AN EXPERT on racism in rural areas like Stroud said the continued presence of a racist statue in the town will fuel stereotypes and division.
A public consultation on Blackboy Clock has sparked fierce debate but Professor Neil Chakraborti said it is important for rural areas to welcome change and diversity.
The author of Rural Racism and director of the Centre for Hate Studies at the University of Leicester explained putting the statue in a museum would send a message that Stroud embraces diversity, rather than fears it.
He added that racism can be especially harmful for communities like Stroud, where targeted groups may be more isolated.
“Now, perhaps more than any time in living memory we need messages of inclusion, support, empathy and togetherness, and I think that removing statues can have the capacity to send important messages,” said Prof Chakraborti.
“It would ensure that current and future generations within Stroud aren’t influenced by historic, racist depictions which dehumanise Black people.”
Prof Chakraborti, an advisory board member for Black Lives Matter in the Stix – a group which champions racial equality in rural areas – has conducted extensive research into racism in towns and villages across England.
He said some rural communities can be less familiar with ‘difference,’ which may lead to discomfort and negative attitudes when met with it.
He explained microaggressions feature regularly in the day-to-day lives of people from Black and Minority Ethnic backgrounds, like crossing the street to avoid them or persistently staring at them and making them feel uncomfortable.
These can escalate to spitting and name-calling, criminal damage, racist graffiti and other forms of violence and harassment.
Prof Chakraborti has himself been sent death threats for researching the topic.
With fewer Black and Minority Ethnic households in towns and villages, Prof Chakraborti said rural racism can be devastating.
“That sense of isolation, that sense of not knowing where to turn or how to elicit support, that can feel more intense in a rural town,” he said.
“This is based on the reality of their lives. They’re often facing exclusionary behaviour, racist stereotypes and attitudes which can impact onto their day-to-day sense of wellbeing.
“So I think reminders that come in any form – a statue is one example – of a dangerous and divisive past can fuel those stereotypes and that divide.”
The professor said removing the statue wouldn’t end rural racism, but it was a legitimate way of helping communities understand statues do have an impact.
The Blackboy Clock, which is the subject of a public consultation by Stroud District Council, has been called ‘racist’ and ‘dehumanising’ by groups like Stroud Against Racism and the Runneymede Trust.
But other residents, including Stroud MP Siobhan Baillie, have not supported removing the 18th-century statue in Castle Street, suggesting an explanatory plaque should be installed next to it instead.
The MP’s full statement can be read here.