Bideford, a town in Devonshire, UK, has been known as “The Little White Town” for over 150 years, but may have to change its signs with that tagline over fear it may be seen as racist.
The “Little White Town” tagline is seen on signposts all across the area. The phrase was first coined by the author Charles Kingsley, when he wrote about Bideford in his 1855 novel, “Westward Ho!” after seeing the many white properties that dot the local landscape. Many of the houses were ordered to be limewashed to prevent the spread of cholera at the time.
However, the signs may not be around for much longer. Councillor Dermot McGeough, the Conservative group leader of the town council, claimed that there had been complaints of racism from residents over the slogan, and that it should therefore be removed from all signs:
Following a number of complaints from parishioners, I propose that the words “Little White Town” are removed from all signs within the town and at the town entrances. The wording “Little White Town” can be perceived as causing a racist slur and not politically correct. Therefore this issue should be rectified immediately. If this wording is not removed, the town council could be classed as a racist white supremacist.
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McGeough defended the decision in an interview with The Telegraph:
It’s the right thing to do because we don’t want people thinking we’re a bunch of white supremacists. We’re just a little town in Devon. What happened was – a few residents came to me and said they thought “Little White Town” looked racist to visitors. It made it look like people of any other colour weren’t welcome. My job is to represent all residents who approach me with their concerns, so I have done what I was elected to do.
Liz Wilde, who lives and works in the town, said it was “absolutely bonkers”:
It’s part of our history. It’s because the houses were painted white because of the cholera risk, and I think it is really important to preserve that sort of thing.It should remain on the signs and maybe we should qualify it to say why that is. But I absolutely feel people are barking up the wrong tree.
A local man in his 80s told the BBC that it’s “just the influx of people coming who think it’s racist… All the people I associate with think it’s complete madness.”
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In an interview with Piers Morgan on Good Morning Britain, McGeough said that he only put the motion forward because “as a town councillor, you have got to represent the views of everybody in [the town].” In response, Morgan said this was “utter lunacy”:
What I’m baffled about is how this has ever come to be debated – it’s utter lunacy and the reason it has become debated is because you are the person who proposed the motion. I know it’s frustrating for you – you are the bloke who proposed the motion… If I say to you, look Mr McGeough, I live in Bideford and I’m very concerned that I think everybody should be shot dead in the town. Something extreme like – I want everybody shot dead. Would you then propose a motion that you don’t agree with, saying “I propose that everybody should be shot dead in this town?”
One survey of the town shows 69% of the residents were against the change, and 31% were in favour. A previous proposal in 2008 to change the signs to greater reflect the town’s maritime history prompted protests, and was quickly abandoned.