Tag Archives: racial prejudice

Bigotry By Misperception

There is something not quite right in the psychology of individuals who seek out signs of bigotry in others, in order to vent the type of false moral outrage that we have become accustomed to these days.

Particularly when they begin to see manifestations of bigotry in perfectly innocent situations and are no longer able to tell the difference between the largest Island off the coast of Ireland, for example, and the second largest religion in the world (completely misconstrued, of course, as something to be offended by).

What we tend to see is heavily influenced by a mix of subconscious beliefs, attitudes and emotions; it is not uncommon to impose our own expectations of reality onto the naked facts in front of us. We respond to what we think we see, and what we want to see, rather than what actually is the case.

When the background beliefs and attitudes have been built up over the years in what can be described as a tense, embittered and contentious context at best, it is not surprising that our ability to make clear eyed judgements diminishes. Too often we get it wrong.

Part of the problem in Scotland is that this tendency to get it wrong has been exacerbated by the Offensive Behaviour at Football and Threatening Communications Act, recently described by Dundee Sheriff, Davidson, as ‘horribly drafted’ and ‘mince’, and which has succeeded in putting most of us off the scent entirely in terms of what, from a legal perspective, now counts as offensive and what doesn’t.

Be that as it may, we have reached a point where some individuals feel compelled to pounce on any scrap of evidence they can find, or think they can find, in order to promote the idea that there are other groups of individuals with a greater propensity for bigotry than the one to which they belong – ‘shameful…’ and ‘disgraceful…’ are among some of the commonly used epithets.

It doesn’t take a genius to work out that it is partly about trying to balance the books by sharing out the guilt. It is something most of us did as children and many continue to do into adulthood. The mince legislation fits this immature notion of balance like a glove. It also makes it so much more likely that we will point the finger in the wrong direction.

If nothing else, one man’s embarrassing error last Sunday helps to highlight the more general truth that, thanks to the Offensive Behaviour at Football legislation, it is now part of Scottish football culture that some groups of supporters will try to vilify innocent behaviours, gestures, banners and songs, by throwing their own unchecked belief systems and ugly expectations over the facts.

Rather than help eradicate bigotry at football matches in Scotland, this legislation has actually succeeded in creating an added dimension to the bigotry that already existed, because so many individuals now think that they can see signs of bigotry in places where no such bigotry exists. They themselves become the bigots they claim to despise.

I think bigotry by misperception would appear to be a more serious problem than the Offensive Behaviour at Football Act could ever have anticipated – not least because the hastily written legislation helped nurture this embarrassing problem along.

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Some Questions on Eradicating Racism

How do you eradicate racism?

How do you educate deeply engrained racist attitudes out of people?

How do you rationalise with individuals who see nothing wrong in the fact that the hatred they have of certain others is based on nothing else but their race or ethnic origin?

How do you explain to racist individuals, when they are firmly immersed in it, why their world view is morally repugnant and socially unacceptable? What type of occurrence would be strong enough to disrupt the logic that fixes their patterns of beliefs?

What type of emotional shock treatment would be required to undo the acceptance of race as a reason for discriminatory treatment or as an uncontrollable cause of hatred towards anyone of that race? What type of change would be needed to disconnect the two?

Why does it still seem impossible to imagine a situation in which racism has been completely eradicated through education? Why do well intended initiatives fail to bring about the right type of change in enough people?

Why does it seem easier to imagine a situation in which racism remains a fact of life, despite numerous programmes and projects to tackle it, than it does to imagine a situation in which our politics and economics are not designed to protect the preferences, pockets and privileges of our country’s minority?

Does the difficulty lie in the fact that the latter would be necessary to even think about the former not being the case? Does the fact that racism thrives in unequal societies like this one, with an arrogant pride in its historically self-approved right of way, mean that we will never be able to eradicate it?

Indeed, are we making the mistake of starting with the wrong set of beliefs and attitudes, simply because they appear more obviously abhorrent?

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‘I pity the poor immigrant’

The introduction of new legislation to protect those offended by certain expressions of another person’s religious world view and cultural heritage has proven to be largely unpopular among many people.

When the offensive behaviour at football matches and threatening communications legislation kicks in, the debate about whether it was required in the first place will eventually fizzle out, but its effects will be felt for quite some time.

One such effect is that it has inadvertently created a situation in which some of the individuals most ardently in favour of the legislation have morally positioned themselves dangerously close to the unwanted persona they thought were trying to remove.

This is what I mean –

We have all heard someone say that they are starting to feel like an immigrant in their own country.

Now, more often than not, individuals who make this type of comment are expressing what they believe to be a genuine concern.

For them, it is a genuine concern that their cultural identity has been eroded by too many different nationalities and ethnic groups appearing to have a stronger voice and claim to rights than they are comfortable with.

Underlying this concern is a mangled interpretation of the priority of their rights over the rights of others who have come to live and work in ‘their country’.

It is an interpretation that is often driven by a subconscious belief that the dominance of their cultural identity ought to be guaranteed over any other.

Yet our history was shaped by immigrants and shifting groups of people. It is a mix of stories. It is a mix of different groups of people with different cultural identities. It is a mix of displaced Irish, Italians, Lithuanians, Estonians, Poles, and many more.

The concerns expressed by some people today are the very same ones that many more people have been expressing for hundreds of years.

Discrimination, prejudice and bigotry are woven tightly into the fabric of our society, and always have been, leaving many people feeling psychologically compelled, and others legally forced, to suppress the natural expression of their different cultural identities.

Having to suppress the expression of your cultural identity, because of arrogant and aggressive intolerance shown towards your particular ethnic group, creates a context in which that identity is in danger of becoming redefined in a negative way, both in a self-questioning sense, and also in the growing opinion of the aggressors.

The very act of having to suppress your cultural identity connects it to feelings of resentment and anger, which occasionally spills over into overt behaviour that happens to offend other people, and thus the vicious circle kicks in.

But in addition to dealing with genuine cases of violent and vile behaviour, introducing new legislation specifically aimed at stamping it out ironically feeds the vicious circle of suppression, anger and resentment, and keeps it going round.

Now, to return to the original point about those who feel there is something wrong with groups of people expressing their cultural identity because they find it offensive.

Such individuals are themselves edging dangerously close to the distorted and ugly image they have of the people they want to silence. They are guilty of turning their intolerance into a campaign for legislation against the positive expression of cultural identity and diversity.

Those individuals who say that they are starting to feel like immigrants in their own country probably should be feeling this way.

The country they live in has a different cultural structure and ethnic diversity from the one they feel comfortable living in.

It has always been this way, but rather than embrace this positive diversity, they have tried to enforce its suppression through displays of bitter intolerance and prejudice.

And that is pitiful.

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