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Opinion

No, the countryside is NOT racist and to suggest it is does the good people of rural Britain a major disservice

BBC Countryfile presenter Ellie Harrison insists that BAME communities are unwelcome in the countryside, and that “a time of reckoning” for white people is approaching. This simplistic outlook is both offensive and wrong.

Ask anyone who lives in rural Britain what they like about their environment and you’ll receive the standard replies: there’s a lot more space, the air is fresh, the people are friendly, there’s less traffic and the houses are cheaper. Few will ever admit they love their rural idyll because there are no black people.

For not only is the very idea racist, it’s largely untrue that black and minority ethnic (BAME) communities avoid rural areas. And for some oh-so-right-on BBC presenter to suggest that, carte blanche, so to speak, the British countryside is teeming with bigots is patently ridiculous, wildly offensive and downright wrong.

Ellie Harrison, one of the friendly faces of the BBC’s cosy Sunday night Countryfile programme has taken advantage of the public profile afforded her in her position as a highly paid presenter on the taxpayer payroll to lecture the nation on racism in the TV show’s companion magazine.

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She explains that her empathy with the lived experience of ethnic communities was earned through reading every novel by American author Alice Walker as a student at her overwhelmingly white school in Gloucestershire, and from having watched Oprah Winfrey “every day since I was a youngster”. Impressive stuff, indeed.

Apart from being surprised she’s ended up in a paying job based on those credentials, you also have to wonder how the blanket accusation that the English countryside so lovingly evoked by John Constable and William Turner is now a hotbed of racism has been given the oxygen of publicity.

The TV presenter talks about a “time of reckoning” for those who live in the British countryside, and insists that white people need to acknowledge that they have benefited from the past.

She talks about policing, grievances, economic equality, and why just protesting about cruelty isn’t enough. Please, enough. It’s like the nightmare after-dinner conversation I imagine with Harry and Meghan following a fifth bottle of Sauvignon blanc.

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The gist of the accusation is that, if you live in the countryside and you’re white, then, ergo, you’re a racist. Total woke nonsense.

Ms Harrison’s claim is a reaction to a Countryfile feature earlier this year by TV presenter and explorer Dwayne Fields, in which he discussed a report by the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (DEFRA) that suggested some ethnic groups felt the UK’s national parks were a “white environment”.

Mr Fields said he liked the countryside, but when he spoke to fellow members of the BAME community, some said it was not for them. He doesn’t say whether that was because they didn’t like the muddy paths, howling winds, angry cows or incessant rain. No, nothing like that.

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The unspoken implication was that members of minority communities do not feel welcome in rural areas. That, somehow, the ‘whiteness’ of the national parks cited in the DEFRA report excludes them from enjoying the great outdoors, albeit in temperatures rarely topping the mid-teens and with an ever-likely chance of rain.

Nature is colour-blind, so it’s up to the individual as to whether the shared experience is enjoyable. Nature doesn’t care about your racial profile.

My recent experience of Britain’s national parks, in the shape of the beautiful Yorkshire moors, has not been tainted by a lingering sense of guilt over a presumed lack of BAME ramblers – which was certainly not my experience – but by the insistence that, if your dog takes a poop anywhere, you must take the result home with you on threat of a fine.

Next time you venture out, weather and lockdown permitting, take time to have a good look around. Stop gazing at your phone or living vicariously through Facebook and live for the moment. You might be surprised to find that not all your fellow travellers look like Ellie Harrison. To suggest otherwise is urban liberal rubbish. Welcome to Great Britain 2020.

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