Belfast Telegraph

Saturday 12 July 2014

How prejudice can sometimes colour how we judge others

What is it about Bertie Ahern’s money saga that annoys you so much? Is it that he was given huge sums, or that he didn’t account “truthfully” for where he got them?

Or is it that he didn’t have the wit to cover up his tracks? Or that he assumed he could behave as he wished without fear of punishment? Is it his brass neck or his many brass farthings, that really gets your goat?

Now his future in Fianna Fail seems very uncertain to put it mildly. As someone said, the words “horse”, “bolted” and “stable door” spring to mind.

If he doesn’t go to jail he’ll be perceived to have got away with it, whatever you’ve decided “it” was, exactly. We don’t like it when people get away with it. Unless it’s us doing the getting away.

Take the awful story of the young American boy, Trayvon Martin, who was shot dead last month in a swanky neighbourhood in Florida by another man, a so-called neighbourhood vigilante, George Zimmerman. George is 28. Trayvon was 17. George claims he shot the teenager in self defence.

Trayvon’s phone shows he called his girlfriend just before he died to say he was scared because he was being followed by a man he didn’t know. George said he was following Trayvon because he looked “suspicious”.

Trayvon lived in the community and had nipped out to the local shop to buy sweets. George thought he looked “suspicious”. George is white. Trayvon was black.

George was not immediately arrested by police leading to a huge outcry in the states.

I imagine you’d read the story and immediately condemn the shooting and demand the shooter be arrested for killing a young man because he deemed his behaviour suspicious, simply because he was a black kid in a rich neighbourhood.

“Such prejudice! I would never do that!” I imagine you saying, to yourself. I know that was MY immediate reaction. Disgust. Sadness. The whole heap.

Similarly, in Toulouse, eight people are dead because of religious intolerance and suspicion. Such prejudice! I would never do that!

I’m sure I’m tolerant. I’m sure I’m not prejudiced. I go out of my way to smile and say hello to any “foreign” looking people on the streets of Belfast. Normally.

But just the other day, leaving my house in the car, I glanced up and saw a dark-skinned woman wearing a long skirt, carrying a baby in a shawl/sling around her front and walking down my street slowly with what looked like cards or a booklet in her hands.

In a flash I decided, without thinking it clearly, she was a Romanian who was going to go door to door looking money for some wee cards she was selling.

I was in a bad mood and a hurry and I felt glad I wouldn’t be in and have to face her.

A second later I drove level with her and saw that she was of Indian/Asian descent and that the cards in her hands were in fact letters that she was about to post in the post box at the end of my street. Her baby was well dressed with leather boots on. The woman was wearing expensive clothes and jewellery.

Amazing what innate prejudice can make you see and think, without really thinking.

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