Lewes Forum thread

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cultural isolation vs racism?

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On 11 Aug 2010 at 9:01pm 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.....
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On 11 Aug 2010 at 9:12pm frankiesgirl wrote:
Extremly well put.
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On 11 Aug 2010 at 9:13pm Decent Citizen wrote:
I agree absolutely spot on.
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On 11 Aug 2010 at 9:18pm Lennox wrote:
Well he should move back to Brixton if he finds Lewes not to his liking. End Off. Stop giving this failed hack anymore publicity, he will be loving it and doing an Article for the Guardian next week no doubt on how Lewes Residents reacted to his schoolboy essay etc etc BORING!
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On 11 Aug 2010 at 9:32pm marigold willing wrote:
how sad that mr smith has chosen to 'out' the racism at his children's school whilst maybe not considering that his son will be returning there in september and all staff and pupils who are aware of his article will be very wary of how they react to this poor boy. if anyone has isolated your child mr smith it would seem to be you !
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On 11 Aug 2010 at 9:56pm Roly Mo wrote:
"considering things", there have been a lot of good comments regarding the issue of the offending article but yours is absolutely brilliant. I hope you have written something similar to The Times-perhaps you could offer to write something in response to his article.
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On 11 Aug 2010 at 10:13pm TDA wrote:
Good stuff; excuse my ignorance though, what is BME?
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On 11 Aug 2010 at 10:21pm MC wrote:
I'm slightly surprised that people think he wrote what he believed. I thought the article was written purely to publicise his book. No real truth in it all...purely to stir up controversy for economically beneficial interest. A cynical and self-serving move.

It amazes me that such a shallow article has engendered so much feedback. Personally I think it's best to ignore it. It's what it deserves.
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On 11 Aug 2010 at 11:11pm Brixtonbelle wrote:
I think he lived in Fulham (posh), but dreamed of living in Brixton because of one particular school - Evelyn Grace. But maybe he also felt uncomfortable in Fulham. Have to say moving to Brixton is no guarantee that he and his family would experience less of what he calls racism.My kids experienced far worse than what he describes. But his family may feel more at ease in a more multi racial society.
Great post by the way.
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On 12 Aug 2010 at 12:45am Spinster Of This Parish wrote:
Far too many posts on this topic - the writer (DJS) is poorly informed and just out to make a quick buck and name for himself. Ignore him - he is just a waste of space in my opinion
 
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On 12 Aug 2010 at 6:32am Confused.... wrote:
TDA I think it stands for Black and ethnic minoritys, surely it should be BEM!
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On 12 Aug 2010 at 9:17am Bang on wrote:
Excellent post CT, very well put. It's true, I suppose, that the silly article has produced more reaction than it deserved, but I think that is because we are a liberal community that cares. I am a dfl, my London property pounds went a long way when I moved my family here. We feel privileged to live here, and do our best to give as well as take. I was brought up in a village and I understand the importance of community- I agree that some don't. Some of the things said to Petal that Mr Smith considered racist were an attempt by members of the community to be welcoming.eYe should have understood the intention, not thrown it back because the phraseology used by individuals less highly educated than himself wasn't 'pc 2010'
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On 12 Aug 2010 at 10:23am Toque wrote:
If you go to Ghana you'll be amazed to hear schoolkids singing 'Hello whitey' and waving at you (I believe that they're actually taught to do this at school). Racism? No. Lack of political correctness? Yes. But what do you expect from kids?
David Smith is what's called a racialist. Obsessed by race and looking for offence where none is intended.
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On 12 Aug 2010 at 10:48am Down and Out wrote:
"David Smith is what's called a racialist. Obsessed by race and looking for offence where none is intended."
The point for me is that people like him positively foment race hatred, by massively overstating misunderstanding as distinct from racism. How are diverse groups supposed to get along in a tolerant environment if every last point of identity has to be made an issue of? You end up with a situation where white people live in fear of talking to black people because of the possibility of causing offence, and this mistrust does more to promote racism than to stamp it out.
I'm a Leeds fan for my sins, and Leeds' fans' greatest hero of the last twenty years is Lucas Radebe (black South African, for them as don't know). He's regarded as a hero because he's an outstanding human being and was a great player. His presence (and that of Tony Yeboah) and leadership contributed to the massive reduction in casual terrace racism at Leeds. But if anyone (like David Smith) had ever said he was a 'black hero' instead of just a hero, it would have given racists a means of isolating him.
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On 12 Aug 2010 at 4:58pm Toque wrote:
I agree with you about Yeboah and Lucas Radebe. Diane Abbott, another racialist, one who wants black teachers for black children (but presumably not white teachers for white children because that would be racist), likes to talk of black role-models. Role models, like teachers, don't have to be the same colour as you. I was a huge fan of Daley Thompson when I was a kid, his colour just didn't enter into it, I seriously doubt that it ever crossed my mind anymore than did the colour of Seb Coe or Steve Ovett.

