Lewes Forum thread

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My letter to David James Smith

On 25 Oct 2010 at 2:45pm Carol wrote:
Dear David James Smith,

Firstly, please let me say that I have taken a long time to come to the decision to respond to your article in the Sunday times. I have decided to do so, not only to defend what I consider to be my home away from home, but also because with extreme arrogance, I wish to give you a lesson in tolerance.

It's funny that tolerance is the word that you pick up on in Norman Baker's open letter to you. Strange also, that you think of it only in its connotation for forbearance - to tolerate what you hate, in other words. Perhaps you could think of a better word than tolerance, but I believe that the sentiment I feel when I use the word is the following: it is, an acceptance or patience with the beliefs, opinions or practices of others; a lack of bigotry, or open-mindedness.

Unfortunately, in all of your published comments about racism in Lewes I feel it comes across as though you view the world through a lens of racism. I'm not saying that your child being called by horrific names on the school playground isn't racist, but ignorance is not racism, and speaking openly about difference is not racism. Your perception is as problematic as the actual racist incidents that you are citing.

The second thing that frustrates me about your stance on racism in Lewes is that a lot of the issues you speak on could have a very easy remedy, were you to take the initiative to do so. Instead of stewing in your own juices about the things people say to your family, a quick, polite and respectful word saying "actually coloured is considered pejorative - it's preferred that you say black" would be greatly appreciated and accepted. You are implying intent where there may not be any.

As for the issues at your school, of course, having a headmaster lie to you is completely unacceptable. However, your issues with a non-representative curriculum or teachers unwilling to accommodate differences in learning style for your son could be countered with you proactively trying to engage them. This, however, can only be done from a stance of positivity. Racism is a powerful word, as you correctly point out. It's a word that shuts down dialogue, that raises defences and consequently needs to be used carefully. You hold such an amazing ability to change minds, to create tolerance (the kind I refer to above), to increase awareness and it truly saddens me that you haven't risen to the challenge.

Finally, in defence of the people of Lewes, I too am part of a minority group. I may not be part of a visible minority, but it is very clear from the moment I open my mouth that I am Canadian (or North American). I am also a gay woman, which again is not visible but when walking down the street in Lewes hand-in-hand with a woman it is pretty clear that I am. I worked for a year in two pubs in Lewes, and I can honestly say I was welcomed with open arms. I still regularly visit the pubs I worked in and consider many of the people I met during my year in Lewes as friends.

The disconnect between your experience and mine might be due to a number of issues. As I have pointed out neither my foreignness nor my sexuality is immediately visible, which means I am able to meet people on different terms. Another reason is that, though I did hear a few negative comments about either element of my identity, I didn't deride an entire town mindset for it, but considered that those people were intolerant. However, that said, I still tried to engage with some of them and answered any questions they would ask me out of curiosity or clarification. Thirdly, I connected with the local people of Lewes. I sought out their histories, stories and traditions. I asked questions about bonfire, hearing that the main theme and feeling surrounding bonfire is remembrance and pride ? and that resonated with me. What a wonderful thing to have in a town, a pride and sense of community.

The way I feel, and perhaps it comes of growing up in a country of immigrants, is that if you're going to live somewhere you should get to know the place and the people that live there. I am lucky though. I have lived in 9 towns, two provinces, three counties and two countries in my 27 years and have had chance to see many different ways of life. This has granted me a perspective on belonging to a place. You've got to make communities, or seek to become part of them; it doesn't just happen on its own. I can honestly say if you don't want the locals of Lewes to treat you like a DFL, don't act like one. Become part of the community. If you have the balls to do it apologise to the town for painting them all with a brush I don't think you can genuinely believe they all deserve. Meet me for a pint in the Gardener's Arms and meet the people that make the town such a fantastic place to be. You might just see a side to Lewes you didn't know was there.

