We recently caught up with some telly viewing, which included a couple of episodes of George Gently, the police stories set in Tyneside in 1964. Great North East locations, a fantastic collection of classic cars and the rather shocking reminder that we still had the death penalty when Merseybeat was on the radio.
The last episode touched on issues of race and religion. People of Yemeni Arab descent, born in NE England with Geordie accents featured in the story, and terminology of the era to refer to people with 'non-white' skin regularly featured in the script. Some stereotypes were also included (in a sometimes slightly clunky way) such as 'they all look the same'.
I thought it was a very interesting way to hold a mirror up to society today. The language used in 1964 (or even the Life on Mars scenes from 1973) seems quite alien and shocking now, especially when it comes from the lips of characters who are otherwise the heroes of the piece. Gently himself refers in this episode to a time when his 'racialist' [note the terminology which is correct for 1964] language led to a sequence of events which may have criminalised a young man.
The question in my mind is whether our sanitisation of language has actually achieved as much for equality and diversity as we sometimes want to believe. Prejudice is no longer publicly articulated, except in certain notable cases such as the recent BNP success. However, E & D policies can lull us into thinking that prejudice is over, or (worse) that we no longer have any prejudices.
Personally, I think that we all have prejudices. It may be about certain ethnicity, nationality or religion; it may be about other human qualities. They often leak out very slowly, or get projected on to relatively safe issues - long 'a' or short 'a' in grass, football allegiances, etc. - but they continue to be present. An approach to E&D that implies otherwise hasn't properly taken human nature into account. Perhaps those of us concerned with these issues need to be a bit more humble and a bit more more understanding (as distinct from tolerant) of where people's prejudices come from and how the fears behind them can be addressed.