Beaten for asking if people who weren't black could be victims of racism

Beaten for asking if people who weren't black could be victims of racism

The message from Becky's school — innocuous in its vagueness — merely reported that there had been an 'incident'. It was much more than that: in fact, Becky's parents discovered their daughter had been brutally assaulted by a fellow pupil. Clumps of her hair had been pulled out.

Her face and body were bruised, her lip swollen. So severe were the injuries to her legs, she was unable to walk for a fortnight.

But as bad as the physical battering was, its aftermath had more far-reaching and pernicious consequences: friends of Becky's 14-year-old assailant had filmed the attack on their smartphones and posted it online like some grotesque badge of honour.

The next day, the vilification of Becky — which had begun four months earlier with taunts, harassment and name-calling within her school — was complete. A montage of photos, insults and accusations was posted online by an unknown troll and viewed 1,400 times. Bullied, beaten and humiliated in the supposed sanctuary of her school, a high-achieving mixed comprehensive with a good Ofsted rating, Becky, also 14, now felt under siege everywhere in the affluent town in eastern England where she lived.

She did not feel she could go back to school and face her enemies. She retreated to her bedroom and withdrew from the world. She became a prisoner,' says her mum Andrea.

And the reason? Becky, who is herself the daughter of second-generation immigrants, had ventured an opinion in an impromptu classroom debate sparked by Black Lives Matter (BLM) in July 2021 and been instantly labelled a racist.

'Couldn't other nationalities, besides black people, be victims of racism?' she had asked in a spirit of genuine inquiry.

'BLM was a hot topic at the time and some pupils had been discussing it during a maths lesson when Becky chipped in with her question,' recalls her mum Andrea.

'She was broadening the conversation to ask about respect for all nationalities and cultures, and it was taken out of context and entirely misconstrued by her classmates.'

Becky's father David adds: 'In that instant she was labelled a 'racist' and 'cancelled'. It was as if a monster had been unleashed.'

Months of vicious harassment — only temporarily interrupted by the school holidays — ensued. Then came the beating, after which Becky's parents were swift to act and her school (to its credit) expelled her attacker the next day. While the school reported the assault to the police, David says: 'We didn't want to press charges because we took a moral view that we didn't want to criminalise a 14-year-old. But we asked them to talk to her and make it known how appalled we were.'

While in previous generations bullying might be confined within a school, thanks to social media victims now find their reputations can be trashed for months, even years, and to a much broader social circle.

Certainly, the slurs, disseminated on social media, followed Becky everywhere. There was no escaping them. Even when Becky's life became so unbearable that she was forced in February of this year to go to a new school, the 'racist' smear preceded her.

And just as she began to rebuild her shattered confidence — venturing into town on an outing with new friends — she was spotted by a gang of girls from her old school and beaten up again.

Andrea has also been embroiled in the ritual humiliation of her daughter. 'I was with Becky in the shopping centre one day and a boy suddenly shouted, 'Oh, look! There's the racist!' It was as if a floodlight had been turned on us. Horrible,' she says.

Now Becky's despairing parents are telling her story — under false names because they fear for their daughter's safety — to warn others about the excesses of cancel culture and the devastating nature of modern bullying.

A quiet, unsporty teenager, Becky was, in fact, the least likely child to be accused of racism. Yet once the tag had been appended to her, it transmuted into fact — and Becky had nowhere to hide.

Andrea recalls how it all began with that innocent comment during an informal classroom debate about BLM.

'Afterwards, Becky was cornered in the toilets, her bag was grabbed and her face was shoved under the hand drier. A boy told her she had been 'cancelled' for being racist.'