Wednesday, 1 March 2017

Dyed in the wool

One way I've wised up as I get older is my growing awareness of the enormity of prejudice and discrimi-nation. I've realised it's much deeper and much more permanent than I thought.

When I was young, and typically optimistic the world could be rapidly changed for the better if people just pushed hard enough, I fondly imagined prejudice against gays, or transgender people, or blacks, or foreigners, was a very temporary thing and would soon die away.

I was completely ignorant of how engrained these prejudices were, how reluctant people were to drop them, how much they passed from one generation to another, and how eagerly they were nurtured by politicians and the media.

I assumed other people were basically tolerant and open-minded and couldn't hold such prejudices for long without realising how damaging and inhumane they were. I assumed they were as fleeting as snow-storms or flash-floods.

Gradually it dawned on me that these prejudices were often rock-solid. You could argue against them till you were hoarse, but people still held them, utterly convinced of their soundness. The very idea of dropping them would seem like an act of madness.

I realised that although prejudice against certain groups had lessened, it had happened incredibly slowly and was still far from over. There's still strong opposition to gay marriage, to giving transgender people jobs, to promoting blacks, to treating foreigners fairly. In fact many people would like to turn the clock back and remove all the rights these groups have painfully and laboriously gained.

So nowadays, a great deal older and wiser, I assume that rather than demolishing prejudice, which seems near to impossible, the only realistic attitude is to work around it and try to chip away little bits here and there.

My optimistic younger self would be shocked at my new-found pragmatism.

39 comments:

helen devries said...

I have always thought that if you had money you could be as black, gay or foreign as you pleased and you would sail through life, so to me the objective was to give all poor people the chance to succeed in life to achieve the same immunity as the rich.

Nick said...

Helen: Good way of looking at it. Very true that the wealthy will always be treated with respect whatever their colour or background. And does prejudice increase alongside a general increase in financial inequality, I wonder? It certainly seems that way at the moment.

Joanne Noragon said...

I grew up so color blind that I embarrassed my self in my early twenties, telling my black friend to please look for an apartment by me; she would be welcome there; what did she mean she couldn't. I felt horrible about the attitude adjustment I had to make, and that I'd embarrassed my friend with my ignorance.

Secret Agent Woman said...

Fear and ignorance are powerful forces. I agree - we have to keep chipping away a bit at a time.

CheerfulMonk said...

My family was extremely prejudiced and was really upset in high school when I had colored friends. So no youthful illusions here.

Dave Martin said...

My father has always been strongly prejudiced in many areas - gays, black people, immigrants etc. I suppose when I was young those opinions rubbed off on me too. It was only as I got older that I came to realise that they were completely unfounded and people are just... well... people.

Nick said...

Joanne: I was pretty much colour blind as a kid too. My sister had two black dolls and I never thought twice about it. It was only later on that I realised being black was some kind of problem.

Agent: Gradually chipping away seems to be the only practical step. And yes, fear and ignorance are the underlying causes.

Nick said...

Jean: As far as I remember, there weren't any black pupils in my schools. If there were, and I'd befriended them, I imagine my parents' reaction would have been much the same as yours.

Dave: I don't know much about my father's attitudes (he died almost 30 years ago and we weren't on speaking terms for about 20 years before that). But my mother is very prejudiced against immigrants and foreigners and totally resistant to any kind of counter-argument.

Ursula said...

I am pretty sure most of us, even the most wonderfully unprejudiced, will have a snippet of a prejudice lurking in our subconscious waiting to be given an airing. Can't think this moment which one might apply to me - though will admit that lesbians freak me out. Not that I know any - very much to some of my friends' amusement lesbians avoid me like the plague. Maybe it's a mutual understanding. Not, of course, that I'd ever say a word. Just - DON'T TOUCH ME.

One of the funniest moments, and I may have well related this before, when a friend of my parents visited our house the first time. My sister and I were already in bed when my mother opened the door to introduce us. My little sister? She was about three or so and had never seen a black man before. Promptly burst into tears. Which made the black man's big smile even bigger.

Then, naturally, and this is not so long ago, I happened to mention my gollywog. He was very black, with very white teeth, and a blow up - size of one of my baby dolls. My father had given it to me - for which reason alone I loved my gollywog. As I hadn't expected all hell broke loose in the politically correct world of the internet when I, innocently, mentioned aforesaid gollywog.

Main thing to remember is that we are all humans. Even the monsters among us. And lesbians.

U

Dave Martin said...

Ursula's right - there's always something tucked away that we can't get rid of. In my case it's pikeys.

Dave Martin said...

And orange people.

joared said...

I recall the culture shock I experienced years ago when we moved to a part of the U.S. where discrimination was overt - signs for separate water drinking fountains, bathrooms, waiting rooms, etc. Blacks had to sit at the back of the bus. Where I came from the kids all wanted to sit at the back of the bus. I was surprised and disappointed to learn years later discrimination was there, too, just covert. Am reminded of the lyrics of a song in a Broadway show that was a favorite of mine -- South Pacific's "You Have To Be Taught" -- "to love and hate, before you are six or seven or eight, to hate all the people you're relatives hate, you have to be carefully taught." Chipping away, generation by generation.
.

joared said...

