Suffolk and proud

PUBLISHED: 12:10 19 September 2012 | UPDATED: 22:06 20 February 2013

Suffolk and proud

Suffolk and proud

EADT editor Terry Hunt addresses the difficult subject of prejudice

EADT editor Terry Hunt addresses the difficult subject of prejudice

It was my great honour to be the keynote speaker at this years annual general meeting of the Ipswich and Suffolk Council for Racial Equality.

Despite major cuts to their funding, ISCRE to use the acronym continues to do a fantastic job throughout the county. It is a great organisation with a complex and important task.

As I was preparing my words of wisdom, I began to think about my personal experiences of prejudice during my 55 years of living here in Suffolk bar a short "exile at university.

Going way, way back to early days in the beautiful village of Cretingham, I suppose my first encounter with what I now know to be racism involved my grandmother. I find this story difficult to tell, because "Nana was a wonderful person without a nasty bone in her body.

She had, however, led a very sheltered life she was born in Cretingham, schooled in Cretingham, married in Cretingham and she brought up my mother in Cretingham, along with my granddad, whose job was managing a herd of pedigree Friesian dairy cattle.

So, its fair to say that my grandmother hadnt exactly come across many people from differing ethnic backgrounds. Of course, shed visited Ipswich many times, but back in the 1940s and 1950s, Ipswich wasnt the multi-cultural town it is today.

There came a day, probably in the mid-1960s, that a group of Sikh salesmen arrived in the village, carrying cases stuffed with goodies to sell. My grandmother was absolutely terrified of them. So terrified, in fact, that she ran and hid in the cupboard under the stairs. Normally, such a retreat was reserved for thunder storms, which also frightened her. This was repeated each time the team of salesmen returned to the village, every few months or so.

Her fear was, of course, born of ignorance. This was something she had never encountered, and she was frightened. We have, of course, come a long way in the half century since then.

But another, much more recent experience, reminded me that we still have a long way to go. I was chatting with a man I have known for many, many years. A man I like, and trust. Our backgrounds have many similarities. Somehow and I cant remember how the conversation turned to ethnic minority issues.

Suddenly, he was using the most inappropriate terms to describe a family of ethnic minority background who lived nearby. I was shocked to hear it, and I should have said something to him. But, to my shame, I didnt. I was a coward, because I didnt want to create a difficult scene in a very public situation. I regret it.

Prejudice doesnt always involve race or ethnicity issues. It can worm its way insidiously into peoples characters in other ways. Let me tell you an anecdote which reflects poorly on me. I was giving one of my children a lift home from a party, and one of his friends jumped into the car as well. No problem. Dad Taxis at your service, boys.

I asked the boy where he wanted to be dropped off. He gave the name of a street in Ipswich which is basically two lines of terraced houses. As we entered the street, he specified exactly where he wanted to be dropped off. We stopped outside a row of terraces. Goodbyes were said, and we were on our way.

This is where my petty prejudices came to the fore. I asked my son: "Do you know which house your mate lives in? "No idea, Dad. "Do you know where his parents work? "No idea, Dad why?

Written down, that looks awful on my part. There I was, trying to pigeon hole this lad. Trying to fit him into some kind of social framework, governed by the size of his house, and what his parents did for work and, therefore, I guess, how much money they had. I suppose that came from my background, growing up in a village where everyone had their "place in the pecking order, from the squire down to working families like mine. At least I was aware of my failings.

My son, to his credit, carries none of that baggage. He just sees his friend as a person. He cares not a jot about his background, what his parents do, or how much money theyve got. Good for him. Wouldnt it be fantastic if everybody was so free of prejudice, of all kinds?

What are your views on the subject?
Do you think young people are less prejudiced than older generations?
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