The man in the purple coat.
I was walking along the Dublin Road and there was this guy in a kebab shop wearing a purple coat. It looked hideous and although I didn’t say anything I thought “What the fuck is he wearing?”
I didn’t think too much more about it until a few days later when walking along the same road again I spotted two women holding hands and talking in German I immediately thought to myself “They’re foreign lesbians.” This hit me a bit harder than the purple coat incident. In fact I stopped and began questioning myself about why I had did this.
In both cases I did something that we all do everyday, I judged. I didn’t hurt anyone because I had kept it totally to myself equally I didn’t go sharing it with friends saying how awful that coat was or the disgrace of two potential foreign lesbians walking around in broad daylight. Why would I be so worried about these incidents then?
Since the foreign lesbian incident I have discussed what happened with other people and in the majority of cases they tell me to wise up, tell me I am taking life too seriously, analysing too much and they’d probably be right. The thing that worried me was that I really have nothing against foreign people coming here in fact I enjoy meeting other cultures and I have nothing against anyone of differing sexual persuasions so why would I make such a rash judgement? And why did the two incidents affect me differently?
I hate purple. I think it is an awful colour, gaudy and over the top, it’s a personal thing but I don’t hate Germans and don’t hate lesbians. Hating the colour of someone’s coat is obviously very different from hating either their nationality or sexual preference but the principle is exactly the same it’s simply selfishness on my part me trying to assert my will, what I think is right, how I see things. Had I seen a male/female couple talking in a local dialect I wouldn’t have said to myself “They’re heterosexuals from Belfast.”
The two women may not have even been lesbians. Women generally have a very relaxed attitude toward something as innocuous as holding hands so it would be logical to realise that women from more culturally liberal countries outside our siege implanted islands would indeed have a much, much more relaxed attitude to holding hands in the street. I didn’t think of any of these possibilities though and that’s what’s bothering me.
This tells me one slightly worrying thing, I am at least partially not responsible for my own thoughts and despite how impartial I may try to be the world can always creep in and corrupt me. I think of myself as very liberal but these are not examples of liberal thinking at all.
Why did I not focus on something I had in common with the people I judged? We all have eyes, noses, limbs! Why did I immediately and without any barriers notice difference?
It seems we are trained to notice difference it’s like a ghost in our genes. Because there is so much going on in the world and we are competitive to our cores we have motives even in our very thoughts. We make sense of the world by our relationships with other people and those with grievances towards others are just following the “gang” pecking order that has always been so evident throughout history, for as long as people have been here this has been the way. People in gangs don’t know they’re wrong because they have self justifying reasons for their hatred. Most of the reasons that racists have for hating people are made up. When you try to tell them that it’s their instinct making or reinforcing these myths so they can feel comfortable they deny it because instinct is so strong they can’t think outside of it.
Northern Irish racists are the most peculiar breed many of them have friends from the other side of the sectarian divide but they don’t see that the same parallel is being drawn when they hate people from another country. I even know a lot of people who still hold certain republican or loyalist views while being friends with people from the other side which frankly makes no sense at all. I know Protestants who go to twelfth of July marches and don’t think it’s a big deal, it’s just a bit of fun even though the reason for the marches is sectarian and Catholics who hate English people but watch Eastenders and support English football teams. None of this makes any sense.
Our principles are pretty warped because we’re selfish and each individual thinks their worldview is paramount. The really scary thing however is that most people don’t think any of this matters. They don’t care that their thinking is out of synch and inconsistent either that or the people who have the potential to change things have other more important things to worry about like going out at the weekend or playing Xbox with their mates they’re all locked in emotional bubbles that they reinforce with ignorance and bliss!
What is my problem anyway? Why am I so worried about a fleeting thought I had about people who I will never see again and who have no effect on me whatsoever? The simple reason is that I am beginning to fully understand how the same mechanics that are at work in racist attacks where people get hurt for being different are actually fostered and heightened in society as a whole. Things happen in degrees so while it may be ok to use an offensive term to tell a joke about a black person for instance, the person telling the joke would not use the term to someone of African origin directly.
It’s easy to see how these two correlations can in ways be held apart but when you take the multitude of possibilities around something so innocent as telling a joke you can begin to look at how these seemingly meaningless comments can be taken out of turn. What if someone who’s not supposed to hear the joke hears it? Wider and more subtly affective longer term worries are not even a consideration for the majority of any given collective. If there exists within any group of any size a view that certain other groups of individuals are in some way not the same as us or even responsible for social ills that our grouping may be experiencing you will find animosity toward these people will gradually develop, thus intolerance.
I myself have a very good friend who is gay and we joke about it. No one takes any offence and it’s all in jest but is it? We’re part of a society where intolerance against gay men especially is still quite a problem I am not sure about the statistics but you can guarantee that people get beaten up somewhere in Belfast due to their sexual preference in fact I know that there have been some quite high profile cases which made national news involving murders so by that rational I have to admit I am in fact part of the problem. Hypocrisy is hypocrisy after all and it really can’t be excused.
We’re all doing it, making the world how it is, some more than others obviously and as for me, well stay away from purple coats you have been warned.