Prejudice - a thing of the past?

Prejudice, what is it? An opinion formed without full knowledge is one definition of the word that litters our society today. Prejudice comes in many different and varying forms. For example, society is widely prejudiced against homosexuality, yet you do not get to choose your sexual identity for nobody ever does. In common with hundreds of thousands of people in every society at every point in history, you happen to fancy bodies with the same gender as your own.

Despite popular belief, after years of exhaustive research, scientists have been unable to discover one shred of evidence to suggest that homosexuals are significantly different from heterosexuals, apart from their choice of companions! Gay people do not have dodgy genes or limp wrists. In fact it is difficult to tell the sexual preference of most gay men or women.

Ordinary folk do not want people’s alternative sexuality thrust in their faces, yet the world needs loves and in all its forms.

Being gay does nothing to prevent one from making a terrific success of their job, nor does it mean that they are not a gentle, every loving person. There is a world of difference between choosing to ‘come out’ and being outed against your will. The former is an exercise in free speech. The latter is a type of emotional terrorism.

We all have a regrettable, if natural curiousity about gay people yet prejudice should not be allowed to flaw this curiosity. To be prejudiced, is to persecute. Take Graham Whittaker, a homosexual from Alan Bennett’s Talking Heads. Graham is rejected from everyday life and is widely perceived as a social outcast, due in part to his homosexuality. The finale of the monologue sees mutual dependency restored. Graham and his mother are reunited but remain insensitive to each others demands. The claustrophobic clinging is unhealthy and they give the impression of being engaged in a power struggle as they vye for supremacy. Yet in reality this is the only way in which they can survive.

There are many forms of prejudice, hateful word that, some of which are more obvious than others. Racial tension remains prevalent in every generation, despite our best efforts to stamp it out through scheme such as the FA supported ‘kick racism out of football.’

A noticeable recent achievement bridging the gap between black and white people was reported recently in the USA. In Georgia, Stone Mountain used to be known as a shrine of the Klu Klux Klan. Legend has it that giant profiles of Confederate Civil War heroes on horseback featured in Margaret Mitchell’s enchanting novel, Gone With The Wind, are carved in granite relief. James Venerable, the former imperial grand dragon of the Klu Klux Klan helped turn Stone Mountain into a white supremacist mecca, but died four years ago, aged 91. The transformation that Stone Mountain has undergone within these four years is extraordinary. Chuck Barris stands out not only as the first black mayor in Stone Mountain’s history but also as the only known black politician in the USA who loves in a former Klan dragon’s home. Consequently lasting new relationships, I hope even friendships, are being formed across formerly impenetrable colour barriers. Yet as Chuck Barris was reported as saying:

“Things will really have changed not when the first African-American is elected mayor, bit when it is the third or fourth, and the Hispanic-Americans or the Asian-Americans are also elected. If we can get to the point where we just choose the best qualified person, that will be the real change.”

However in the American state, Texas, a black ‘Louise Woodward’ case hit the headlines a few years back and reignited the debate about justice in America. Like Louise a baby that Lacresha Murray had helped to look after, died. Unlike Louise, Lacresha was been convicted and sentenced to 25 years in jail. Was this because she is black?

Racial prejudice is born largely of ignorance and insecurity. Harper Lee, through her pulitzer prize winning novel To Kill A Mocking Bird, explores the irrationality of adult attitudes to not only race but class in the Deep South of the thirties. The conscience of Maycomb Country, a backwater town steeped in prejudice is pricked by the stamina of one man’s struggle against all odds.

“Shoot all the bluejays you want if you can hit ‘em, but remember: it’s a sin to kill a mockingbird.”

This is Atticus’ advice to his children as he defends the real mockingbird, a black man To, charged with the rape of a white girl. Tom Robinson, the respectable, quiet, hard working negro was innocent but due to the time in which he loved would be found guilty for as Atticus stated the case “is as simple as black and white.”

Yet “simply because we were licked a hundred years before we started is no reason for us not to try to win.”

Atticus’ struggle for justice - and at that, justice for everybody whether he is black or white, in a time and town engulfed in prejudice, slowly begins to awaken the sleepy county of Maycomb. However one man is not enough to change history but as Miss Maudie acknowledges “Whether Maycomb knows it or not, we are paying the highest tribute we cam pay a man. We trust him to do right.”

Lawyer Jake Brigance finds himself in asimilar situation in John Grisham’s unputdownable courtroom drama A Time to Kill. There are crimes of race and creed and colour, and so when people outside of Clanton, Mississippi, hear that a black man has gunned down two white men who raped his 10 year old child, the town is filled with an angry mob determined to tear down, burn and destroy anything and everyone that opposes them.

In his final summing up, Brigance argues that until the day that we can see each other as equals, we must seek the truth “not with our minds, where fear and prejudice are a commonality, but with our hearts. Where we just don’t know any better.”

