The danger of tolerance in a prejudiced society

In my TEDx talk on the importance of the Global Village, I begin by discussing my own prejudices against the common Asian dress for men called a ‘lungi’ and questioning the audience about their own prejudice.

Who did THIS to me?! (photo: Andrew Bernie Bernard)

Who did THIS to me?! (photo: Andrew Bernie Bernard)

Of course, most of the people there would have been amused by my ‘skirt’ rather than outraged and indeed while living in Bangladesh I found the idea amusing myself. The only ‘darker’ emotion was the suggestion that I might wear one myself. When suggested it would invariably result in raised eyebrows and a definite “not if my life depended on it!” Looking back now, knowing as I do that I did relent in the end, I find it interesting to question why the thought was so borderline repulsive to me.

We’re all products of our own societies and cultures and that means we come with the baggage of prejudice. I’m looking forward to seeing a play soon called ‘Bangla Brummies’ soon which looks at prejudice from the point of view of Bangladeshis living in Birmingham, UK. The prejudice is both aimed at Bangladeshis and is also found within them. I like such honesty and it is something much needed in the world today. We’re all very good at being critical of others but not so good at being critical of ourselves.

flier-front-page-bangla-brummies

Life has changed a great deal for me over the years. When I grew up in the 70s it was okay to be homophobic, racist and consider anyone who didn’t live according to what was considered decent British lifestyles to be deviant and potentially immoral. The opposite is true today. We all have the right to live whatever lifestyles we like as long as we don’t break any laws and don’t cause any direct harm to others. This is a good thing, right?

Yes, obviously, I think it is on the whole but there is one caveat: making prejudice socially unacceptable doesn’t mean prejudice isn’t growing. This is a very real danger I don’t think we’re taking seriously yet and we need to rather urgently.

While the Brexit debate was growing, before the referendum took place, British social media was awash with opinion. On the whole, the ‘remainers’ like me talked of the prejudice against foreigners and the fear that leaving would give the floor to racists. I personally was knocked back (entirely, I have to say, but white middle-class people) again and again by those who were insistent that Britain really isn’t racist but has a history of embracing people from other cultures and is one of the most tolerant nations in the world. It’s easy to say when you’re not the one being targeted time and again.

I remain convinced that the cheery ‘welcoming Britain’ myth isn’t true because it flies in the face of human nature. We all have a tendency to be scared of people who are different to us and Britain has fuelled such fear for centuries. But if you don’t allow voice to these feelings, the anger and fear builds up until you have a dangerous situation. When a crack in the dam appears, all hell is let loose.

We’ve had many cracks in recent months and years. Every time there is a terrorist attack (and only the ones by Islamic extremists are highlighted by the media) we see a violent reaction against innocent targets. When Britain voted to leave the EU there was an immediate reaction against foreigners or those perceived to live according to foreign customs. Today we’re living in a world where prejudice has suddenly gained acceptability again. In a few days time the American public will be voting to potentially promote a violent misogynistic racist to the Whitehouse. There shouldn’t be any competition at this point. Actually no, there should never have been any competition at all from the beginning as my article here pointed out. Yet, though Trump shouldn’t stand a chance, it is neck and neck. Even though he is still unlikely to win, the damage is done: enough Americans think he’s right and that is very, very scary.

I’d love, at this point, to tell you what the answer is but if I’m honest I feel very defeated by humanity at the moment. Like I say, we all have our own prejudices and I’m well aware of mine. We live in a grey world but one which likes to judge others according to the rules of ‘black and white’. My preference has always been to speak from weakness. It’s no coincidence nor attempt at insincerity on my part that my TEDx talk is honest about my own fears and prejudices. I’ve always tried to be honest about the things I know are less than good about me rather than attack another for the things which are less then good about them. I’m happy to criticise societies, cultures, governments and policies but it is rare you’ll see me rant against another human being – but believe me I could! I prefer to rant against myself instead.

Ironically, I’ve been criticised for such honesty and many a time I’ve been misunderstood for it but I can’t help but feel like I wished more people would be the same. Living in a blame culture is tiring – when you’re already very aware of your faults, having to justify them to others constantly is just draining. One great characteristic of the British is that we apologise even when it isn’t our fault. Someone bumps into us and the first thing we say is “Oops, so sorry!” I’d love to see more of that in a sincere form universally applied. What a world we could live in if everyone said “I’m so sorry” instead of “You say sorry right now!”

 

Advertisements

About D K Powell

British freelance journalist, author, writer, editor, musician, educational consultant. I lived with Wifey, Thing I (daughter) & Thing II (son) in Bangladesh for 5-6 years working for an NGO called LAMB. Wifey led the Hospital Rehab department and I used to teach O levels at the school before going full-time as a freelance writer in 2013. Now we're back in the UK learning how to be British again. When not writing or editing, I'm busy trying to complete a Masters degree in Intercultural relations in Asian Contexts and reading way too many books at once. I also drink tea - lots of it.
This entry was posted in community, Culture, Life, Philosophy, politics, Racism and tagged , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

28 Responses to The danger of tolerance in a prejudiced society

  1. fonald says:

    i must say, your pretty good at patting yourself on the back while feigning humility!!! the world would be a much better place if only there were more people like you, right?.Unbelievable…

    Liked by 1 person

    • D K Powell says:

      i must say Fonald, I am enjoying your visits to my little blog – I find you most amusing! Please keep them coming 🙂

      In response to your comment I would, first of all, suggest you read the piece again. There’s no feigning of any humility – I don’t believe in it! I DO believe in in being critically honest and that includes with myself. I’m very open about my mistakes and my weaknesses but I don’t pretend to be lesser in value to anyone. No, I don’t wish everyone was like me – that would be ghastly – but I wonder, who you think the world should be like? I suspect I can guess…

      Like

  2. Beparvah !! says:

    Tolerance and indifference are two different things and what we see in the society is indifference often under the veil of tolerance!!

