Is this racism?

You decide. But those of us who are not white are rather fed up with such goings-on.

From the Mirror:

Pizza Hut was accused of racism yesterday after asking a group of black professional footballers to pay in advance for their meals.

The demand was made as a table of white youngsters seated nearby were allowed to settle up after eating.

Five AFC Bournemouth players were stunned when a duty manager told them to pay up front because of "the way you lot look".

When they refused, staff claimed they were being "disruptive" and called the police.

Officers arrived at the restaurant but took no action after the players, including £2,000-a-week first-team regulars Anton Robinson, Liam Feeney and Marvin Bartley, agreed to leave.

Pizza Hut last night apologised to the League One stars and admitted they had been treated "very shabbily" but insisted there was no racism.

However, midfielder Mr Robinson, 24, said later: "The only thing that was different was the colour of our skins."

So Pizza Hut insists it wasn't racism, but the players insist it was. I know which side I'm on.

The UK is a much more tolerant and diverse country than when my father arrived here as an immigrant from India in 1966 and had dog shit posted through his letter box on a semi-regular basis. Thankfully, in 21st-century Britain, racism is less and less acceptable, less and less prevalent. But it still exists. It hasn't disappeared.

And many white Britons, even of an ultra-liberal, politically correct bent, don't quite get the impact that racist or discriminatory language or behaviour can have on people from non-white, ethnic-minority backgrounds.

Often, the racism isn't intended or deliberate, and the person causing offence will get rather upset or annoyed if their words or deeds are pointed out to them. But it's not just far-right, tatooed bigots who discriminate against ethnic minorities. Yet those of us who are non-white are often dismissed as thin-skinned or over-sensitive, or lacking in a sense of humour. We are accused, by the right-wing media, in particular, of inhabiting a "victim culture" in which we supposedly "cry" racism, with the support and encouragement of the "race relations industry".

But how many of you will ever find yourselves in the humiliating position of the black person in a restaurant who is treated differently from the white customers? How many of you know what that's like or how it feels? How many of you have been stopped and searched hundreds of times, as this black adviser to the Met Police was?

How many of you spent three years, as I did at university, being stopped and asked for ID on countless occasions, and for no apparent reason, as I tried to enter my own Oxford college? Christ Church, where I did my degree, has porters stationed at each entrance to ensure that tourists don't get in to the college without paying an entrance fee by pretending to be undergraduates. But I was at Christ Church for three years – didn't they realise, after the first few stops, that I was a student there? On several occasions, I entered the college with a group of fellow students, all white and all of whom were allowed to pass by the porters while I was stopped and asked to produce my college photo card.

I'm not pretending it's the same as being refused service in a restaurant, or being stopped and searched by the police, or being denied voting rights, and it might seem like a trivial matter to those of you who haven't been on the receiving end of such behaviour, but it's the kind of frustrating experience that sticks in the minds of those of us who happen to be non-white but feel as British and as integrated as the next man (or woman).

On a related note, it's rather disturbing to see that Oxbridge colleges have failed miserably in their alleged attempts to diversify their intake and admit non-white students, black teenagers in particular. According to information revealed, via FoI requests, to the (black) Labour MP David Lammy, 21 Oxbridge colleges made no offers to black students last year. They should be ashamed of themselves.

Mehdi Hasan is a contributing writer for the New Statesman and the co-author of Ed: The Milibands and the Making of a Labour Leader. He was the New Statesman's senior editor (politics) from 2009-12.

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How society is failing transgender children

In the wake of the cancellation of a public debate on this subject, one of the speakers shares her view on where society's approach to gender nonconformity is going wrong.

In August this year, several UK councils issued guidance to schools on accommodating female pupils who wear binders. A binder is a constricting undergarment for the upper body: what it binds are the breasts, pressing them down to a flatness that the wearer feels is appropriate to their self-perception as masculine or gender-neutral. According to Cornwall Council, the binder is “very important to [the wearer’s] psychological wellbeing.” But binders have unwelcome physical side-effects too, including “breathing difficulties, skeletal problems and fainting.” Lancashire Council’s advice urges teachers to “monitor [wearers] carefully during physical activities and in hot weather. It may be necessary to subtly offer more breaks.”

When the NSPCC invited me to participate in a discussion on the subject “is society letting down transgender children?” (part of its Dare to Debate series), those guidelines were one of the first things I thought of. They’re written in accordance with the overriding principle of gender identity politics, which is that affirmation is all. Any bodily harms incurred count for little compared to the trauma believed to be inflicted by a “mismatch” between appearance and identity. It’s a doctrine that insists we’ve moved beyond the tyranny of physical sex and social pressure, and into a realm of pure selfhood where all must be able to live in accordance with their own inherent being.

