Right now I’d like to urge every right-thinking person in Middlesbrough to go to one of the local DIY shops as soon as possible, buy a pot of red paint and a brush, and paint the front door of his or her home.
Right now, I see no other simple solution to this problem.
Of course, if this did happen, and if enough homes in Middlesbrough suddenly displayed red front doors there’d soon be a shortage of eggs in the town, but things would quickly settle down… Or would they?
Here’s what’s happening, for those of you who haven’t yet read this tidbit of news.
An asylum seeker in Middlesbrough noticed that the home he was assigned had a red door, and that the homes of other asylum seekers he knew also had red doors. The homes of asylum seekers in Middlesbrough are regularly attacked. Vandals pelt their windows with eggs and gob phlegm through their letterboxes, and dog turds are left on their doorsteps.
|Bronze Red by Little Green|
A great colour for a front door
The asylum seeker and his housemates conducted an experiment whereby they scrounged together the funds for a pot of white paint, and they changed the colour of their front door. The vandalism stopped. It stopped until their landlords painted the door red again a fortnight later.
As an aside, I’m not sure how painting a front door puts the asylum seekers in breach of a tenancy agreement or why a door would need to be painted twice in a fortnight. I won’t mention the fact that I’ve rented property in the past, and that I know trying to get even essential works completed in the space of a couple of weeks is virtually impossible. Doing a cosmetic job like painting a front door would be a long way down a very long list of household maintenance on most rental properties. Of the 168 properties managed by the contractor who did the work, 155 have red doors.
According to the article I read, it is common knowledge among the locals that asylum seekers live in houses with red doors. They are easy targets. It clearly wasn’t common knowledge among the asylum seekers, who had to work it out for themselves.
The same contractor manages similar properties in Stockton-on-Tees where it also houses asylum seekers, and those houses also have red doors. The conservative MP for Stockton South is reported as saying, “I suspect they got a job lot of doors or paint and just didn’t think about it.”
Not for nothing, that would mean hundreds of doors, or enough paint for hundreds of doors. I realise that contractors buy in bulk, but in those quantities? To paint the 155 red front doors in Middlesbrough alone would take over 90 litres of paint, and that’s a lot of cans to warehouse, and where would they keep the rest of the paint they bought in that ‘job lot’, all that magnolia emulsion?
It’s so simple isn’t it? It’s so easy to explain a thing away. It might even be true, but if it is then somebody should have thought about it. It’s a simple enough equation.
Q: We are homing vulnerable people, does anything about our properties signal their presence?
A: Yes, they’re identifiable by the colour of their front doors!
If it was a coincidence at the outset, it must soon have become clear that the red door was an identifier, and that some members of the community were using the red doors as a signal to attack. Steps could have been taken to make the asylum seekers safer by making their front doors less uniform and more anonymous. Those steps weren’t taken. In fact, the contractor repainted a door, making that home less safe for its occupants.
There is to be a Home Office investigation into this situation, an audit is to be performed.
There is a possibility that the audit will find that the red doors really do put asylum seekers at risk. I imagine that no fault will be found, that this will all be put down to ‘a job lot of doors or paint’. So be it. None of us wants to think the worst of people. No doubt, this will be seen as some kind of isolated incident, an aberration. I imagine that the contractor will undertake to get rid of the red doors.
But what then? Will they simply get another job lot of paint? And how long will all of this take? Will it be weeks or months before the red doors are gone? How much more abuse and vandalism will the asylum seekers suffer at the hands of their neighbours? And when they’re gone, how long will it be before the abusers know the homes of asylum seekers by their distinctive green doors?
I’d be tempted to give the asylum seekers a voucher for their nearest DIY store and let them choose their own colours for their front doors, and then require the contractor to send someone to repaint the door with that paint. I’m sure that wouldn’t work, though. I’m sure there must be a hundred reasons why asylum seekers couldn’t be trusted to buy the right kind of paint, or why decorators couldn’t be allowed to use paint supplied by the tenant… Or who knows what else. There are always reasons why not.
Red doors are dividing these neighbours one from another. They’re preventing this community from forming some kind of integrated whole.
It’s not the paint, though, is it? It’s the people.
People have been building societies for millennia, and part of building societies is finding enemies and scapegoats, and the people we need to hate to feel better about ourselves. It’s the ugly side of who we are, and it’s a trait that surfaces in all circumstances.
Nazi Germany gave its people the yellow star and the pink triangle, and a number of other symbols by which to define people and then to marginalise and despise them. The people of Middlesbrough, whether by accident or design have found a symbol, a label for their asylum seekers, and it is ugly. I cannot think, however, that it is unique.
John Stuart Mill said this:
Let not any one pacify his conscience by the delusion that he can do no harm if he takes no part, and forms no opinion. Bad men need nothing more to compass their ends, than that good men should look on and do nothing.
So, we must form opinions and we must hope that they are good, and then we must act upon them. While the asylum seekers of Middlesbrough wait for Home Office officials to investigate their problem, perhaps the good people of the town, the asylum seekers neighbours should form their own good opinions, and perhaps they should cease to look on and do nothing. Perhaps they should try to do something about the least of them, the people who are abusing their neighbours and vandalising the houses with the red doors.
I might not have the nerve to confront a vandal, but I might just go out and buy a pot of red paint and change the colour of my front door.