Exploring the Testimonies – Equality

This was the third session of the series. I had unfortunately missed the second, so was keen not to miss this even though it was on my Beloved’s birthday.

There were less people there this time, which was a shame, but since the time we had to discuss the issue was so little, perhaps it was as well. My main problem with these sessions is the lack of time we can devote to the ‘business’ of them. I spend more time travelling to them than I do in the session. Personally I would like to see them start earlier and finish a little later, but I imagine that I am pretty much in the minority here.

The substance of the session was interesting. Now this is where my honesty trips me up and makes me a fool. As part of my teaching practice I had had to teach ‘equal opportunities’ and ‘equality’ and ‘anti-discriminatory practice’ to health and social care students up to advanced level. Frankly I thought I knew the subject pretty well. The thing is that this was not about legality, and ‘work practices’ but about how we, as Quakers, live the testimonies, and it comes from a different place. I was not that knowledgeable about this side of the coin, and I learnt a lot.

One of the key concepts last nights was ‘othering’ which I found useful. Why do we see certain people or groups of people as others? The next concept was ‘negative attributes’ and that it is when we attach negative attributes to ‘othered’ people that we use our power to oppress them.

I have always said that I treat everyone as an individual, but actually I don’t. I am as subject to stereotypes as the next person, but I do try to question them whenever I can. My main problem is that there are several groups of people that I rarely mix with and this means that I do not have a chance to knock down those prejudices. I rarely meet millionaires. I think I know only two extremely rich people and neither is obsessed by money in the way that I have always assumed that they are, but the fact that I know (slightly) these two people has allowed me to re-write my stereotypes of people from this ‘othered’ group.

The problems I have is mainly with those I have met who live up (or down) to my internalised stereotypes. I have attached negative attributes to those ‘othered’ people, and then find that they confirm, by their behaviour or language, those attributes. I have a list, of course, which is not a nice thing to admit. I long to meet or get to know one person from each of those groups that will allow me to attach a more positive attitude to that group.

Of course that is fairly abstract, but here is a concrete example: for years I had only negative attributes for those ‘others’ who were white South Africans. I had met only one, a relative of a friend, who told me (in all honesty as far as she was concerned) that ‘the blecks were all illiterate and so stupid that they could never be allowed to vote.’ She was entirely sure that this was due to the laziness and stupidity of the oppressed group and was nothing to do with the policies of the White government of the time.. Her attitude was that Black people were fundamentally, genetically inferior, and that *because of this* that they should have no rights. They needed looking after like pet animals.

This woman, and those white South Africans that I saw on TV, allowed me to build up a picture of these ‘others’, characterised by the way they spoke and where they lived. I attributed them with entirely negative attributes.

Then one day I went from Keighley to London on a train to a job interview at the BBC. (I just had to put that in – I was so proud to have any excuse to go to Boadcasting house!)

On the train I met a charming lady, and we spent most of the journey from Leeds to London in conversation. Our conversation ranged through many topics and we had a great deal in common. She had an accent that led me, because I am useless at these things, to assume that she was from Australia or new Zealand. When she told me she was South African she must have seen my face drop and she very politely told me that not everything that we had heard about white South African’s was true. We talked for a while afterwards about the situation there, but the closeness was gone and I was very annoyed at myself for allowing myself to believe that one could assume anything about a person’s personality from the land that they came from.

The Internet is a wonderful thing, but there are some very nasty people out there as well as some lovely, genuine people and it is all too easy, I feel, for the Internet to bring out the worst in people. There are those who Troll, who try to manipulate good sites and forums (fora?) to their own ends. I have seen over the years a lovely website community (with whom I used to meet up with regularly at monthly meets all over the country) turn into a dating agency and prostitution ring.

What has this to do with the rest of my post? Well, recently I have joined a community where several people wearing a certain ‘othering’ badge have made me aware of some of my own negative attitudes about certain ‘others’. I have never really met any of this group of ‘others’.

Up until recently I held positive attributes about this group, but some people I know and to whom I listen to have some negativity about the group that these few ‘others’ belong to. Whilst generally my friends are open to Light wherever it comes from, they are highly suspicious of this sub-group of ‘others’ rather than the whole group of ‘others’. (Is this making sense – I am being careful here, but perhaps too careful?).

The problem is that a couple of members of a subgroup of ‘others’ are living down to those negative attitudes that I now hold.

I desperately need to meet, preferably in real life, some more that share that ‘other’ badge and find out that most people in that group are not like this sub-group of people with hate-filled views.

I am sorry if this is very opaque. I do not want to give details, really. I might have to re-write this.

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