Racism is worse in urban areas than it is in Devon, says The Black Farmer

The Black Farmer range of products celebrates Devon produce. Photo: The Black Farmer

The Black Farmer range of products celebrates Devon produce. Photo: The Black Farmer - Credit: Archant

Unique Devon food and drink producer The Black Farmer reveals how he has faced down racism throughout his life

Wilfred Emmanuel-Jones, The Black Farmer, has based his home and business in Devon. Photo: The Black

Wilfred Emmanuel-Jones, The Black Farmer, has based his home and business in Devon. Photo: The Black Farmer - Credit: Archant

I responded with indignation, saying I was travelling business class, but this official was not convinced; she wanted proof. As I rooted around for my boarding pass in my bag, other passengers using the same aisle were allowed to pass without being challenged.

Getting more and more furious and bemoaning being stopped, yet again, I was fuming by the time I’d found my pass and I promised myself that, this time, I would write to BA management and complain about my treatment. Having shown my boarding pass to the crestfallen assistant, who by now had realised her mistake, I proceeded to my seat.

In the cabin, it became clear why I had been stopped...I was the only black person travelling in business class. As a black person, I didn’t fit the stereotype of what she was used to.

A couple of glasses of wine and a sleep later, my fury and indignation had passed and the promise I had made earlier seemed just too much effort. After all, it was not like being stopped and searched in one of the inner city areas and it wasn’t the first time or the last when, because I don’t fit the stereotype, I have been stopped, questioned or had my word doubted. Just a couple of weeks earlier, I had laughed off a receptionist at a corporate office mistaking me for a minicab driver.

In order to avoid fighting these constant battles of indignation, I have had to come to terms with the fact that it is one of the burdens of being black and that, if we want to get on, we need to learn to bite our tongue.

The unfortunate death of George Floyd burst open the floodgates of frustration that people of colour have been suppressing for decades. I see this outpouring as another MeToo moment. At last, it is now safe for black people to put their heads above the parapet and vent the years of indignation they have had to suffer, without being regarded as “difficult” or “chippy”.

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Some 20 years ago, I decided to make Devon my home. I have a small farm near Broadwoodwidger and, at the time, it was seen as a bit of an anomaly, with some people mistaking my intentions as a cover to start up a cannabis farm. I had to laugh that one off also.

No, my plan was to use my anomaly to create a brand which deliberately focuses on my difference - and so The Black Farmer brand was born. The brand has served me well over the years and, some 15 years on, the uniqueness of being Britain’s only black farmer hasn’t changed.

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In the time that I have been in Devon, I have often been asked to comment on what it is like for black people living in this part of the UK. When I tell people that I have never personally experienced any issues, my urban colleagues look at me with some bemusement because, in their eyes, Devon is a white enclave with an invisible sign that says ‘Blacks Keep Out’. One friend half-jokingly enquired, “Don’t they lynch black people down there?”

In fact, I have experienced more prejudice in urban Britain than I ever have in Devon. That is not to say that racism doesn’t exist in this region. More often than not, I find that the racism here is born more from naivety than malice.

Some folks I have met feel it is more polite to refer to people as “coloured” rather than “black”. I can see the struggle on their faces as they search for the right words for fear of offending. It is as though I have to give them permission to use the word “black”. I would like to think that calling my brand The Black Farmer goes some way to making people feel comfortable using the word.

The things I like about Devon - the slower pace, the friendliness, the politeness and the sense of community - are also the very things which sometimes mean some people are not up to speed with the changes in wider society.

Urban folk more often than not misinterpret these people’s intentions. Being stared at is a common complaint I hear from my black friends. I have to explain that it may not be their colour that is drawing attention but simply the fact that they are a stranger. I find myself staring at new faces in the countryside all the time, whether the person is black or white.

As a region, we have some way to go in having more BAME representation and I hope that this Black Lives Matter moment will propel white people into action. All too often when I am invited to events, I am the only black person there.

For my part, I shall continue to use my status to communicate to the BAME community the wonders of Devon. This month, I’ll be launching The Black Farmer online Farm Shop where I will be selling the great food and drink that we make here in Devon.

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This is stage one of a bigger vision. Stage two is to create a physical farm shop in Devon and my aim is for this to be a must-see destination. It will be a place that celebrates the magic of diversity.

As a black boy who has worked himself up from society’s dustbin heap, I hope I set an example of what is possible if you have the audacity to dream big and not be held back by other people’s prejudices.

I hope in my lifetime that skin colour will no longer be a hindrance to achieving dreams and that we all can look beyond it and focus on the person within.

We can all do our bit to help make the change. The Black Lives Matter campaign has presented us with a moment in time when we can make a difference. But we need to make haste, for we are mere leaseholders of life. The freehold belongs to the gods and they don’t offer a fixed-term tenancy.

Find out more here about the Black Farmer’s story

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