Posted on March 29, 2011

Is the Countryside Racist? Villages ‘That Want to Remain White and Middle Class’

Andy Dolan, Daily Mail (London), March 29, 2011

Country dwellers believe rural communities should be the preserve of white middle-class families with conservative values, a survey claims.

Many residents of countryside towns and villages consider them the ‘last bastion’ of old-fashioned English traditions.

And they often equate this ‘exclusively and unthinkingly’ with white Englishness, a study has found.

Academics at Leicester University interviewed hundreds of residents from rural communities across England to discover what they considered to be the modern rural idyll.

They found that the popular vision of English country life is ‘essentially monocultural, in all its forms–white, heterosexual, middle-class, conformist, family-orientated, church-going, conservative and ‘safe’.

Jon Garland and Neil Chakraborti, the senior lecturers in criminology who carried out the research, said: ‘The countryside was, for a number of those we spoke to, the last bastion of old-fashioned Englishness which needed to be preserved from the encroachment of the “evils” of late modernity.

‘Minority ethnic incomers were often treated with suspicion as many white rural residents felt that they belonged only in the city, with all its concomitant ‘negative’ attributes of noise, pollution, crime and, crucially for some, multiculturalism.

‘The rural, in their eyes, was an escape from all of those things, and the presence of a minority ethnic family suggested that the city was somehow invading the space of the tranquil rural they so treasured.’

The academics said that ethnic minorities living in villages ‘often felt the full force of hostility’ and frequently experienced feelings of isolation, not only from their immediate communities but from fellow ethnic minority residents, ‘scattered’ across large rural areas.

Many also felt ‘forgotten’ by the justice system, with agencies refusing to take their victimisation seriously, ‘believing that racism could not be a problem in their area as the number of minority ethnic people living there was relatively low’.

The research, conducted in stages over the last decade, involved interviewing hundreds of residents in the streets, at village events or in focus groups in rural communities across the Midlands and East Anglia.

Dr Chakraborti, who is of Indian descent, encountered verbal abuse during the study.

And since the findings have been published, the researchers have received letters of abuse and even a death threat, apparently from residents who feel the pair’s work challenges the ‘very idea of Englishness itself’.

Mr Garland said: ‘We spoke to many white people who had no problem living alongside ethnic minorities, and even some minorities who enjoyed standing out as they did in their rural communities.

‘But around two-thirds of the minorities that we spoke to had experienced some sort of hostility or racism from their white neighbours.

‘For many people, notions of Englishness are very much bound up with images of an unspoilt countryside and its gently undulating landscape of farms, cottages and hedgerows, itself a very nostalgic form of national identity redolent of an England left behind many decades ago.’

The producer of ITV crime drama Midsomer Murders caused controversy earlier this month when he admitted keeping ethnic minority characters out of the show’s storylines because ‘it wouldn’t be an English village’ if there was any racial diversity.