Handsworth, Birmingham, when another boy came cycling past with a brick in his hand. He hit me across the back of my head with the brick and shouted 'You black bastard!', as he rode off. When I got home, blood pouring from the back of my head, my mother told me that some people in the world are just like that and it's something we have to live with. It was not even a consideration to report the crime – it would have been ignored anyway. This incident was the first time I realised I was different and that people actually hated me for who and what I was. The scar on the back of my head is a constant reminder of this.

People have to understand the past to see the future, they have to start recognising the dangers of the present to prevent them escalating into the Holocaust of the future. A close late friend of mine recently told me a story of how, when she was very young, she went to a political meeting in Austria with her mother and auntie. After the meeting, the two adults were debating the event, concluding that the main political figure, who was a radical speaker, would never amount to anything and should just be ignored. That main figure was Adolf Hitler.

When people don't recognise these dangers, the problems start. Call it innocent ignorance, call it optimism, however you want to look at it, unless we recognise and stand up to these figures, who knows where it can lead? My friend's mother and auntie certainly would never have imagined what Hitler could go on to do in the years that followed that meeting.

Bob Marley said in one of his songs 'Well the biggest man you ever did see, was once a baby', and that is what interests me as a writer. Hitler was once a baby and would have been looked on adoringly by people. He then went on to become one of the most powerful men in history, orchestrating the killings of hundreds of thousands of innocent people. The boy who racially attacked me in Handsworth may have gone on to abuse and physically hurt other people since. His attack on me was left unchecked so what's to stop him?

It is so important that we have Holocaust Memorial Day in January to remind us to acknowledge how bad we can be to each other, whether it's direct and intentional or indirect and unintentional. All it takes is one discriminatory group to gain power and it can all fall apart. We must join together to recognise where these acts of hatred, regardless of size, can lead if left unchecked.

I urge all Britons to “Stand up to Hatred” and recognise the impact we can have on our future. By considering these things, next time we see, hear, or experience any act of hatred anywhere and in any form, we can make a better future.

React Now

Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Ashdown Group: Senior Marketing Executive- City of London, Old Street

£40000 - £43000 per annum + benefits: Ashdown Group: Senior Marketing Executiv...

Ashdown Group: Marketing Manager

£40000 - £43000 per annum + benefits: Ashdown Group: An international organisa...

Ashdown Group: Internal Recruiter -Rugby, Warwickshire

£25000 - £30000 per annum: Ashdown Group: Internal Recruiter -Rugby, Warwicksh...

Ashdown Group: Marketing Manager/Marketing Controller (Financial Services)

£70000 - £75000 per annum + benefits: Ashdown Group: Marketing Manager/Marketi...

Day In a Page

Read Next
A pill for obesity is a step closer, with two separate studies showing that it may be possible to influence the body’s tendency to build up damaging fat deposits beneath the skin  

Being fat is the last social taboo. It is the actual elephant in the room

Rosie Millard
The traditional Boxing Day hunt in Lacock  

For foxes' sake: Don't let the bloody tradition of the Boxing Day hunt return

Mimi Bekhechi
A Christmas without hope: Fears grow in Gaza that the conflict with Israel will soon reignite

Christmas without hope

Gaza fears grow that conflict with Israel will soon reignite
After 150 years, you can finally visit the grisliest museum in the country

The 'Black Museum'

After 150 years, you can finally visit Britain's grisliest museum
No ho-ho-hos with Nick Frost's badass Santa

No ho-ho-hos with Nick Frost's badass Santa

Doctor Who Christmas Special TV review
Chilly Christmas: Swimmers take festive dip for charity

Chilly Christmas

Swimmers dive into freezing British waters for charity
Veterans' hostel 'overwhelmed by kindness' for festive dinner

Homeless Veterans appeal

In 2010, Sgt Gary Jamieson stepped on an IED in Afghanistan and lost his legs and an arm. He reveals what, and who, helped him to make a remarkable recovery
Isis in Iraq: Yazidi girls killing themselves to escape rape and imprisonment by militants

'Jilan killed herself in the bathroom. She cut her wrists and hanged herself'

Yazidi girls killing themselves to escape rape and imprisonment
Ed Balls interview: 'If I think about the deficit when I'm playing the piano, it all goes wrong'

Ed Balls interview

'If I think about the deficit when I'm playing the piano, it all goes wrong'
He's behind you, dude!

US stars in UK panto

From David Hasselhoff to Jerry Hall
Grace Dent's Christmas Quiz: What are you – a festive curmudgeon or top of the tree?

Grace Dent's Christmas Quiz

What are you – a festive curmudgeon or top of the tree?
Nasa planning to build cloud cities in airships above Venus

Nasa planning to build cloud cities in airships above Venus

Planet’s surface is inhospitable to humans but 30 miles above it is almost perfect
Surrounded by high-rise flats is a little house filled with Lebanon’s history - clocks, rifles, frogmen’s uniforms and colonial helmets

Clocks, rifles, swords, frogmen’s uniforms

Surrounded by high-rise flats is a little house filled with Lebanon’s history
Return to Gaza: Four months on, the wounds left by Israel's bombardment have not yet healed

Four months after the bombardment, Gaza’s wounds are yet to heal

Kim Sengupta is reunited with a man whose plight mirrors the suffering of the Palestinian people
Gastric surgery: Is it really the answer to the UK's obesity epidemic?

Is gastric surgery really the answer to the UK's obesity epidemic?

Critics argue that it’s crazy to operate on healthy people just to stop them eating
Homeless Veterans appeal: Christmas charity auction Part 2 - now LIVE

Homeless Veterans appeal: Christmas charity auction

Bid on original art, or trips of a lifetime to Africa or the 'Corrie' set, and help Homeless Veterans
Pantomime rings the changes to welcome autistic theatre-goers

Autism-friendly theatre

Pantomime leads the pack in quest to welcome all