I hope you don't see this message as an attack, it genuinely is not. I just find it difficult to see how our experiences of Lewes have differed so much, and I felt a deep need to defend a place that I truly adore and feel welcome and at home in. I hope, in time, you will hold the same sentiment.
With respectful, kind and tolerant regards,

Carol Moore
On 25 Oct 2010 at 3:01pm Applause wrote:
Well done Carol. Very well said. Really miss you in the Gardeners and hope all is well with you.
On 25 Oct 2010 at 3:39pm MC wrote:
Nicely put. Hopefully this issue and that small man can be put to rest now.
On 25 Oct 2010 at 4:06pm Clifford wrote:
Oh dear MC, it looks like you're trying to undo all the good Carol's excellent letter was trying to do. I'm not sure calling someone a 'small man' is the best way to build bridges.
On 25 Oct 2010 at 4:31pm Down and Out wrote:
The man's got his views, and I suspect that they could only be changed by direct personal intervention from Obama or Mandela.
Nice letter but, really, why bother?
On 25 Oct 2010 at 4:54pm Webbo wrote:
Post of the month
On 25 Oct 2010 at 5:07pm MC wrote:
I don't suppose she'll add my comment to the end of her letter Clifford. :-)
On 25 Oct 2010 at 5:17pm Annette Curtin-Twitcher wrote:
Brilliant letter, Carol.
On 25 Oct 2010 at 6:32pm Peter Byron wrote:
Good enough letter Carol, but why bother? A buffoon will always be a buffoon, I should know. Peter
On 26 Oct 2010 at 3:02pm ufo wrote:
On 26 Oct 2010 at 7:02pm Burn em! wrote:
"I just find it difficult to see how our experiences of Lewes have differed so much, and I felt a deep need to defend a place that I truly adore and feel welcome and at home in..."
Well, Carol, let's see - could it have "differed so much" because, er, you're white?
Yes, as you admit, you felt a deep need to defend the place you adore - as do the vast majority of people on this forum. Perhaps, instead, of getting so defensive about the town, you - and others - should take a step back and actually think about, accept and attempt to address some of the worrying issues raised in the article.
On 26 Oct 2010 at 8:40pm lewestrousers wrote:
The Lewes Labour Party web site has a point here, which is (not in carols case) it has been mainly white middle class men who have commented on David Smiths article. The easiest way to settle it would be to ask the black minority in question to see if other black people in Lewes find it a racist place or one where they have experienced racism on a number of levels. (Burn em has a simple and interesting comment about Carols position...she is not black.)
Should we then ask the black minority what they think, or are we a little afraid of the answers we might get.
On 26 Oct 2010 at 9:40pm freind wrote:
I met a lady last week who was in some distress. She told me that she had just read the Times article. She seemed embarrassed because she had been totally unaware of the article or the ensuing furore during the passed few months. She then went on to say how angry she was about the article and that in all the years that she has been living in Lewes she has not even once considered the Town racist or had ever had cause to think that her mixed race son who is at one of the towns primary schools has been treated in a different way to any other child. In fact she told me that the thought that her son was black had never entered her head !
What makes me particularly angry about the article is that this poor lady is now doubting her own view on things. She is wondering whether she has 'missed' the racist comments. She wonders whether her son was treated in such and such a way because he is black. She now wonders whether she has been completely blind and stupid over the last several years not to see the racist element in the town.
I suggest that she has not. I suggest that the article is creating a problem that does not exist in order for the author to sell his book.
Let's not let him win.
On 26 Oct 2010 at 10:00pm Burn em! wrote:
No-one is suggesting the town is racist. That would clearly be ridiculous. The article relates a number of incidents which were perceived by individuals or the family to be racist in nature. That in itself justifies the writing of the piece.
On 26 Oct 2010 at 11:10pm SG wrote:
Aw, Carol. Excellent letter! <3
On 27 Oct 2010 at 8:47am Mr Forks wrote:
The bloke had a book to sell, thats why he wrote the piece. Shameless self publicity and it worked for him.
On 27 Oct 2010 at 10:17am Observer wrote:
I think you will find Lewestrousers, that if you look back on previous threads, there have been several posts made by Lewes residents who are either black or of ethnic minority. I don't recall any of these people agreeing with David Smith's article.
On 27 Oct 2010 at 12:23pm Simon wrote:
''The article relates a number of incidents which were perceived by individuals or the family to be racist in nature. That in itself justifies the writing of the piece.''
What utter, utter nonsense.
On 27 Oct 2010 at 1:09pm Observer wrote:
Rubbish Burn'em. If genuine racist incidents occurred, then yes, that may justify a response to those individual events. To label the whole town as racist because of it (which was the general tone of the 'article') however is just ridiculous. That sort of generalisation, which accuses a whole group of people based on the alleged behaviour of a handful, is as bad as racism itself. There is also a big difference between perceiving something and it being the truth. I think it has already been made quite clear that Mr Smith wishes to perceive racist undertones in everything he sees. Meanwhile, do you live in Lewes Burn'em? If so were you not appalled at being included in such an accusation? I don't know how any non-racist person living in the town could fail to be angry.
