Rural Racism

By Candlin, D. P. | Contemporary Review, April 2000 | Go to article overview

Rural Racism


Candlin, D. P., Contemporary Review


TELFORD, 'the new town' in rural Shropshire, has found itself placed firmly upon the mental map, recently, with the deaths of two of the McGowen family, two young black men, both found hanged; one in his home, the other from the railings running parallel to a local recreation ground. I don't want to discuss those particular, tragic deaths here, enough has been said and written over the last few weeks, especially in papers like The Guardian and The Independent. What I would like to talk about, however, is racism within small, provincial towns, the way in which it escapes attention, and why it still persists.

I have a legitimate interest in this, as I have lived in Telford for almost thirty years, excepting various working stints abroad. Since those recent deaths and their possible implications, there has been a swell of resentment against observations that racism could -- not does -- but could exist within the community here. It would seem that there is a large majority that choose to deny the possibility of racism purely upon the empirical evidence of never having experienced it directly themselves, as well as to uphold a utopian vision of their town as being one of the last bastions of a pastoral idyll that perhaps has never even existed. It is a reaction reminiscent of ghettoised Jews, during the Second World War, who would not believe the accounts of other Jews who had witnessed the atrocities of the concentration camps firsthand, or of those supporters of General Pinochet, in Chile, who deny that their fellow citizens were tortured, if on a slightly smaller scale. The implications are similar, however; igno rance and denial do not stop the flow of terror, or instantly annul the existence of racist elements within a society.

The truth of the matter is that racism does exist in Telford, as it probably does in many other towns of a similar size round Britain. It would even perhaps not be too much of a generalisation to suggest that those that deny its existence are of a certain age and above, whilst those that know of its existence, are mostly under, say, twenty-five, and will experience its ugliness most weekends, should they chose to frequent the wrong places. The problem with a town like Telford is that most places for people that age are the wrong places; that is partly the nature of developed towns; they breed frustration.

Having lived here for so long, I have been unfortunate enough to witness racism myself, and one of the main reasons I would suggest for its emergence is that an ethnic community here is a relatively new phenomenon. Growing up in the Seventies, my school years were predominantly white. I can only recollect one black face from my infant memories, and, at the most, only a handful more from my time as junior school pupil. Moving on to secondary school, in the early eighties, the figures rose further again, as they have continued to do so since. In thirty years of living here, I have probably had less than five friends who were black or Asian, all of whom have now, regrettably, moved on. This, I think, is the main stumbling block, the crux of the problem and reason for continued racism in small towns such as Telford. The problem, quite clearly, is integration. There is simply no cross-cultural understanding. Without a dialogue between different races, without a will to understand differences as well as shared sim ilarities, there is always going to be resentment and hatred.

This, again, is another inherent feature of developed towns. There is no apparatus for such an integration, no movement to stimulate dialogue as there has been in, for example, places such as Wolverhampton and Birmingham, and one of the main reasons for that is the general lack of stimulating environments within the locality. Telford is a cultural wasteland. Yes, it has certain facilities, an ice rink, a bowling alley, a bingo hail and a cinema, but all of these have become very safe and staid, a respectable form of entertainment aimed at particular niches. …

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