Monday, May 27, 2024
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The Countryside Code for racists


IT WAS left to national treasure and veteran TV presenter John Craven to publicly reveal what for a long time has been an open secret: the British countryside is hideously and systemically racist.

The fact that there are still some individuals who believe that the great outdoors is accessible for all parts of society is, given the mountain of evidence to the contrary, astonishing.

One doesn’t need to travel far to be assailed by examples of this pernicious and peculiarly British phenomenon.

Take the much-loved Lake District. England’s largest National Park is a World Heritage Site, home to Scafell Pike, its highest mountain, Wastwater, its deepest lake, and thriving communities including Keswick and Ambleside.

However, scratch the surface and you will reveal a truly sickening underbelly of hatred to non-white individuals. For example the popular excursion to Beatrix Potter’s home, followed by an afternoon tour of Windermere – what could be more enjoyable? Perhaps the ‘Whites only’ ticket policy or the ‘Blacks only’ restrooms would give enlightened visitors pause for thought.

Of course, far-right apologists will simply say that these segregationist policies are to enhance holidaymakers’ enjoyment, but for most right-minded individuals they are simply a grotesque reminder of Britain’s indefensible and ongoing involvement in the slave trade. Where is Britain’s Rosa Parks, ready to stand up against these burning injustices?

The inequalities and examples keep mounting up the more one delves into the supposed countryside and the pathetic claims that it is open to one and all.

There exist two shadowy quasi-military groups whose activities are organised around keeping green spaces exclusively white. The Ramblers’ Association sounds innocent enough and their website, featuring a mixed-race couple on their home page, looks deceptively inclusive. Even the text which states: ‘We are the Ramblers. We open the way for everyone to enjoy the simple pleasures of walking. And we step up to protect the places we all love to wander’could gull people into believing that they were committed to opening the outdoors to all sections of society.

What a pity, therefore, to note that membership confers certain hidden codes and ciphers that exclude persons of colour. Take the ‘uniform’ that members regularly wear. Khaki shorts, stout boots, kagouls and, most frightening of all, walking sticks. Younger recruits might be armed with a simple hiking stick, yet more senior officers in this sinister body are easily identified by carrying Coppice Knob walking sticks or occasionally shepherd’s crooks. These weapons are regularly used to beat and intimidate anyone who is non-white.

In a similar vein, the so-called Countryside Alliance is dedicated to white privilege. Their current online promotion, with a prize of a Longthorne Vanguard 3003 shotgun worth £18,750, is a non-too-subtle invitation to white supremacists to arm themselves. In plain sight we have a thinly veiled recruiting sergeant for right-wing extremists masquerading as a body primarily concerned with farming, pheasants and the countryside.

Sadly, casual endemic racism is embedded in the very flora and fauna of the UK. Blackbirds, brown rats, blackberries, dusky cranesbill  – all revolting reminders that the UK has a very long way to go to shake off its well-deserved reputation as the most racist nation on earth.

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Alexander McKibbin
Alexander McKibbin
Alexander McKibbin is a retired media executive who worked across domestic and international media.

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