Context: April 2011. Fed up with persistent prejudice and surge of ‘chav’ comments.
We’d all sign up to a campaign to eliminate prejudice and discrimination wouldn’t we? Would we? I sometimes wonder. On the surface, society has come a long way in the last decade or so. There is more public tolerance and a deeper understanding of a range of cultures and lifestyles; it is certainly well established that public expressions of racism, sexism and homophobia are unacceptable and need to be challenged. But still, not far below the surface I fear there is a cauldron of seething unease that we only just manage to keep a lid on. Complaints about the absurdity of ‘political correctness’ often bubble up; usually, this indicates a reluctance to accept that our use of language betrays a raft of deep-seated prejudices; often it is also a signal that someone wants to be allowed to express their prejudices more freely without having to worry about the consequences for others. Certain prejudices are more freely expressed than others: people are openly labelled as ‘chavs’ – what an ugly prejudice that is, born out of pure snobbery; the common place normality of homosexuality still makes some people bristle (some people are gay; get over it!); travellers are abused openly. And of course racism and sexism are ever-present despite the strides taken to tackle them. Why is it that these prejudices persist? Are they born out of ignorance -or is that just too simplistic? Well-educated, worldly people are capable of appalling prejudice; it’s a conscious choice isn’t it? Perhaps we are simply not the kind, loving, tolerant people we’d like to be? Perhaps the persistence of prejudice is rooted too deeply in our own failings for us to deal with it; people are too insecure and inadequate to worry about the feelings of others or to cope with co-existing with different people with different accents, shapes and sizes, religious beliefs, cultures, values and attitudes. Whatever the origin, we need to face it: prejudice runs deep; it is all around us and, yes, in us. Political correctness gone too far? Really? Only if we’re concerned that ‘correctness’ could mask an uglier truth. Surely, if we’re serious about tackling prejudice, we’ve barely started and looking at ourselves is the place to begin.