Rural racism rife reveal researchers

Jon Garland

The rural idyll of the village as the last bastion of Englishness is in keeping with the beliefs, hopes and aspirations of many country people, claim researchers from the University of Leicester.

In the wake of the Midsomer Murders furore about notions of Englishness and village life – and the start of a new series of the fictional show – researchers reveal that racism is rife in the English countryside.

Researchers from the Department of Criminology at the University of Leicester found opinions and values – which equate the countryside exclusively and unthinkingly with white Englishness – were far from uncommon amongst white rural residents and were in fact echoed in many rural towns and villages.

The academics spoke out after a media storm arose over comments that the fictional village represented the ‘last bastion of Englishness’ and was therefore devoid of ethnic minorities.

“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. Not only that, this idea of Englishness was essentially monocultural, in all its forms – white, heterosexual, middle-class, conformist, family-orientated, church-going, conservative and ‘safe’”, said Jon Garland and Neil Chakraborti who conducted the research.

Writing for Leicester Exchanges, the platform for informed public debate established by the University of Leicester, the academics state: “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.”

Neil Chakraborti

The academics, who were subjected to a barrage of abuse and even a death threat in the course of their work, said ethnic minorities living in villages were often the targets of abuse: “Our research found that minority ethnic incomers into the countryside often felt the full force of hostility, whether it be through episodes of so-called ‘low-level’ verbal harassment and hostility, or via (thankfully rare) incidents of violent assault. Families were frequently left feeling isolated, not only from their immediate communities but also from fellow minority ethnic rural residents (who were often scattered, in small numbers, across quite large landscapes).Commonly, they also felt forgotten or overlooked by criminal justice agencies, who seemingly refused 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 researchers claim that many people clearly feel very affronted by findings that create a picture of less than a ‘green and pleasant’  countryside for some minority ethnic households – as if by highlighting this issue the academics were somehow challenging the very idea of Englishness itself.

“Perhaps that’s the problem in a nutshell: 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.

“It also, of course, pre-dates the advent of post-war multiculturalism, and for some white rural residents this is the way that they want it to stay – whatever the realities of modern rural living may actually be.”

Dr Neil Chakraborti and Jon Garland are co-authors of Hate Crime: Impact, Causes and Responses and co-editors of Rural Racism.

Images for this article have been supplied by the University of Leicester.