Posted on September 30, 2010

Hideously Diverse Britain: What Bigots Say Behind Closed Doors

Hugh Muir, Guardian (London), September 28, 2010

You spot them pretty quickly, my friend Jerome Mack tells me. Put 15 people in a room and the chances are that there will be two of them. Thirteen will make the effort. The other two will be bigots and proud of it.

There are many derided jobs and Jerome does one of them. Try this for size. “Hi, I’m an equalities trainer.” In a Con-Dem world, it won’t cut the rug at parties. But, despite what you read about busybodies interfering with normal human relationships and curtailing freedom of speech, how everything would be all right if only the malcontents would stop creating the problems, Jerome says what he does is pretty necessary. “We work for private companies, the NHS, the police. We have worked for the army. You would not believe the things we hear.”

We all think we’re basically good, even those who palpably aren’t. And we are all creatures of our conditioning. But sometimes, in a private room, and probably because an employer decrees it, someone gets to challenge our perceptions about what we do, what we say and why. That doesn’t mean we have to like it. “The bigots will sit there for a while like simmering volcanoes,” he says. “‘I don’t know why I am here,” they complain. “Why are you making such a big deal about these people? We all have our crosses to bear. What about me?” Jerome and his team might conduct training for 10,000 people a year, but these are the ones who get angry. Depending on what newspapers are saying, all sorts of things make them angry. Right now travellers, gay people and eastern Europeans sit top of the list.

But there’s an upside, and it is the other 13, because there was a time when in that room, the bigotry of the two would be infectious. No one would stop them, quite a few would join in. “Things have changed,” Jerome tells me. “They challenge the bigotry now, they shake their heads, obviously disapproving. The 13 have been empowered, the two disempowered.”

So doesn’t that put you out of a job, I ask him. “I’d love to be out of a job,” he says. But it’s a work in progress. The 13, they’re great. But the two are always a menace. And they never quite go away.