Lewes Forum thread

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Is Lewes racist?

On 10 Aug 2010 at 8:44am Nicky Bryant wrote:
Please, please do not take on board the Sunday Times article, 'Our Green & Prejudiced Land', it is a completely unfair, biased piece of journalism.
My son goes to Mackenzies school, it is not a racist school and the teacher involved is certainly not racist, but a teacher who is stricter than those in the year before (reception). I spoke yesterday to someone who was mentioned in the article & they said on the one occasion that something racist was said to their son, the issue was dealt with swiflty and effectively by the school.
While I am sure that a very small minority of people in Lewes may make racist comments, regrettably those people are everywhere, even in Brixton. I lived with my family in Hackney for 15 years, and while I can say that Lewes is not a suburb of London, it is definetly not like a town in the 1950s but a town of mostly broad minded, liberal people, many of whom have relocated from London.
The people of Lewes are absolutely shocked and insulted by this article. Mr David James Smith has abused his power as a journalist to air his paranoid(?) views in a National Newspaper, and in doing so has done both Lewes and his family a disservice.
I hope you come back & spend some time in Lewes, talk to people of all races and then make your own mind up. Lewes is a safe, positive place to live, and quite frankly, though I am white, I would not be comfortable living here if I thought it was a town that harboured members of the BNP and racists.
On 10 Aug 2010 at 10:10am cross wrote:
i totally agree with nicky. any potential movers to lewes, whatever your background, the town is no different to anywhere else. but i feel incredibly lucky to bring up my kids in an area which i consider safe, friendly, with very good local schools with few and far between problems. if my kids went to school in brixton, it would have been my choice, i am sure they would make friends, but by the very nature of children there are bound to be some hard times for them. i couldnt blame the children in the area but i could have prepared my kids to understand this. please do not listen to the article, the majority of people living here all strive to keep the town the safe, pleasant town it is today.
On 10 Aug 2010 at 11:06am Calming Down wrote:
You have to remember that Mr David James Smith (Absolutely NOT David Smith Jeweller, David Smith, Flintman nor indeed David Smith who writes economics pieces for Sunday Times) is promoting his new book about Nelson Mandela. It is possible the purpose of this piece is to drum up controversy to help.
On 10 Aug 2010 at 11:15am Paul Newman wrote:
His article is only as misrepresentative as describing the voyage of the Titanic as 8000 miles of trouble free cruising. My family is mixed race and we have experienced nothing but good will from the people of Lewes of whatever background its not a subject we think much about and there has been absolutely no cause to .
Were I to discover our neighbour was a BNP member I would be midly concerned but far more so if I relaised I was next door to a copper bottomed ocean going loon like poor desperate David James , whose book, you know, is on sale at £18.99 ...(pssst I think thats the point ...)
On 10 Aug 2010 at 3:08pm ahsbash wrote:
No more than many and less than some. I used to work in Walthamstow, a very ethnically diverse and multi-culturally aware society that was riddled with racism across all ethnicities.
Part of my job was to supervise staff in a small hospital, and the racist views expressed were powerful and virulent, but there were hardly any white staff there. Instead people of West Indian, west African, Zimbabean, Mauritian, Indian, Phillipino, Korean and south African origin expressed views and opinions about each others' race or culture that were openly racist and derogatory. When I said that if a white staff member ever said anthing like that they woud be fired, most just laughed and said quite right, but if confronted with the risk of themselves being dismissed for racism, they laughed too, saying no white manager would dare...as well as of course, the assertion that only white people can be racist.
Mr Smith reminds me of a girlfriend's brother...they were a middle class family from Dorset, father was a vicar, all publicly schooled, the brother declared himself disgusted with their background, moved to Yorkshire, adopted a northern accent and married a miner's daughter and became ludicrously more working class than the workers,and saw class oppression everywhere... though he made a good living as a writer too...lots of interesting psychology in David Smith, I think
On 10 Aug 2010 at 4:18pm Craig Ward wrote:
The man doth protest too much, me thinks.
What a disturbed, devious and dangerously manipulative man Mr. David James Smith is. I imagine a number of people will fall for his cunning, self-serving book plug of a ploy but, hopefully, I believe, most won't - particularly anyone who's been lucky enough to have visited Lewes as I have a number of times in the last two years.
I particularly enjoy the fire work parade who's burning of effigies has a genuine and understandable history - a now harmless tradition well worth maintaining. I should add: has not Mr. Smith observed the multitude of costumes worn by those involved in this spectacular event? Not only are they there to represent and acknowledge but also to celebrate the many different cultures throughout the entire planet - even people from Africa - fancy that.
Lewes is, without doubt, one of the more pleasant places worthy of admiration throughout our 'green and non-racist land', as such, I'm sure it will never be viewed as anything less but for, by the blinkered few.
I fear, all he has achieved is nothing but harm in his poorly constructed, ambiguous, piece of print. Fortunately to himself, unfortunately, his wife and most tragically, the innocent children he so callously disregards as their father.
I'm not from Lewes, by the way.
On 11 Aug 2010 at 9:27am Sair wrote:
The author of the article seems to me a 'Racist Hunter' looking to find faults and slights with everything and everyone, he sounds like a Misanthropist to me, he must have loved Labour and the PC Brigade LOL Sure he did not feel special enough living in Brixton so decided to move to a small provincial town where he could stand out and make his point!! Amazed the Times took the article, sounded more like something you would read on a letters page, will give his book a miss I think.
On 11 Aug 2010 at 9:10pm considering things wrote:
I read the article by Mr Smith and felt really saddened and irked. I would like to think that (as a Lewes resident who has lived here for almost all of my life - though not born here - has been educated at the Lewes schools that he talks of (which were excellent in terms of enabling me to be open minded and as non-prejudiced as it is possible for any individual to be), is a member of the bonfire societies of which he speaks ( a real melting pot of ages and social backgrounds), has travelled widely, lived and worked in London and abroad, has friends from a wide range of backgrounds, including BME communities although I dont even tend to think of this 'classification' - I think of my friends as 'friends').....I am not a racist. But here I am being told that I am, and that the town that I love (because of its openness, cultural awareness and acceptance, liberal thinking......) is racist.
