Belfast Telegraph

Wednesday 1 October 2014

Why it's time our First Ministers were told a few home truths too

US visitor: Peter Robinson used to own a house in Florida

I imagine the Native Americans who live in the area now known as Florida, might sympathise with the notion 'Local Homes for Local People'. I wonder how sympathetic Peter Robinson, former holiday-dweller there, would be to their concerns? Would he accept they're not being racist in wishing the White Incomer to stay away? Would he back up their arguments that their issue isn't with the colour of the White Man's skin, they just want to be sure that their children and families can continue to live in the same place?

Maybe if there are any of those original "local" people still living in Florida and if Peter had still been living there, he could have invited them over for a cup of tea and a photo opportunity and talk it all through.

The Housing Executive has a points system for deciding who gets a house. There's a points system for deciding who gets a house anywhere really. In Floridian holiday real estate, the points aren't given on the basis of need or deprivation or threat of homelessness. Houses are allocated on the more old-fashioned point system – dollars. They don't care what colour your skin is, so long as your money's green.

Remember when white Welsh people started burning down the holiday homes owned by white English people in the 1970s and '80s in protest at being priced out of the housing market in their own home place? Was that xenophobia? Honest concern? Both? Hard to tell, since the Welsh and English have traditionally lost no love between them.

It can often be hard to unpick the real nature of a dispute. It makes easy headlines to scream "Racists!" when anyone objects to anyone else and the anyone else is black.

I don't know the whole story of last week's House-gate episode. I'm sure the 'truth' is somewhere in between the Ku Klux Klan on one side and "It's nothing to do with the colour of his skin" on the other. Sadly, given PR's wading into the discussion and off the back of his Going To The Shops-gate fiasco, it was a field day for the media and the social media to jump on the bandwagon of him jumping on the bandwagon of local people jumping on the bandwagon of rejecting anyone from outside their wee area.

It's easy to ridicule "local" people who express their fears inarticulately in reactionary soundbites. With a lack of vision from elected representatives on what constitutes the new Northern Ireland, ordinary people can take their cues from right wing newspapers and fear-stoking gossip.

We're now being asked to give our reaction to the new Racial Equality Strategy document. It's out for consultation. That means we have a chance to say what we think.

So before things go from bad to worse here in the next few years, how about taking a positive step and suggesting what might work, to help us all to live together?

Go, read, make comment, get involved. There are no bystanders in life. We're part of what's going on whether we "get involved" or simply stay home doing nothing and criticise what others do, via social media or over a pint in the pub.

It does seem a little rich to hear our First Ministers preaching diversity and a welcome for all, when each represents a party that is actively hated by the other.

The change starts right here. With you. With me. We actually have a chance to shape our society, right now. We are a blank page. An empty banner. Let's choose our slogans carefully. Local Homes for All.

Right word but wrong attitude?

It's easy to despair that we're backward here, but take heart, some things are improving, even in the race relations arena.

For example, I haven't heard a single person use the term 'racialist' this year. That's gotta be progress, surely?

At least we now all seem to know that the word is actually 'racist'. Or is this a negative sign?

Was the fact that we used ridiculous words in the past simply a reflection of the fact that we hardly had any people of other race living here?

Far from improving, have we just got more grammatically correct in our bigotry?

Film puts my life into sharp focus

Just had one of those stop-you-in-your-tracks-and-make-you-go "Wha'????" moments there now, seeing a photo of Susan Sarandon and Geena Davis in an update of their famous 'selfie' from Thelma and Louise and reading that the film was made 23 years ago. 23 years?!

What??? No way! It's not possible!!! For flip's sake, I was only over 23 when I saw it (ok, I was 26, but still).

So I've lived nearly the same length of life since seeing that film, as I had done before?

Holy smoke, I'd better "get busy livin'" to quote Susan's ex-partner's prison buddy, Red.

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