Tuesday, May 31, 2011

Taking no Pride in Prejudice

Not an actual Daily Mail headline, but maybe not a million miles away from one
I want to write something about prejudice but I need to be careful. The last thing I want is for anyone to think I’m some kind of intolerant, reactionary idiot, nor do I want to come across as full of my own goodness, or worse still hypocritical. The fact is that most of us carry around a lot of prejudice and we’re predisposed to form opinions about people and the world in general on the scantest of evidence.

I know that rationally speaking you should never make assumptions about people if you don’t really know them, but I think sometimes it’s difficult not to react to your gut instincts, which are formed mostly through your life experience. The trouble is that they don’t always bear scrutiny.  In my heart I know that not all drivers of white vans are inconsiderate towards other road users and that far more of them drive so sensibly as to go unnoticed; yet enough have cut me up on roundabouts to make me wary, so when it does happen occasionally it just reinforces my prejudice.

That’s kind of understandable in a way; I have after all been cut up by white van drivers on a number of occasions, but on a statistical level that’s hardly surprising in my 33 years of driving.  The trouble is, I also find myself susceptible to other, even more ridiculous prejudices: old men wearing cloth caps drive too slowly; young men in baseball caps drive too quickly; 4x4 drivers have a mean streak; cyclists riding two abreast are downright arrogant and should be arrested for being in possession of offensive lycra.

I have many others not related to driving: men with aggressive looking dogs are equally aggressive and probably buy a lot of dodgy stuff in pubs from similar men; women who take their kids to school in their pyjamas are not terribly good parents; tabloid journalists are more interested in making a story than reporting one; Liverpudlians are overly sentimental; public school boys have the same floppy haircut; those at the top of the management tree didn’t get there by being nice to other people; men in Speedos have no sense of shame; and so on.

These are all a bit petty and silly, and I don’t suppose they do a great deal of harm.  The traditional ‘big’ ones, I hope, are not part of my make up. Apart from when I was about 12, I never believed in treating people differently because of their race or colour; people’s religion doesn’t bother me if they leave me alone; disabled people are as capable as anyone else if given a fair chance to achieve.  And as for gender, men and women do think and react differently in many ways and it’s best just to accept it; I work with more women than I do men and I’ve learnt that, although our thought processes are sometimes different, we are still trying to achieve the same thing, and one approach isn’t necessarily better than another. It causes a lack of understanding sometimes, but I’m sure I infuriate them as much as they sometimes infuriate me!

Shall I tell you my least favourite expression in the English language? ‘Political Correctness’. This is a phrase invented by the tabloids to defend the indefensible, to mock those who try to behave decently. It’s the same line of thinking which ridicules “woolly” liberalism and which dismisses social workers as ‘do-gooders’. And my word, don’t they like to jump up and down when someone takes something a little too far: “it’s political correctness gone mad!” They talk about the ‘PC brigade’ like it’s a movement of people with a membership and a hierarchy, and maybe in their warped minds there are uniforms and meetings, at which politically correct directives are issued to the long suffering Daily Mail readership.

If PC means being tolerant and fair minded then I’m all for it. And yes I say that as someone who harbours all those stupid little prejudices which I talked about earlier. That’s the whole point. Prejudice is a condition that occurs naturally in all but the most saintly, but that doesn’t make it all right, any more than it is acceptable to be ill tempered or violent.  I suppose like all worthwhile things, you have to work at it.

Let's hope we've moved on ...


  1. We can't avoid having some 'prejudiced' thoughts, lets try keeping them thoughts not actions. I'm meeting some prejudice at the moment and I don't like it! (I'm female and currently have no hair due to chemo)

  2. Nicely put Nick, we all have our own perceptions. As long as we understand this and work to not let them influence how we deal with everyone on this funny wee planet then we are doing okay?

    Lesley xx