I have lived in Maidenhead, Berkshire, for more than 20 years. Middle-class, solidly conservative and overwhelmingly white, Maidenhead is also quaint and picturesque, right on the Thames. I enjoy living here, and know everyone on my street: we pass the time of day, talk about the weather, parking, local shopping, the small inane topics that bind a community together.
But there are some things you just don't talk about with your neighbours: such as the fact that I've been suffering racial harassment for years. I get verbal racism on a daily basis, called "Paki" or "wog". Rubbish is thrown into my garden, my car is scratched and glue poured on to the windscreen. I dread driving home or looking at the house - nearby - where my persecutors live.
I tried, before the Macpherson report on the police investigation of the Stephen Lawrence murder, to get it sorted. The local community officer came to see me and I'll never forget her opening words: "What's your problem then?" I never bothered again. Post-Macpherson, police attitudes may have changed in London and in some of the big cities - but I and many of my friends feel that officers in the shires have a long way to go. If you're an Asian you know that the police can stop you arbitrarily, search you, talk to you as if you're nothing but dirt. Oh yes - and if you do question their actions, you're labelled an uppity black.
Two weeks ago, I suffered yet another incident of racial abuse at the hands of my neighbours. I decided to call the police. When they arrived, they refused to believe me until some of my white neighbours backed up my story. They decided reluctantly to knock on my harassers' door. When no one opened, the officers told me that, as it was 11.45pm, it was best to leave it, as they didn't want to "disturb" this family. I was told to get in touch with the "community" officer and that there would be some paperwork to fill in, and that's that. When I received a letter from the community officer, it assured me "that Thames Valley Police . . . are committed to providing the highest possible standard of service to all victims of racial incidents and crime". I suspect that boxes were being ticked and figures boosted when this letter was sent out.
Were these particular officers just a nasty aberration? Perhaps. But recently, there was another incident involving an Asian family who live nearby. Their house was stormed by officers in the early hours of the morning; the door and windows were broken. The grandparents, who spoke little English, were terrified. Police rampaged around the house before explaining that this was a drugs raid: someone had "tipped" them off that drugs were being sold by the son. No evidence of dealing was found.
Since that raid, the mother won't open her door to anyone, and the father, after 30 years of trusting his white neighbours, says he now knows what they really think of "us". As for the son, he's another addition to the ranks of young Asian men and women who will never trust the police. Second- and third-generation Asians are no longer prepared to put up with second-best, and be deferential to white people, as their parents have done. Unlike their parents, they no longer dream of "going back home". This is it . . . this is home.