The BBC has come under fire for suggesting non-whites are not welcome in the countryside. A report on its flagship TV show Countryfile says that blacks, Asians and other minorities don’t feel welcome in rural areas, with some claiming they have experienced open racism.
In Sunday night’s programme, explorer-turned reporter Dwayne Fields reacted to recent Black Lives Matter protests by quoting a DEFRA report from 2019 that paraphrases black, Asian and other ethnic minorities saying they see the countryside as a ‘white environment’. Fields says people he spoke to “don’t view the UK countryside as somewhere that’s for them” and claims there are “barriers that black and ethnic minority people face when they come to the countryside”.
“It’s not theirs, they don’t belong there and I want to find out why,” Fields says in his dramatic introduction.
Famed for its moderate politics and tolerant society, the British countryside reacts angrily to Fields’ report. Deerstalker and Newcastle University cancer researcher Al Gabriel’s review of the show was probably not what BBC producers wanted.
“There was a negativity to it in my view, because the majority of the countryside is very friendly,” says Gabriel. “In my experience, I’ve had more racism in an urban environment than rural areas in the UK and most people are very welcoming.
“It does paint a picture that somehow there is a type of entry to barriers so to speak, which, in my personal opinion, does not exist.”
On Twitter, some commended Countryfile for confronting the perceived issue of racism in the countryside. Someone calling themself @Adam_dot_P claims: “As a BAME person I do believe it is made to feel that the countryside is reserved for the white. A BAME person is made to feel out of place, either by strange looks or sneaky remarks.”
As a BAME person I do believe it is made to feel that the countryside is reserved for the white. A BAME person is made to feel out of place, either by strange looks or sneaky remarks.
— ÅĐÄM Certified 👊💥💯 (@Adam_dot_P) June 29, 2020
But most of the comments accuse the BBC of peddling “divisive propaganda” as it appears to paint the country’s rural communities as hives of racism and intolerance. Many point out that living in the countryside (11% of the UK population) makes you a minority.
“Disgraceful race baiting again by the #BBC on #Countryfile, almost as if they are trying to cause problems. Suppose to be journalists not political activists,” says @Take_inthe_view.
— Take in the View (@Take_inthe_view) June 28, 2020
“Oh @BBCCountryfile why oh why? I dont usually bother but this is ridiculous,” writes one viewer. “Britain is historically populated by white people. What on earth is stopping anyone, regardless of the colour of their skin, enjoying nature? No one is stopping anyone. Utter cobblers.”
Others complain about DEFRA’s report, pointing out it only includes the views of a handful of people and paraphrases the interviews. The race issue only takes up a small portion of the report, which is mostly about revamping national parks, like setting up a 1,000-strong ranger force who can educate visitors and organising camping trips for school kids. Making national parks more ‘accessible’ to minorities is not even in the study’s ‘key recommendations’.
The government released the study in September last year. The timing of the BBC’s report was clearly made to stir up the already heated race debate. Spearheaded by the Black Lives Matter political movement, campaigners have been calling for the destruction of anything they consider racist, including monuments to historical figures.
Gabriel says this is not helpful.
“The real danger here really is to make the rural population feel somehow they’re responsible for the current differences in how many people live in the countryside versus the urban areas, this is a historical reason,” he says.
“England and the United Kingdom by default is a white country and the majority of the population is rural and that’s just the way countries evolve, I mean, nobody needs to apologise for that.”
“Individuals from ethnic minorities also need to make an effort to come and visit these rural areas and try to engage with the local population – this is a two-way system.”
Several hours after the Twitter post, Fields was obviously feeling some pressure from critics. Responding to a comment from a mixed-race couple who say they never experience racism while travelling in the countryside, he admits his feelings differ from those he promotes on Countryfile and tries to deflect attention towards DEFRA.
“I broadly agree, I gave up last Christmas to spend 40 days walking the length of Britain … it truly is a stunningly beautiful country & generally the people are amongst the best you’ll meet but many BAME people don’t feel the same (DEFRA report),” he writes.