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Philip Ridley: I grew up with racism, but now it's an even scarier threat

When I was at school one of my best friends was a member of the National Front. At least, he had been. He was thrown out for being too extreme. So he joined Viking Youth. You had to be the full blond-and-blue-eyed package for that lot. They would congregate at the corner of Brick Lane every Sunday morning and hurl abuse at anyone who wasn't white. At school, my mate would boast how he'd "punched a Paki". You notice I keep saying "my mate" and "friend". And he was. I saw The Fly with him. We walked all the way home from Leicester Square to Bethnal Green. Just the two of us.

I hated his opinions, of course. But I liked him. Would I be friends with someone like that now? Of course not. But I was young and my journey with him was one of those teenage crash courses – perhaps even a "crush" course – in just how complex life can be.

Drama is made of such complexities. I try to explore them in my play Moonfleece. The play is about a young man, Curtis, who has to question and challenge every right-wing assumption he's ever made. The play tries to explore how the political starts with the personal.

When I was at school, the two sides of the extreme right vs liberal argument were easier to identify. Every fascist wore their swastika with pride and wasn't afraid to call a spade a – need I carry on? But these days racism (and its blood brother, homophobia) has a far scarier visage: normality. The BNP all dress like born-again Mormons, politicians think it's fair game to say "English jobs for English workers", and every gay comedian is camper than Liberace playing Abba, and is happy to be the target of a "straight man's" gay jokes.

OK, you may be laughing with them. But, believe me, there are plenty who are not, as the men "queer-bashed" down Hackney Road the other week will testify. You don't see the connection? Well, I do. You see, we have to keep questioning; we have to stay angry; we have to throw ourselves into the debate. If we don't ... what's that line from The Fly again? "Be afraid ... be very afraid."

Philip Ridley is a playwright whose works include 'Moonfleece', 'Mercury Fur' and the film 'Heartless', starring Jim Sturgess and Timothy Spall