When was the last time you actually engaged in dialogue – I don’t mean chatting I’m referring to a real debate, a discussion that involved sharing opinions without fear of offending?
It’s very difficult to challenge oppression when you don’t have the words to say what you mean, or are concerned with upsetting the very person(s) you’re talking with, and about. Recently I found myself (as a disabled white woman) having a discussion about prejudice with what I would usually refer to as a Black man and a mixed-race woman; I became very aware that whilst I was comfortable using derogatory words to describe disabled people, I was struggling to find the correct language to articulate my thoughts on race/racism, my fear of offending was a barrier to the conversation.
Another reason for my concern was I had met these people for the first time only that morning meaning I could not judge a likely reaction, I decided the only way to overcome my problem was to own it and so I admitted my fear; both the others immediately shared similar views, and we quickly agreed, unless we open topics around the ‘isms’ and begin to talk about things in regular words these barriers grow. We continued, with each of us talking openly about how we dealt with these problems and discussing what do you do when someone else decides what you can say? We each had experienced discriminatory behaviour but generally it was implicit, rarely did people use language we could openly challenge; instead prejudicial attitudes were now subtle and insidious, making it difficult, it not impossible to challenge.
The three of us all voiced how we had found it easier to address issues of race, gender, disability etc when someone had used language that was openly prejudicial, how although it was deeply unpleasant to be called ‘Spag’ or ‘Nigger’ those and similar words allowed us to respond immediately, calling for the rationale behind the abuse and opening up a dialogue; whereas we all found it far more difficult to do this when the prejudice was clandestine.
Prejudice being a natural fear of the unknown exists in all of us, and unfortunately during times of recession it re-emerges and grows, maybe as a default position to make ourselves feel better?This statement I’m sure will cause most people to shudder and perhaps deny it but the associated rise in discrimination through hate crime makes it impossible it ignore.
Owen Jones entered this debate yesterday in The Observer discussing how the overt racism of UKIP is met with outrage on Twitter claiming ” it is relatively easy to take a stand against overt racism; only outright bigots will quibble with you” and this is true; the real problem comes when the more adept bigots ‘hide’ behind pernicious announcements, that disguise very real prejudice.
Even a cursory examination of language used by the Government to justify Austerity is full of such pernicious testimony, the focus on ‘scrounging’ ‘lazy’ ‘cheating’ promoted through much of the mainstream media, has engendered a distrust against the most vulnerable groups in society.
This distrust has in my opinion, supported the recorded increase in prejudice against most minority groups, and aside from such aforementioned ‘outrage on Twitter’ it is difficult to find any real dialogue around growth in prejudice and discrimination. For many years I’ve witnessed national and local organisations refusing to debate this issue, using claims of diversity and cohesion, to purport a lack of prejudice on any count; usually without any recognition of the paradoxic in this statement, the simple denial of racism, sexism, ableism or any other form of prejudice, actually perpetuates it.
I’m not suggesting that engaging in conversation will prevent anyone determined to cause harm to desist but…unless we’re prepared to participate in an honest exchange of views, with regard for feelings, but also willing for our own opinions to be challenged; this situation will continue to grow. Jones in the article above recognises, failure to do anything more than Tweet our indignation is dangerous “if we are just patting ourselves on our backs as a means of self-congratulation, flaunting our credentials as decent human beings and failing to tackle the more subtle, pernicious forms of racism that scar our society.”
Jones ends the article stating ” when minority voices speak out and demand change, all of us – whatever our backgrounds – should listen, and act“; I agree and on order to listen we need to one thing thing – Let’s Talk.