And yet, look again at that list of side effects: breathing difficulties, skeletal problems, fainting, inability to participate fully in exercise. The female adolescents wearing binders have reproduced all the problems of tight-lacing corsets, this time in the service of restrictive anti-femininity rather than restrictive femininity. So is issuing guidance to reduce the harms of binder-wearing in schools an act of care for transgender children, or an abdication of it? Is the role of adults in authority – whether parental, educational or medical – to validate everything that comes under the rubric of transition, regardless of long-term consequences, or could another approach be better?

The number of children who identify as trans is small, but rapidly increasing: referrals to the Tavistock and Portman NHS Trust’s gender identity development service have doubled year-on-year. Putting gender-nonconforming youths on a medical track opens the possibility that they will be prescribed puberty blockers, delaying the physical changes of adolescence that individuals may find distressing. Later, treatment can include cross-sex hormones and surgery to create the desired sexual characteristics.

For many, this can alleviate profound anguish about the self, but not without costs. The long-term effects of hormone therapies aren’t known, and won’t be until the current generation of trans children have lived well into adulthood. There’s a risk that increased medicalisation could be imposing permanent physical changes on children who, left to their own devices, would discover they are quite happy living with their natal sex – about 80 per cent of children diagnosed with gender dysphoria desist before adulthood, but the normalisation of medical transition could commit many to irrevocable treatments they would otherwise avoid.

Remarkably, as I found out when I worked on a long feature on the subject, there isn’t any agreement on what gender identity is or how it relates to the physical body. Which means that transitioning children are receiving an untested treatment for an undefined condition. Medicine often involves a surprising degree of idiosyncrasy and guesswork, but this uncertainty both about what is being treated and the effects of the treatment should be a cause for caution. While many who transition find it wholly positive, not everyone does: doubt and detransition happen, and these stories tell us that the quickest path to reassignment is not always the best treatment for someone presenting with dysphoria.

Sometimes, a diagnosis of gender dysphoria might mask a different underlying cause to a child’s distress. Psychiatrist Susan Bradley reports that children with cross-sex identification are often (not always) either responding defensively to a violent background or engaging in the obsessive behaviours associated with autistic spectrum disorders. A policy of “watchful waiting” – listening to the child, supporting them and giving them freedom to experiment and develop – is vital if we are to give children the kind of help they really need. But in an environment where anything short of total and immediate reinforcement is deemed abusive, “watchful waiting” is not an option.

One more problem: if gender dysphoria is conceived as the problem, and gender reassignment as the solution, then transition represents the summation of a process which should in theory resolve everything. In practice, newly-transitioned young people (especially those crossing the threshold from child and adolescent mental health services to adult provision) can find themselves stranded, no longer in receipt of the support they had during transition. We simply aren’t getting the treatment of transgender children right if we’re only treating their gender.

The consequences extend well beyond children who identify as trans, of course. Schools are suffused with sexual harassment and sexual violence, yet girls are expected to accept a child they previously knew as a boy as female like them, or be called bigots. The naturalisation of sex-stereotypes in parental narratives of transition surely has a limiting influence on other children’s conception of sex-appropriate behaviour. For some gender-nonconforming children, the cultural celebration of transition leads to anxiety about whether they themselves should be trans, even if they’re happy in their bodies. Certainly, many gay and lesbian adults have looked back on their own childhoods and remarked nervously that their behaviour then would qualify them as trans now.

If we’re not able to address these issues, then we’re manifestly failing children. But addressing them is incredibly difficult: practitioners who privately mention their doubts about current approaches to gender noncomformity are afraid to ask questions publicly, anticipating personal attacks and the loss of their jobs.

They’re not wrong to do so. After announcing the Dare to Debate event, the NSPCC was put under sustained pressure, I was persistently abused, and following the withdrawal of the other panelist, the charity cancelled the event. Previous installments in the series have looked at child sexualisation, foetal alcohol syndrome, and asked whether the investigation of child sexual abuse has tipped into “hysteria”, but apparently it would be just too daring to talk about gender. Doctrine so bitterly defended that it must even be protected from good-faith debate is a kind of restrictive garment for the intellect. Wearing it can ease our mental pangs. But the damage it does besides is very real.

Sarah Ditum is a journalist who writes regularly for the Guardian, New Statesman and others. Her website is here.