Overcoming Prejudice One Contact At A Time

Observatory

70s

At the end of this weekend I’m heading for New York on a very brief stopover. I haven’t been back in years, and for too long my main contact with the US has come from the UK and US press.

Consequently, I’ve heard far too much about the extremes of American society, either the super-rich or the dispossessed and desperate. I know that LA, where I once lived, now has record homeless figures, and that farmers are killing themselves in astonishing numbers. What’s been missing for too long is any sense of normal day-to-day life for millions of ordinary Americans.

I’ve just had a delightful time with American friends who represent the ‘squeezed middle’ of hard-working, smart professionals with complex family backgrounds. Their energetic lives are built around ironclad seasons of rituals that include football, holidays, outdoor pursuits like hiking and diving, Thanksgiving dinners and other shared family activities.

It seems to me that British life has very few of these tentpole markers upon which to hang social life, and have very little of their positivity or proactivity. These are the folks I’d forgotten about, the ones who feel that anything is possible, the ones who made me fall in love with America when I was a teenager. A colour-saturated America flooded my dreams, but living there was tougher than I had ever imagined it would be.

I’d forgotten about this silent majority of American families because I’ve hardly ever met any (LA media folk don’t count). They don’t get reported in our press. Instead we see food banks and gun crime, the toxic Kardashians, Trump’s three-ring circus, paedophile pastors and teen dotcom millionaires, just as American no doubt sees us as rainsoaked glumbies, Russell Brand-style rockers and lickspittle nonentities like Nigel Farage.

Both sides are taking their knocks right now, between the UK’s disastrous Brexit negotiations and a US presidency that turns a still unrivalled example of democracy into a banana republic. Caught in the middle are hardy people with innate decency and healthy attitudes.

But more and more lately I’ve heard of people experiencing intolerance on either side. Today a friend of mine – a good, tolerant liberal – was spat at outside Finsbury Mosque. Another friend is vociferously pro-Brexit despite the fact that he only employs Eastern Europeans.

It’s confusing to cope with. But we have to cut through the endless depicted stereotypes, go out and talk to people one-on-one and remind ourselves that nations have a richly diverse human bedrock. Right now it’s harder than ever to do that, which is a good reason for going the extra mile.

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6 comments on “Overcoming Prejudice One Contact At A Time”

  1. Helen Martin says:

    And don’t stand by. An 18 year old girl wearing an hijab was threatened (in Arabic surprisingly because there was nothing about the man to suggest he would know the language), was slapped across the face, had her scarf grabbed and her head pushed down towards the man’s crotch before anyone on the Skytrain car stepped in. A young man pushed the attacker and then stood between the man and the girl until the attacker got off. There is a panic strip in every car and no one even pushed it. Since the threats were in Arabic I can understand no one moving right away but as soon as she was struck there were things everyone could do and safely, too.

  2. Brooke says:

    Yes, don’t stand by and tolerate violence and bad behavior. The issue is the silent majority being silent.

  3. Vivienne says:

    Our so called leaders don’t help. One is led to believe that Theresa May doesn’t discuss things (our future) with her cabinet in case civil war breaks out. How then are we, the Leave and Remain people to be helped to get on? A culture of blame has been freed from a Pandora’s box and it will be hard to heal the outcome, I fear.

  4. Denise Treadwell says:

    With the president, the hope was that he would, rock the boat, in Washington! He certainly is doing that. ! What is left of the middle class is being squeezed I have seen income going down, wages stagnant, meanwhile prices going up. Especially with the employers having to increase prices to pay for the cost of giving employees Obamacare.

  5. Steveb says:

    Who spat at your friend and why Chris? I am sitting now one tube stop away from Finsbury Park so I am interested.

  6. Helen Martin says:

    “the cost of providing Obamacare”. Have never understood the resistance to providing medical care. Canada has been accused of providing an unfair advantage by having universal basic coverage (paid for in taxes) yet providing care is supposed to increase prices. No, I won’t get into a political argument – that is the beginning and end of what I have to say.

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