This has been a language education with terms I've been unfamiliar -- the black dolls named when I first read here a term that has since disappeared from the page, then pikeys and orange people. Google search to my rescue to define terms. What about gingers -- cause I'm a redhead. ;-). Lesbians I've encountered when least expected years ago, when a married friend decided she was one. She proved to be harmless and made no attempt to seduce me. Interesting world in which we live.

Nick said...

Ursula: Indeed, we all have a snippet of discrimination (or even a lot more than a snippet). I have to admit to a prejudice against fat people, however much I tell myself that I'm being disgustingly judgmental and unkind. But I adore lesbians and always have done.

I'm hyper-aware of black people in Belfast, simply because there are so few of them and they're so instantly noticeable. I like to think I'm not prejudiced against them, but no doubt there are all sorts of subtle slights I'm overlooking.

It's interesting how gollywogs suddenly became shocking and unacceptable. Pleased to say I never had one when I was young.

Nick said...

Dave: I think you have to distinguish between simple prejudice against travellers, and valid criticism. I've heard so many people with direct experience of travellers saying very negative things about them. Stealing, leaving rubbish behind them etc. Have you had any direct experience yourself?

Orange people - can't stand them myself.

Nick said...

Joared: I can't imagine what it was like to confront that sort of overt discrimination day in and day out. To anyone with a scrap of humanity it must have been quite sickening. Very true that we need to teach children to love and not hate.

I've never understood the widespread prejudice against ginger hair. What the hell is wrong with it? I've known many lesbians, and the idea that they're somehow unnatural and threatening baffles me. Of course many heterosexual men see a woman who's totally uninterested in them as a huge blow to their monstrous egos.

Ursula said...

Poignant example Dave puts on the page. I had to look up "pikeys", a term I hadn't come across before and now understand your reply's reference to travellers.

Let's put the true and truly romantic spin on travellers and call them "gypsies". I love gypsies. There is something raw, colourful and basic about them. That they leave debris behind, as you pointed out, is only natural and to be expected. We all do. I only need to go downstairs and shake my head at overflowing bins, raided by our coast's massive seagulls (think Hitchcock), and wonder at the thoughtlessness of neighbours who don't understand what a beeping bin's lid is for.

Back to your original subject, namely prejudice, here we are - one of your readers (freely admitting and good on him to do so) of not liking gypsies and another, with a lesbian phobia (:)), romanticizing them. Definitely influenced by my mother who was always there for the underdog. But then, she knew what it was to be a "traveller" when her mother took her and three of her siblings (the elder brothers - though barely twenty - already fighting "the enemy") right across Europe, fleeing the Russian army's advance - by cattle train, on foot, depending on the kindness of strangers like farmers whose land they were passing through.

Interesting subject you raised, Nick. One that makes you go and search your own heart for holes.

U

Rummuser said...

Having been at the receiving end of prejudice and racism on a number of occasions overseas as well as in my own country, I think that your new found way is the best to live a comfortable life. You can surprise others expecting prejudice from you with none.

Nick said...

Ursula: I think you're confusing two different things there - travellers who move around within one country and refugees who move from one country to another seeking sanctuary. I have every sympathy for refugees, who are simply looking for a better life after experiencing some desperate domestic crisis. "Searching your own heart for holes" - what a lovely way of putting it.

Nick said...

Ramana: I'm sure you know everything there is to know about prejudice! Gradual chipping away seems to me now the only practical approach.

Rose Blackthorn said...

I didn't understand transgendered people. It was very clear cut for me.

Happily age and then meeting someone who was trans, made it clear what an absolute tit I was.

It's none of my business.

I try to take people for who they are.

I'm prejudiced against assholes and cruel, mean people. I'm okay with that.

Nick said...

Rose: I understand transgendered people 100 per cent. What really annoys me is the Germaine Greers of this world who instead of just admitting they don't understand it, produce all sorts of ludicrous and offensive rationalisations of something psychologically irreducible.

Yep, me too. I'm outrageously prejudiced against assholes, bullies, bigots and hypocrites.

Cheerful Monk said...

My high school was huge --- about 3600 kids, as I recall. I don't know if was the blacks or the whites who were in the minority.

Nick said...

Jean: Wow, that's a big school. There must have been so many black kids, they didn't seem in any way unusual.

Maria Perry Mohan said...

Yes, prejudice is a devil of a thing and so ingrained. My daughter, who has an Indian father and has been educated all her life in India was shocked one day at her posh, convent school to be branded as a 'foreigner' by a fellow student and accused of 'insulting our country' (the country where she was born) because she had the audacity to suggest that other countries besides the one we were living in had something to offer the world culturally. A lot of proud people here (not all, thank God) tend to espouse the view that India is the only country which is rich in culture and that the western countries 'have no culture'. I kid you not.

