Racism is alive and well in our communities – the Penygroes swastika was a wake-up call

Chris Schoen from Penygroes begins to clean the swastika. His grandfather and grandmother from the Netherlands sheltered Jews during the Second World War.

Angharad Tomos

I was cleaning the front doorstep when the police car stopped outside the house on June 15th. He was making enquires about the racial attack on a neighbour’s house in Penygroes. The graffiti of a swastika on the Red Lion in the village has shocked everybody and we all feel guilty.

Surely, it’s an attack from someone outside the village. No one amongst us would do such a thing?

“The offender would have ran from the Red Lion, down this path, past your house,” the police explained, and at that moment, I knew the offender would have been local.

They would have known that a black family lived in the Red Lion, they would know the small lane would be a quick escape route.

When I discussed the matter with a neighbour in our street, she nodded. Her brother in law lived here after he came from Pakistan. He was often abused she said, with young people shouting at him. Margaret Ogunbanwo from the Red Lion said in a rally yesterday that they have had to deal with racism in Wales as well as in England.

What do we do now is the question. Forty people came this morning to help clean the swastika from the front of the Red Lion. It made us feel better. In the afternoon, we gave a very Welsh response, we formed a pop-up choir and sang hymns opposite the cleaned garage door that was daubed.

But what can we actually do to stop such a situation from happening again?

 

Pride

Surely, one step is that children and young people should be taught about racism in schools.

At Penygroes school in the Seventies, I had no education at all regarding racial prejudice. Yet, I had to follow a two-year course about World War II.

I was taught about Hitler and Churchill, and that everything was stopped with the atomic bomb on Hiroshima.

The people of Penygroes watch as the swastika is cleaned

Round the corner from the Red Lion is Horeb chapel. It was there at Sunday School that I became aware of the struggle of black people. The year after Martin Luther King was assassinated, we gave a presentation on ‘I have a dream’ and it made a great impression on me. But I can point to that occasion as it was the only time I was taught about racism.

Since then, I have been active with the Anti Apartheid Movement, but have been quietly proud that we are Welsh. We have a history of peacemakers, we’re a small nation, we started the Peace Message and we take pride in our international outlook. Here in Penygroes, we are proud of the plaque in the village hall to remember the sacrifice of one of the villagers in the Spanish Civil War.

It’s time to stop being so complacent. Racism is alive and well here in Penygroes as in many parts of Wales. The swastika on the Red Lion was only the tip of the iceberg.

It’s time we really did something to combat it. It’s a wake-up call.

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