Are we interested in tackling prejudice, or just talking about it?

I was appalled by an MP’s use of a derogatory and unquestionably racist term in Parliament earlier this month. Yet I also found the righteous indignation which followed it somewhat unhelpful to the overall objective of ending prejudice. To me, it hinted that some Liberals are more interested in theoretically removing prejudice from our vocabulary, than practically removing it from society. Research backs up this concern.

Consider this: research shows beyond dispute that parents are two and a half times more likely to complete the google search “Is my son gifted?” than “Is my daughter gifted?”

This is remarkable, because of course boys are no more likely to be gifted than girls (in fact, the evidence suggests they are marginally less so). If any parent were asked in public or in a survey if they thought it more likely boys were gifted than girls, they would deny it. If a politician suggested such a thing they would face righteous indignation and their resignation would be demanded. And yet, in the privacy of their own home, people (that is, lots and lots of people) do actually think it.

It gets worse. Let us try the same test when we remove the word “gifted” and replace it with “overweight”. Boys are in fact considerably more likely to be overweight than girls, so we would expect this to be asked of sons as often if not more often than of daughters. Yet in fact the google search “Is my daughter overweight?” is twice as common as “Is my son overweight?”

If anything I find this second even more concerning. Although we would all publicly deny it, it shows right from the outset a profound social reality that females are judged on appearance much more than (twice as much as) males – even by their own parents. That is prejudice, pure and simple – why should overt displays of good health be demanded of one gender more than another?

Similar research shows alarming realities about our attitudes towards different ethnic groups, different religions and different sexual orientations. For all the demands that we have to be careful with our language in public and even in surveys, collectively our attitudes remain often quite frightening when confronted with what we actually search for alone and in private.

We Liberals should then halt our righteous indignation and confront ourselves with the real question. Are we Liberals ourselves really less likely to be prejudiced, or are we just more likely to have had the good fortune to be educated to a level where we can just avoid expressing our prejudices in public? The research has the answer to that too…

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One thought on “Are we interested in tackling prejudice, or just talking about it?

  1. 416 says:

    Nice one. Big gulf between what we’re allowed to say, and what we actually do.
    That said, here’s George Carlin: “We think in language. …the quality of our thoughts and ideas can only be as good as the quality of our language.”

    One can hope that by influencing language for the fairer, thinking and actions will follow.

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