The word ‘urban’ has become synonymous with people of colour (POC), particularly Black people.
It’s expected that minority groups can be found in big, bustling metropolitan cities where they are likely to have migrated for economic opportunities.
But cities don’t just offer financial prosperity – there are other motivations for living in large multicultural societies, including acceptance of diversity.
Rural England is pretty white, which isn’t surprising considering the U.K is a majority-white country.
According to the Office for National Statistics, in every region of England and Wales, white groups were least likely to live in an urban location and people from Asian and Black ethnic groups were most likely to do so.
This may be part of the reason why suburban areas have been reported to be unwelcome for the minorities living in these spaces.
In 2011, a report from the University of Leicester entitled Rural Racism said there are ‘frequent, and alarming, forms of racism that affect ethnic minorities in the countryside’.
Authors said: ‘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.’
Last year, The Department for Environment, Food, and Rural Affairs found similar results about the inaccessibility of ruralness for minorities.
A 2004 academic study by Neil Chakorabarti and Jon Garland also showed that racism happens more often in the countryside than in towns and cities.
This can range from name-calling to physical violence to excluding people of colour who live in the countryside on the grounds that ‘they won’t fit in’.
And it’s not just people’s lived experiences of racism that leads to minorities feeling alienated from living in the countryside, some say that the history of the land and country houses serve as a reminder of the subjugation of Black people and other minority ethnicities.
Writer and poet Louisa Adjoa Parker who is of Ghanian British heritage grew up in the South West and has experienced more than a decade of exclusion.
She started a series entitled Where Are You Really From, mapping the experiences of other minorities like her in white, rural landscapes.
She tells Metro.co.uk: ‘It’s the existence of rural racism that means POC don’t feel safe there. The countryside represents the last bastions of Empire.
‘The countryside is seen as a space that we are not welcome and that’s demonstrated by the countless reports showing the increased levels of racism people face there.’
But of course, that doesn’t mean there are no people of colour attempting to fit into the countryside.
Louisa adds: ‘Even though it’s alienating, there has been a continued presence of people of colour in the countryside for hundreds of years and it’s important that our experiences are highlighted.
‘I started my project because I wanted to explore the stories of Black and brown people and take them to a wider, a digital audience and raise awareness both in white rural communities but also in urban areas to begin to understand that our experiences are really important.
‘These stories have been really overlooked and it’s important to get them out there to show that Black and brown people have more than just identity, we’re not just urban.
‘We exist in these spaces and we have a right to.’
Academics have highlighted that many rural estates in England were built by the profits of colonialism. Some of these areas are also littered with monuments of figures who oppressed the ancestors of people of colour. So, it is no wonder that these spaces can feel inherently hostile for minorities.
Author Nick Hayes considers in his work The Book of Tresspass how money that had flooded into England (both the cities and suburbs) was bought in on the back of African and Indian slave labour.
Nick tells Metro.co.uk: ‘The English countryside was shaped by colonialism. Much of the architecture of the countryside, the estate walls, the magnificent manor houses, the marble follies, and machine-sculpted hills were built on the profits of colonialism in the West and East Indies.
‘Many of the walls were not only built by the commoners they excluded but paid for as well, through tax that was used to compensate the “owners” of slaves after abolition.
‘These days, this imperialism has been absorbed into the orthodoxy, and only recently are country houses starting to question their heritage and tell a more accurate story as to the source of their wealth.’
Nick also says that people of colour make up 10% of the population of England and yet only 1% live in the countryside.
He adds: ‘Black is associated with “urban” in England, and yet so many diaspora families come from agricultural backgrounds.
‘This narrative is shaped by media and a further barricade to people of colour feeling comfortable in the countryside is that even day or weekend breaks to the country can be accompanied by a distinct feeling of being “out of place”.’
Plenty of BAME people can attest to this.
Dani Henri who lived in Hampshire for two years (but has now moved) tells Metro.co.uk: ‘We had several racial encounters. I had a verbal fight with a white man on the bus who outwardly called me the n-word and was kicked off the bus.
‘We had a white couple approach me and my mum in a store and ask if we were from Zimbabwe. I also had an egg thrown at me from a moving car.
‘We also had all the stares and stereotypes you could think of from neighbours.’
But in recent times, there has been a wave of grassroots movements reclaiming nature and promoting the country among minority groups including Black Girls Hike, Black Men Walking, Colonial Countryside, and more.
Colonial Countryside is a child-led history and writing project which aims to tell the public about British country houses’ relationship to Empire.
Professor Corinne Fowler at the University of Leicester is director of the organisation and co-authoring a report with the National Trust to expose the cultural legacy of slavery and colonialism in the countryside.
She tells Metro.co.uk: ‘Historically, the British countryside is very connected to the British empire. For example, Basildon Park estate (near Reading) was built with a fortune made by Sir Francis Sykes in service to the East India Company.
‘There were many men in the valley who had made their money that way, and in the 18th century Berkshire was known as “England’s Hindoostan”.
‘Our countryside is also very connected to transatlantic slavery. For example. Penrhyn Castle was built with money made in Jamaican sugar plantations, worked by enslaved Africans.
‘The estate, the roads, the railways, and port were all funded with this money.
‘Colonial Countryside reminds people about the countryside’s forgotten connections with the British empire. It tells those stories in all its complexity.’
Using historical evidence, Colonial Countryside has commissioned creative writing by writers about the colonial links of National Trust houses.
Professor Fowler adds that it’s not just important for youngsters to have an understanding of this history but for adults too as Britons experience a historical amnesia when it comes to Empire.
She adds: ‘As more and more evidence of black and Asian gardeners, villagers and servants comes to light, the project brings these to light so that we can reassess our view of the countryside as being quintessentially British.
‘Our national curriculum has left children (and adults too) with a 400-year gap in our understanding of British history.’
She points out that we all know about the Norman conquest and the Tudors, the Great Fire, abolition and the World Wars, but we tend to ‘get a bit hazy’ after that.
‘Britain’s four colonial centuries tell those missing stories about our engagement with the rest of the world,’ she says.
‘This involves trade, colonial wars, looting, ruling over other nations, transatlantic slavery and East India Company involvement.
‘Now, with one in every six children growing up in contemporary Britain with strong links to the rest of the world, this history is ever more relevant and meaningful.
‘Nature is good for everyone. Everyone deserves to enjoy the countryside. As a nation, the countryside reflects our shared histories and links to the rest of the world.’
This belief is echoed by countryside charity CRPE who say that you can’t ignore the wealth gap which makes it harder for BAME people to move to the country.
A spokesperson tells Metro.co.uk: ‘Nature doesn’t respect barriers or see ethnicity.
‘Evidence has pointed to the fact that meaningful time in nature has benefits, from improved health and wellbeing to stronger and more sustainable communities.
‘So we absolutely should not accept that some people, particularly less affluent BAME communities, are much less likely to enjoy these benefits.’
CRPE also advocates for children to spend a night in nature in a National Park or Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty as part of the national curriculum.’
They add: ‘Meaningful time in the countryside should be a right and not a privilege.’
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