Occasionally one comes across the perfect opinion piece, a shaft of light that cuts through the anti-information that makes up so much of our ‘news’.
Last week, we saw some truly ridiculous reporting of a finding from the 2013 British Social Attitudes Survey. Here, in non-hysterical language, is the nub of the matter:
“…three in 10 of us admit to harbouring some degree of racial prejudice; a 5 per cent increase in the last decade (though those who are ‘very’ and ‘a little’ prejudiced have been lumped together).
“Has Britain gone backwards? Are we more racist, more prejudiced, more close-minded than we were at the start of the century?”
In seeking his own answers to these questions, Stephen Bush of the Telegraph applies a dose of clarity and common sense sadly lacking elsewhere:
“Are three in 10 of us really racist?
“The answer to that last question is, of course, no.
“It’s closer to 10 out of 10. As the song says, everyone’s a little bit racist sometimes.
“Making irrational, unfounded, snap judgments is part of what makes us human. When I see someone wearing bright red trousers, I assume that they’re a t—. Similarly, when I get home from work and see black men hanging around the block, I get nervous – and I’m black.”
What matters is not whether we have prejudices, but whether we’re willing to rise above them:
“…if making snap judgments is part of being human, challenging our own assumptions is what makes us humane. There’s a huge difference between prejudice and discrimination. Between being someone, who, when asked to imagine the model employee, imagines a white person, and someone who only hires white people. And the good news is, we’re better than ever at challenging our own assumptions, and more tolerant than ever in our daily lives.”
What evidence is there that we are indeed “separating our initial thoughts from our subsequent actions”? Quite a lot, as it happens:
“Crucially, the same survey that finds that three in 10 of us admit to being prejudiced finds that the number of people who are uncomfortable with mixed-race relationships has dropped to a record low of 15 per cent – while, as Policy Exchange’s recent study, A Portrait of Modern Britain, found, ethnic minorities are not only more likely to identify as British than ever before, they’re more likely to be accepted as British by their white neighbours.”
The reason why the negative aspect of the story was hyped up to such a degree is not hard to discern. Several days into the Faragist Terror, there was an obvious media appetite for any titbit that might be used to portray Britain as a nation sliding into extremism. The evidence that the opposite is true – such as the collapse of the BNP vote – was conveniently ignored.
One could even argue that more people admitting to their prejudices is, in fact, a positive development. If we want to overcome our baser instincts then the first step is to recognise that we have them.