What is it within us that makes us prejudiced? Sadly it is a human instinct instilled in the best of us, passed down from generation to generation. It is a fear of anyone who stands out or of whom we can identify as different from ourselves. To be prejudiced is to be narrow minded and unable to recognise real qualities. to be prejudiced is to have misconceptions. The myth that white people are superior is a grave misconception, a stereotype, in the same way that ‘all blondes are bimbos’ or ‘all Scotsmen wear kilts’ are. prejudice can be a willingness to judge o surface appearances and to torment if we do not like what we see. Society os prejudiced against outsiders. The megalomaniac, Adolf Hitler, was prejudiced against anyone who did not conform to his perception of perfection, blue eyes and blond hair. Consequently Jews, ethnic minorities and disabled people all found themselves the unwanted targets pure and undisguised hatred. Yet how could a whole nation be so enthralled by their leader that they become blind to gross atrocities? Is it possible that six million Jews were exterminated in Nazi Germany without the majority of German people knowing about it? Morton Rhue’s chilling story, The Wave, demonstrates in no uncertain terms how easily people who regard themselves as free individuals can become prejudiced when swayed by the powerful forces of group pressure and can become unable to recognise the violent undercurrents.

Arthur Miller’s play, The Crucible, is in some ways a powerful parallel of this. Taking as the play’s basis, the Salem witch hunt of 1962, Miller depicts a society of communal hysteria which results in the persecution of minority groups.

Where is its written that one race is superior and dominant over the other? Why is that we as humans, find it so incomprehensible ti accept that we are equal? Is it our fear of failure and our craving for reassurance that drives us on to convince ourselves that we are better than others?

We as humans illustrate prejudice when we demonstrate our willingness to judge people on surface appearances. This particular form of prejudice is evident in Golding’s novel, Lord of the Flies. Piggy and Simon are judged by the other boys on their appearances. They perceive Piggy as fat and shortsighted and greatly restricted by his asthma. Simon is a mystic possessing both vision and intuition, who is rejected as ‘batty’ by the other boys. Piggy’s commonsense and scientific, intellectual point of view means that he continually shatters the boys’ illusions and interrupts their desire to play. When the play develops into something much more sinister, he is killed because he ‘spoils’ the game. Simon too, is slaughtered in a ritual frenzy. He represents the martyr who is neither valued nor understood by his society.

Prejudice can arose from cultural and religious distinctions such as the antagonism between Protestants and Catholics in Northern Ireland or Sikhs and Hindus in India. In many nations of Africa conflict arises principally from tribal divisions Achebe’s novel, Things Fall Apart, revolves around the Ibos and their position towards the end of the 19th century when faced with the first European penetration of their country, bringing with it a new religion, new ideas and a money based economy. The novel’s hero, Okonkwo, is prejudiced towards change. Yet “change is a visitor who knocks on the door and the wise are those who lay out the welcome mat.”

Okonkwo cannot understand why his people do not resist by force but his friend Obierika who knows the practical realities, points out that resistance is useless since their society is being undermined from the inside. Many of their fellow tribesmen now disapprove of the old ways. Amongst these men was Nwoye, Okonkwo’s son who had always felt unhappy at the violence and brutality of Ibo society and felt that the new religion offered hope of better things.

Intolerance towards age is widespread, with old age becoming an increasing social problem in western society. Class and sex discrimination are also areas where intolerance is common. There is little real doubt that throughout history, men have treated women as inferiors. Indeed in the late 1960s, the phrase ‘male chauvinist pig; was coined to describe men who allowed their sexual prejudice to show. These forms of prejudice run throughout David Hare’s play Murmuring Judges.

Sir Peter is prejudice to those who are of lower class than himself. Irina attempts to point this out to him when she attacks the comic strip, privileged world that Sir Peter lives in, which divorces him from reality.

“These judgements, these judgements you make all the time, these judgements which seem to be graven in stone, they have only the status of prejudice.”

Barry of the police force is also prejudiced. Barry argues that prejudice is part of our assumptions. He says of the lawyers, “they don’t know they’re prejudiced. That is not how they would think of it. Its like when I do an interview, I’ve never turned around and said “You black bastard.” But when I come out, I can’t help it. I always feel virtuous because I haven’t said it. As if I have done them a favour.’

The difference between Barry and Sir Peter though, is that Barry recognises his own faults and flaws. Sandra and Irina who are the only women in the police force and law team respectively experience sexual prejudice. Irina decides to play along with the role that shegiven in order to achieve what she wants. She says to Sir Peter, “Take my coat off”.

Sandra and Esther as the two women in the police force, are forced to give as good as they get in order to cope and survive in their environment. Lester makes the comment “And bloody women” to which Esther replies “Yeah, I’ve heard you hate us as well.”

Nothing positive can come out of prejudice. Prejudice inspires hatred and incites bitterness, which can hardly be classed as a good thing. It does not matter what our age sex, sexual preference or class is. Whether we are Spanish or English, Indian or Jamaican, black or white, Cuban or Asian is totally irrelevant. We are all human beings blessed with life and this is what we all share, no matter how different are personalities are. We need to learn to love and to give love unconditionally and this should be the immutable law by which we are driven. Prejudice and intolerance have long outstayed their welcome and with a united, combined effort they could - and should - be banished as things of the past.