I really don't give two hoots about race or colour, but I do object to people who speak of Lewes' "small but growing" "black-and-minority-ethnic
community". There is no BME 'community' (at least not in the way that I understand the word community), just as there is no white community. There is just community.

I find talk of communities based on colour deeply divisive. David Smith may be used to that sort of thing in London but I hope we never see that sort of ethnic communalism in Lewes.
 
 
On 16 Aug 2010 at 10:44pm Mwanyolo wrote:
This is my reply to him:
Dear David,
My family read your article with great interest as we are also a mixed race family. I am a white born and bred Lewesian and my husband is Kenyan. We have two small girls who both have beautiful brown skin and black curly hair.
I am concerned that your negative viewpoint on people in Lewes will affect your children's well-being. Don't teach your children that all negative comments are racist; sometimes they are just misplaced or even well-meant but not well-thought out. You cannot assume that everyone will have an academic viewpoint on the semantics of race. My husband has experienced far more racism in London than in Lewes. He has experienced racism in Lewes but he deals with it,
"That's their opinion" he says, in life when people show you hate, show them love and that will make you stronger. It's good to be sensitive but you need to learn how to handle things".
My sister who is half Black Caribbean and half white experienced some "positive" racism in her primary school in Burgess Hill. She was really good at writing and so it came as no surprise that she was selected for a gifted and talented summer school place. The surprise came when we saw it was for an African drumming course. At that time my sister wasn't interested in drumming and couldn't hold a rhythm. Assumptions were made, not meaning to be hurtful, about her because of her skin colour.
Teach your children to have thick skins; playground taunts hurt all children not just racist ones. My hair is blonde and very frizzy. When I was younger I was compared to many things including a pineapple or a lion's mane. I was teased by children as not many others had hair like mine but at the same time many people loved my hair and encouraged me to wear it as an afro which I didn't get the confidence to do until later in my teens.
As a middle-class black child your son should do well as long as you teach him to do well. You as his father have more influence on his educational outcome than you seem to think. Teach him that black boys fail and he'll think that's what'll happen to him. If you're worried take some positive action, for example: join your school P.T.A or become a governor, organise a Lewes black and mixed race parentage organisation or join Brighton Mosaic. I'm sure that more can be done in Lewes to reflect the widening number of people from more diverse backgrounds, maybe you can think of some more starting points for this.
Anyway you go people will always judge you by how you look, speak, dress, where you live, what you do. That's life. It's not necessarily always good. If you have black skin in Lewes, you do stand out, that's a fact. As a white person living in Kenya I stood out, assumptions were made about me (I obviously grew money in my pockets) and I was pleased to see another white face in the room too. Try being the only black man living in a small village community in Wales as my husband used to be and then you'll really stand out! I hope that if my two girls experience any racism then I'll deal with it better than you seem to be and always remember that a few isolated incidents do not make a racist town.


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