I am sorry that Mr Smith feels that his family has experienced racism in Lewes. I am not sure that I would label the annecdotes that he recounts as 'racism' - as childhood curiosity perhaps, as stupidity certainly, but if Mr Smith feels that these are racist incidents then obviously to him and his family, I guess that they are. In terms of neighbours who were BNP members - well that is really sad, but I suspect that in Fulham and Brixton there are more than four BNP members. Like other posters to this thread, I suspect that there are very few places in the UK that lack ignorant people of the BNP ilk.
However, when reading the article it seemed to me that what he was describing was more a sense of cultural isolation than racism and he seems to me to be confusing the two. I can understand that families from minority ethnic backgrounds who live in Lewes may feel culturally isolated in a way that they dont in London, due to the density of BME population in the town. Lewes is predominantly white - but not through design or intent. There are no signs on the roads into Lewes that state that people from non-white cultures are prohibited from living in the town. It would be lovely to have a greater cultural mix. I can see how little girls from BME communities would notice that their hair is different to those of their classmates, how most people in the town do not have the same colour of skin... and that could lead to a sense of cultural isolation, but the fact that those observations are reciprocated by their predominantly white class mates is not racism. Racial awareness perhaps...?
I lived abroad in a town where there were very few white British people - possibly ten or so, and people did used to say some strange things - but these werent motivated by racism but by curiosity, a lack of understanding perhaps an attempt at over friendliness.... There were no celebrations of British culture - because there werent many of us there and I just wouldnt have expected it, although a Senegalese community was more numerous (in the hundreds) and had cultural events to celebrate Senegalese culture which were brilliant. I didnt interpret the lack of celebration of white Britishness as racism. On other travels to more remote places, my skin has been touched and my hair stroked or pulled by children because of my colour. Annoying? Yes. An act of racism - no. In these situations I felt culturally isolated and the subject of racially motivated curiosity, but never a victim of racism. In another place that I lived, predominantly white, most of my friends were from the French Domestic territories and because of this I was regularly spat at (when with them) and called a host of vile names. Racism? Most definitely.
I find Mr Smith's article rash and lacking in subtlety or any depth of thinking. It is so easy to say that Lewes is racist because people dress as Zulus on bonfire night - or a child has been teased in a way that hints at race - but this is too naiive and simplistic and shows little understanding of the liberal views and the traditions of the town that he has moved to. It is also so offensive to Priory and Wallands school teachers to think that they would dismiss the potential of his children or make assumptions about their ability and behaviour due to the tone of their skin. As someone involved in education and social cohesion, there are many reasons why children from BME backgounds do not succeed, including wider issues of poverty and social deprivation, parenting. The balance of achievement among different racial groups certainly needs redressing, but in my experience, teachers tend to analyse children as individuals and are motivated to teach them in a way as to bring out the best in them.
The reason that SOME people who move from London are labelled DFLs and are not viewed positively by those who have lived here for generations is because they move to the town to benefit from the lovely lifestyle that it offers, but do not integrate and do not give back to the community that they have moved to benefit from. Lewes was actually less twee before people moved from London (we had real shops - butchers, bakers and indeed candlestick makers, rather than wall to wall gift shops). Lewes however, absolutely welcomes those who move from London and throw themselves whole heartedly into the community - join a bonfire society, get involved in local community events, make friendships with old and young Lewes residents.....
It seems to me that Mr Smith's family feels culturally isolated and that is a pity, but only mixing with ex-Londonners, exposing his family now to awkwardness among Lewesians who will be nervous of saying anything to his family for fear of being misinterpreted as racist, parents will be reluctant to invite his children to play/stay with their's in case their child says something that could be construed as racist and this is relayed back.... only to find them named and shamed in a national paper.... What a shame for his family that he has done this - they look like a lovely family and it seems that he has made a very unfortunate decision on their behalf and I cant imagine that there are many towns as liberal as Lewes, where race isnt even considered by most people - where people are just accepted for being people.... There is no harm in starting a debate about racism if it is necessary, we should all be mindful and of course ensure that our children, ourselves welcome difference and know right from wrong in terms of racial issues, but I dont think that this is about racism, but about cultural isolation, and some hasty statements made without genuine understanding of the town and its intent, so what a pity.....
On 11 Aug 2010 at 10:52pm Brixtonbelle wrote:
Considering things - I think you are absolutely right. Well said and thank you for such a clear and compassionate post.
On 15 Aug 2010 at 11:02pm Very Cross wrote:
I was a Lewes resident for 14 years and I am, like Petal, afro-Caribbean. I simply do not recognise the Lewes that David Smith has labelled in his article. Nor I think, will my other non-Anglo-Saxon friends who now live or have lived in Lewes. I think Sair (above) may have hit the nail on the head, which is a real pity for Petal and the children.
On 18 Aug 2010 at 9:12pm max wrote:
lewes if we look at is prity racist all of my frends are write if we were proper we would havemixed rACE frends
On 24 Oct 2015 at 4:46pm Penny Charlton wrote:
Sadly, David James Smith's article has been referred to in Yasmin Alibhai-Brown's book "Exotic England - The Making of a Curious Nation". See page 120.
"... the respected Sunday Times journalist, wrote a shocking account of the racism his African wife Petal and their four children had experienced in Lewes, East Sussex".

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