9 November 2003 Welcome - Charles - Thoughts - Wrong prejudice?

One of the most heinous crimes in current times is seen to be racial prejudice. The concept is socially abhorrent, though there is no guarantee that it is so at a personal level. We are now faced with the problems of talking about people from other races/nations/countries without actually being allowed to describe them in the most obvious ways. Political Correctness (see footnote) is an absurdity of mammoth proportions. Because it is so socially sensitive, it is difficult to get to grips with, and to think about safely: private thoughts may be inadvertently spoken publicly.

I grew up going to school with some people who were, let us say, less white than I was. (See footnote again.) I didn't notice this until I was about 11 years old. No, I wasn't blind. Wasn't particularly stupid, though obviously a little slow on the uptake. It was only when the time came for our age group to change school that I heard an adult say something like "So and so will have problems in the next school." "Why?" "Because he's coloured" "What difference does that make?" "Some people don't like coloured people..." (Am I allowed to report that? Ah well...)

Now up to that time, people colour had made no difference to me. I have since found that it, of itself, still doesn't. But there are complications that come with it. It is often (from my point of view) a little harder to "read" some people's expressions. It is sometimes a little harder to understand what they say. Now if those people are near neighbours, you learn. If they are from another district, you just label them cocknies, brummies, geordies or whatever (in the UK, anyway) and everyone knows what you mean and what problems you might be having. It's recognisable as a cultural thing. Until the other person is a different colour, and possibly a different religion. Then the same problem magically transforms into a racial difficulty, and, as a by-product, becomes socially difficult to talk about.

So my current thought is that much of what would appear to be racial prejudice is not, in fact, racial. It is cultural prejudice. Someone lives to a different code, a different standard, and we don't know what to expect. We are disconcerted, not in control. We worry. The actual differences can be small: vary even one of nationality, religion, age and education in a group and there is more than enough room for some to feel uncomfortable. Add the unknowns of "secret societies", different nationalities, foreign upbringing etc. and discomfort can easily turn to fear. Different colour is often the most obvious identifier and this in turn becomes important as an excuse when trying to justify the fear. It is far easier to say "they're different" than to get to grips with the subtleties of unknown cultures and different standards and motivations.

Once fear takes hold, rational thinking takes a back seat. Actions are dictated by what can be done quickly to remove the perceived threat. Such actions then become a real threat to others. Big trouble.

Let me reveal a little more of my personal history. During my student years I had the experience of staying in "digs" with some other people. Sometimes the other boarders were all students, sometimes they were people who actually worked for a living. One time I was in a big house with a mix of both. The landlord was from overseas (Poland). His wife was native English. I shared a room with a Welshman and a Peruvian. Down the corridor were a Pakistani and a Shri-Lankan. I seem to recall that a Scot wandered in at some stage as well. As with many good things, I didn't realise what a wonderful thing all this was until it came to an end. But in this group, no one nationality or race had a significant majority. There were no real threats; none I saw that did not spring from simple personality differences. I honestly believe we all gained a lot from being there, had our lives enriched by those of different race and culture.

The answer to cultural prejudice, so often in the guise of racial prejudice, is to get to know people from other cultures and races. Learn to enjoy the differences, revel in the diversity, the shared humanity, the good of the world. It'll do you the world of good.


I can't help pointing out a few Political inCorrectnesses, especially in view of the trend to refer to some American citizens as African Americans etc. So note:

that the Native Americans who were in America before those Native Americans who were later pushed around by the European Americans were probably Asian Americans

that current anthropology etc. strongly indicates that the entire human race originated in Africa, thus ultimately making us all African wherevers

that though I am classified "white", if you bought a tin of white paint that matched any part of me, you'd complain, loudly