National Hate Crime Awareness Week – my view by Resident Board Member for Orbit, Tonia Mihill

In the year ending March 2022, there were 155,814 hate crimes recorded by the police in England and Wales. This is a 26% increase compared with the previous year.

As part of National Hate Crime Awareness Week, Resident Board Member for Orbit Tonia Mihill shares her experiences and thoughts on how we can all make communities safer for everyone.

Back in the day

I grew up as a lone mixed heritage child in my white family.  It was the sixties and seventies, and I was regularly subjected to hateful verbal racist abuse. At the time I had no language to describe or express this and it seems to me looking back that neither did anyone else I knew. At school, I remember two older boys who were in the habit of making racist remarks as I walked past them in the corridor.  There were no Equalities laws, no anti-bullying initiatives. I was on my own.

If those boys had abused me just the once that would now be considered a hate incident.  The regular abuse I suffered would constitute a hate crime.

We lived in a housing association property. I had a safe space to do my homework, read, educate myself about racism to understand what was happening to me and learn about Black history and culture. I achieved the grades that allowed me to head for university in London. Inevitably the trauma journeyed with me too, but I am one of the lucky ones… I survived and had enough positives to allow me to thrive.  Not everyone does, and disproportionate rates of mental ill-health, including suicide, persist in all communities that are abused simply for being who they are.

Fast Forward

I moved into my Orbit flat in 2006 and on rare occasions have encountered unpleasant behaviour from neighbours. I cannot be sure whether race has been a factor in these interactions, but I have always felt reassured by the knowledge that if I did experience abuse, I have a landlord that has my back. Orbit has a commitment to building communities and policies and practices to combat the forces that act against that – poverty as well as discrimination and hate crime.

Since 2017, I have been a Resident Board Member with Orbit, and this has included being a part of the Equality, Diversity and Inclusion Strategic Forum. There’s lots to do and progress can feel slow, however I have been impressed by the team’s commitment to the long haul and to identifying what to do now, which brings us to Hate Crime Awareness Week – a national week encouraging action to tackle hate crime.  The awful truth is that hate crimes of all kinds have been increasing across the UK in recent years, so this is an urgent task. In contrast to my childhood there is now legislation that make all forms of discrimination illegal, a criminal offence, but to make this count requires each of us.

Don’t let anyone ever tell you that nothing changes

African American activist, academic and author, Angela Y Davis is an inspirational figure to me. She grew up in the segregated South of the forties and fifties in an area of Birmingham, Alabama, known at that time as Dynamite Hill because of the frequent bomb attacks on black people by the Ku Klux Klan. Angela has said: “I am no longer accepting the things I cannot change. I am changing the things I cannot accept.”

Surely, hate crime must be one of those things we cannot accept.  No child should grow up and no adult live beset by hate. Birmingham, Alabama in 2022 has a black mayor, Randall Woodfin, who is continuing the struggle for racial justice and healing, and is a crucial voice for LGBT+ equality too. 

Choose Love

We all have power.  We know that a smile or kind word from a stranger can transform a day. Reporting a hate incident can build a picture of what is happening in an area, reporting a hate crime can put an end to the isolation and fear and violence that blights lives.  Both can help make a neighbourhood safer for everyone. In the context of hate, speaking up and seeking and offering support are choices that take courage (a word derived from the Latin for heart – ‘cor’).  Sometimes this can be a lonely moment but as an Orbit customer you can be sure that you have a team on your side, to stand with you, and for me that makes a world of difference.