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Think you're not a racist? So does Dave Woodhall. So why, he wonders, are all his best friends white?

I know it's an old cliché, but you can always tell a racist by the way they say, “I'm not a racist, but….”

Excuse me then, while I say something that I'm not entirely comfortable with. I don't think I'm a racist; I try not to be. I loathe the BNP and other far-right groups. I cringe when I hear racist remarks. I truly don't care about the colour of someone's skin, their place of birth or their religion. The only thing that matters to me is whether or not they're a good person. I'm proud that as far as I can see, Birmingham is a wonderful example of a multi-racial city, with all ethnic groups living pretty much in harmony, or so it appears. It's certainly a lot more enlightened than its Black Country neighbours, where (and I speak from experience, having grown up there and still spending a lot of my time in the area) attitudes still seem twenty years further back.

Then I realised something that made me re-assess my previous, maybe a bit smug, right-on liberal attitudes. I don't have a single black or Asian friend. There are plenty from both groups who live close by, or who I know well enough to talk to when we meet in the street, or I might work with from time to time, but none I know well enough to spend time with socially. Every single one of my friends is a white European, and as far as I know all of them were born or have spent the majority of their lives in Britain.

What does that say about me? Am I a closet racist? Do I subconsciously feel more comfortable amongst my own ‘kind'? Should I make more effort to mix in what is, after all, in my opinion the best-integrated city in the country? Or is multi-culturalism a pointless exercise as differing ethic groups will always prefer to stick together?

I don't know the answer as I'm not too sure what the question should be. There's regular talk that we should have a proper debate about the future of British society and the role of all its inhabitants. This is usually accompanied by mutterings that ‘they' won't let ‘us' say anything for fear of being called either racists or terrorists, depending on who's doing the muttering.

One thing I do know is that I'm a microcosm of British society - seemingly happy to live in a multi-ethnic society but in reality locked into my own, homogenised, safe and overwhelmingly white world. Whether that should be cause for concern is another matter entirely.


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