Nick said...

Maria: A lot of people in the UK are being accused of being "foreigners", simply because they happen to be speaking another language or wearing a hijab.

I think a lot of Brits believe their culture is unique and other countries have no culture. Especially those Brits whose daily reading is The Sun or the Daily Mail, and whose favourite TV programmes are Eastenders and Coronation Street. They wouldn't know culture if it slapped them in the face.

tammy j said...

I had to learn all the lines on the base of our statue of liberty. it's set to music you know. very stirring. we sang it in concert once when I was in school. it was hard for me to hold back the tears of pride.
what hypocrisy! total hypocrisy.
heaven help you if you're a foreigner of any kind and want to relocate to America.
it was made hard for every single nationality who ever tried.
given enough time... years... you are FINALLY included and even welcomed.
as in today... everyone wants or claims to be irish now on st patty's day of course!
when they first came ... dogs were treated better.
even the american indian is now revered. after we so conveniently stole their land.
now in today's time period... it's the mexican people who are in the barrel. and of course all refugees. which is pitifully sad.
it's sacrilege really. all the great Christians with their special protection. scared to death anyway. good grief.
I love the song from south pacific that joared mentioned.
truer words were never sung!

Nick said...

Tammy: Every new generation seems to have its own disliked "outsiders", who are treated as second-class citizens. As you say, now in the USA it's the Mexicans (and also the Muslims). Here in the UK it's just about anyone who isn't visibly British. Unless they're prepared to accept a pittance to do some skilled work for you, in which case all of a sudden they're welcome.

Anonymous said...

For me persons are first persons no matter what they are. Black ,white, lesbians, gays why the hell should I care about this. And one eord about travellers....they payed a high tribute during the Nazi Regime and unfortunately are still ignored in many countries. What a shame. I have some travellers friends from Roumania. Believe me these people open their arms to welcome you. Discrimination is ugly .
Mia More

Nick said...

Mia: I guess travellers may be very different in different countries. While some as you say are welcoming and cause no problems to anyone else, I've heard some very negative stories of travellers in the UK and Ireland.

Indeed, everyone should get the same respect and courtesy, whatever their colour or background. Well, except serial killers and child-abusers....

John Gray said...

An interesting debate....as a gay middle aged man...i have seen things change....they change by osmosis...
The youth now are not only accepting of gayness but bisexuality seems now to be embraced and indeed celebrated.

The law means that i now can get married.....osmosis there too! Law forcing parity

Media........osmosis again.........remember the gay kiss furore in EASTENDERS in the eighties? Now.......DOESNT even raise a titter...

Things change
People change

Nick said...

John: Most young people seem to have no problem with gayness, and wonder what all the fuss is about. It looks as if gay marriage will finally be legalised in Northern Ireland very soon. But you may remember that in the early 70s, gay activists were staunchly opposed to marriage on the grounds that it was "aping heterosexuality". That attitude has changed a bit....

Eryl said...

I have a hard time not instantly dismissing anyone who looks like they've spent all day in hair and make-up, and people who drive gas guzzlers (which I think is often the male equivalent). No matter how often I'm dazzled by the quiet intelligence of women who are hiding under layers of perfumed paint I still expect them to be idiots, and have to mentally prepare myself to not be surprised should they turn out to be Wittgenstein scholars. I think that's my main prejudice, and I hate that part of myself, but I am working on it.

Nick said...

Eryl: I also have an aversion to the heavily-made-up brigade. I don't assume they're dumb, but I do wonder why they have to cover up their natural face to conform to some fashionable female image. What a waste of time and money! And I have to say, there are plenty of make-up-free women who are somewhat mentally challenged.

kylie said...

i think it is a natural thing to fear the "other", especially if at some point the "other" has made a negative impact.
Having acknowledged that this is a universal reaction, doesn't mean it is excusable but something to be aware of and to actively break down in our own attitudes.
I also think that if we are aware of our own changing or changed attitudes, we need to be gracious and kind towards those who are slower to make changes than we are ourselves

Nick said...

Kylie: I have a lot of patience with those who find it hard to accept something they're not used to or don't understand. I know from my own experience that entrenched attitudes can take a while to crumble. I have less patience with those who cling to their engrained attitudes regardless of any counter-arguments, regardless of tangible reality, regardless of the harm they're doing to others.

Hattie said...

It helps to take the focus off ourselves as white people. I'm glad I live in Hawaii, where most people are not white. I don't associate with prejudiced white people and don't feel I need to understand them or accomodate them.

Polly said...

My thoughts mirror yours exactly. I despair at how much ignorance and prejudice is still around in the 21st century and unfortunately I think will be around for some time to come.

Nick said...

Hattie: It does make a huge difference whether you live somewhere with a large black population or not. I used to live in London where black faces were quite normal but here in Belfast they're unusual and very conspicuous.

Polly: Unfortunately ignorance and prejudice seem to be an inevitable part of the human condition. The best we can do is nibble away at it here and there.