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We are all a little bit racist

PUBLISHED: 13:01 25 October 2019 | UPDATED: 13:50 25 October 2019

Paul and Clare Foskett suffered 'racism' in Norfolk. Steven Downes says they are not the only ones      Picture: DENISE BRADLEY

Paul and Clare Foskett suffered 'racism' in Norfolk. Steven Downes says they are not the only ones Picture: DENISE BRADLEY

Archant

Wells-next-the-Sea has always seemed to be such a gentle and laid-back town. I had no idea that it was a broiling pit of intolerance and hatred of outsiders.

With my red hair and slightly 'estuary' accent, I am lucky that, during visits to Wells, I haven't been stripped, tarred, feathered and dumped on a sandbar to swim for my life - watched by a crowd of folk pointing and shouting: "Stranger! Stranger!".

Paul and Claire Foskett - who hail from that distant foreign outpost of London - are apparently suffering the rather Lark Rise to Candleford-esque shunnings in shops, and stage-whispered "outsider" comments.

Worse than that, Mr Foskett has been called a "smelly Londoner" and a "dirty Hammer".

It really is pathetic, and should not happen anywhere - let alone in a town whose foundations are built on tourism.

But it does happen pretty much everywhere.

It doesn't matter how many multi-cultural events are held to promote understanding, they are really just preaching to the converted: the vast majority of people are still just a little bit racist, or at least narrow-minded.

Go on, admit it, you've got a carefully-concealed streak of intolerance in you.

It may not be full-blown, in-your-face, English Defence League racism: it's a sub-surface, simmering mistrust of people who are "not like us".

We fear the unknown, and dislike change, so a foreign tongue, a regional accent, or even a posh voice can trigger the defences to come up.

I have to suppress my baser instincts when I see a man in colourful cords and a gilet, or another leading a Staffy down the street. I've got both of them stereotyped and disliked in a heartbeat.

If I get a new neighbour, there's a short period of sussing out before I fully welcome them into the bosom of the street.

And I wouldn't like to admit to some of the things I've said or thought about people from Ipswich.

The best example is the "Chelsea-on-Sea" area of Norfolk, where a real tension exists between wealthy people who have come from London and the South-East to buy second homes, and local people who see their chances of owning a home scuppered by the subsequent soaring prices.

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I recall being labelled an "outsider" in The Albion in Cromer in 1995. I was asked by one of the regulars how long I'd lived in Cromer, and said: "From age four to now (21)."

I was told: "You're not a local yet - not unless you were born here or have lived here for 25 years."

He had enormous forearms from lifting crab pots, so I didn't call him a narrow-minded numbskull. And when my residency quaification period ended in 2003, I didn't bother to pick up my Cromer passport.

It'd be hypocritical if I made a big thing of it. The same goes for so many people.

We can all tut and shake our heads when we hear stories like the one told by Paul and Claire Foskett, but we cannot take the moral highground.

When we point the finger, there are three fingers pointing back at ourselves, demanding that we search our own souls for the mistrust, intolerance and even racism that lurks there.

The story has challenged me, making me less complacent about my attitudes. Do I fully accept the Eastern European people who live in NR3, or is there still just that little twitch of judgement, a flicker of fear of the unknown?

Do I still flinch when someone says "I done it", making an instant decision that they aren't too sharp?

There's a long way to go for me, and - judging by the bitter battles over Brexit - even further for at least 17m other people.

Racism, intolerance and mistrust are growing like tares in so many souls. I hope you're applying the weedkiller to yours.

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