On 27 Oct 2010 at 3:29pm out of my box wrote:
His article was very succesful in stiring up comments. What is interesting is how people identify with the town and are happy to speak as the voice of lewes. Why do they feel confident to do this? It is a mystery to me. I don't know how I would go about compiling data to make such an assertion. The americans have a word for this kind of puffing up your town. Boosterism.
On 27 Oct 2010 at 6:26pm MT wrote:
I find a lot of these messages really frustrating additions to a well-articulated letter.
A lot of people seem to miss the point of David James Smith's original article. I'm mixed race and reading it released years of frustration that I'd felt growing up in a small town similar to Lewes.
The implication isn't that the whole of Lewes is racist, but that racism exists within it. Carol, you ask why David and those in similar positions don't just address the issues as they come up. I've tried that, and it either doesn't help or you end up 'correcting' people repeatedly until you're perceived as a bore. And why should we constantly have to address offensive things other people say?
Ignorance is one thing, but prejudice is another and no matter how much it upsets the white majority - and however well-intentioned the majority is - there will always be others who let the side down. Often, this is ignored or tolerated by everyone else. I've had several occasions where offensive comments were said with me in ear-shot and no one, including my 'friends', said anything to address it. You can only appreciate what that feels like when you're in that situation and it's horrible.
I'm also gay Carol, and negative experiences related to my colour dwarf those to do with my sexuality. Being Canadian and gay is not the same thing as being black, trust me.
Where I come from the majority of people are lovely. But they didn't stand in when I was queuing to get in a club and a drunk girl behind me was gesticulating racist gestures behind my back.
They didn't condemn the two boys who shouted: "One...two...three...butt-butt ding-ding £2.99" at me in WH Smith before running off. That insult showed an impressive depth of ignorance - as i'm half black and not Asian.
I remember being at school (I went to a boarding school in another part of the country, in another small village) and sitting in the day room watching television, the only black person there, when two boyfriends of two older girls came in to join us. When a black person came onto the television they started shouting "get off the telly n*gger, f-ing black pr*cks". No one said a word. Do you know how hurtful that was, and will you tell me that it wasn't racism?
You end up living with it, accepting ignorance. You may say that makes it my fault but I don't have the energy to fight it all the time. I surround myself with open minded people but the ignorant ones will always find a way in - and I know Im potentially opening myself up to more attacks by writing this post.
There have been many, many other examples of racism against me and my family in the past and until people - people like you who've hit out at the article - realise that as much as you might like to think racism doesn't exist, it does. Even in lovely, open-minded places like Lewes.
On 27 Oct 2010 at 7:18pm stan wrote:
Thats the best response so far.
On 27 Oct 2010 at 8:07pm Chalky White wrote:
Own up smithy, that was you, wasn't it.
On 27 Oct 2010 at 9:28pm Peter Byron wrote:
MT Very good but the article in question does not deserve such a long missive. Best Peter
On 27 Oct 2010 at 9:30pm Peter Byron wrote:
well to be honest never read it MC, too long. Anyway. Good to get things off your chest. Talking of which, is that loveley Katie Price on tonight? Do enjoy her show ha ha, always liked visual works. Right, wine causing lack of control, must dash ha ha. Cheers, Peter
On 28 Oct 2010 at 8:20pm Burn em! wrote:
I repeat no-one is suggesting the entire town is racist - that would be ridiculous.
If someone believes or perceives he or has family have experienced incidents of racism then he he justified in writing about them (if he is lucky enough to have that option), and therefore open up the subject for debate. Yes, there has been some sensible debate and discussion rather than just saying "utter, utter nonsense".
I do live in Lewes and I was not appalled because, as I have already said, no-one is accusing the vast majority of us in the town of being racist.
If a black person or someone who is married to a black person or someone who has mixed-race kids perceives something as being racist we should take notice, rather than just burying our heads in the sand and get all defensive (boosterism, as 'out of my box' calls it) and screaming "go away we're not racist, we're not racist..."
As for this: "... there have been several posts made by Lewes residents who are either black or of ethnic minority. I don't recall any of these people agreeing with David Smith's article." - see MT's response above.
Mr Forks: So what if he had a book to sell? That is not a reason not to write the article. The media is full of articles which come about because people have written books or made films or appeared on TV or somesuch. Like it or loath it, that is the way of the media in the early 21st Century...

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