    When”me” congress first tolerance would continue in the garb of indifference !! 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

  3. It is healthy to take a good look at ourselves before judging others.

    Liked by 1 person

  4. “We’re all very good at being critical of others but not so good at being critical of ourselves” So true.

    Why am I forcing kids to learn stuff they don’t want to learn, am I really providing for them a better & happy future, why I am cheerning them out, because society demands” I truly connected with this.

    “Let us learn from other culture, let us learn from other people and see the good in them. Because in doing so its hold up a mirror to our own people, and we see more clearly who we are. When you open yourself to the possibility. no, it’s the adventure, finding out you are not who thought you are. Then you start to see people in a better light.”

    The longest video of someone that I watch in my entire life beside song video clip :). This is very meaningful, deep, open mind statement, from people whose not even citizen of Bangladesh. I wish foreigners who come and work in my country have more warm heart & open mind like you, especially in the education field. Not just coming to get some dollar and underestimated our children, even they teach in International School.

    Like

  5. sarsm says:

    I loved your last sentence!!!! German’s hardly ever say sorry, in contrast, when I’m out and about I feel like I’m apologising every 5 minutes (probably because I’m extremely clumsy). Sometimes I get ‘told off’ for being self-depreciating, (for which I always, of course, apologise). Next time I’m going to borrow your words:
    “Oops, so sorry!” I’d love to see more of that in a sincere form universally applied. What a world we could live in if everyone said “I’m so sorry” instead of “You say sorry right now!”

    I am really worried about the level of hate revealing itself in the world. It’s happening here too. I feel like all of a sudden, there is an outpouring of prejudice. What shocks me is that so, very many people feel like this. And they can’t all just have felt like this overnight. They must have felt like this before, but just hidden it. We really are seeing the ugly side of humanity once again. On the one hand, it scares me. Quite a lot actually. How on earth do you deal with that much hate? But on the hand, at least now we know what we are dealing with and we can no longer put our heads in the sand. I have a friend who is an Indian writer. I’ve known him for a very long time and only now I am realising what kind of prejudice he has had to deal with his whole life. All of a sudden he has become very vocal about it. I feel like I’ve had my eyes opened. And the only thing I can do of course, is to say I’m sorry. I am really truly sorry.

    Recently I read an article (I forget where) – it was on a study about prejudice. It revealed that people of low and people of high intelligence are particularly prejudiced. They are just prejudiced about different things. People of lower intelligence are consistently prejudiced about circumstances that the ‘victim of the prejudice’ cannot chose. For example race, sexual orientation etc. Whereas intelligent people are consistently prejudiced when It comes to people’s choices that they cannot agree with themselves.
    I can completely agree with this on my part. I have always struggled to be tolerant. I have absolutely no problem with race, religion, sexual orientation, disability. But I have massive issues when people make choices I don’t agree with. For example people smoking while in the car with their children. I get a proper bee in my bonnet about it.

    Liked by 1 person

    • D K Powell says:

      Thank you for your well-thought-out comment which was lovely to read. I’m glad you liked the post so much – the shame is that since writing it we’ve been plunged into an even greater ‘hate-filled world’ where prejudice has suddenly become very cool again. It worries me greatly.

      Like

  6. Can – great post real concerned about the trendsof the world now. ashamed of the US right now
    Enjoyed your talk. Have never watch they talk before – no patience, but yours was good
    Best wishes
    Doug puryear

    Liked by 1 person

  7. renxkyoko says:

    The US has always been a divided country.

    Liked by 1 person

  8. I gladly shared on my blog….
    That is a beautiful example for each one of us… does it really matter our position in the society? The money we make? Our studies level? You can be happy with much much less, you can be joyful just by being what you really want to be… When you get the chance to travel around the world, you may easily realize that the “face” of happiness isn’t made with precious stone and rare metals. Let’s put down the mask we wear each single day, let’s look at the mirror with the eyes of the heart and convince ourselves to take the chance to change… once and for all. For the sake of the future, for the sake of the planet Earth.
    Serenity :-)claudine

    Liked by 1 person

  9. Pingback: The [real] face of Happiness | Claudine Giovannoni

  10. That is a beautiful example for each one of us… does it really matter our position in the society? The money we make? Our studies level? You can be happy with much much less, you can be joyful with just by being what you really want to be… When you get the chance to travel around the world, you may easily realize that the “face” of happiness isn’t made with precious stone and metals. Let’s put down the mask we wear each single day, let’s look at the mirror with the eyes of the heart and convince ourselves to take the chance to change… once and for all.
    Serenity :-)claudine

    Liked by 1 person

  11. mrmeaning says:

    Very nice honest, nuanced piece. But don’t despair! We might all be victims of a gene for ‘racial’ and colour prejudice. I’ve written a blog about this, ‘Colour me racist – blame my genes’ (https://soothfairy.wordpress.com/2016/08/10/racism).

    Liked by 2 people

Over to you! What do YOU think? Comment here...

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s