I come from an island where bigotry was entrenched. I grew up with bigotry occupying the thoughts of many who surrounded me. So many forms of bigotry that today we break them out into prejudices that can be defined and proscribed in law. I don’t think that one or two generations is enough to purge any society of bigots. Time may work but I doubt prejudice can disappear. To be human is to want to belong to families, tribes, corporations, gangs, nations, isms and factions.
In school, dis, dat, dees and does were pronunciations that smacked of village yokel and labelled speakers as country bumpkins. In boarding school, cruelty was how bigotry was manifested. As children, we knew that bogmen, culchies and jackeens were in school with us. I was long an adult before I twigged that some of the prejudice might have been a kind of historical snobbery reversal, the continued rejection of foreign occupiers that still spoke some words as Middle English with its Saxon hardness.
‘Dear Fadder, Dees are me sins dis week’ isn’t so much country yokel as relict Saxon. We often mocked people who spoke like this. Especially cruel in mockery were kids like me who grew up with the so-called West Brit accents that would annoy several of my Scottish acquaintances. Yes, avenging my own schoolboy prejudices, my first job took me to Aberdeen where my ‘fake’ accent was the subject of open criticism if not abuse. Another newly qualified colleague had brought a thick accent from Cork. He was considered real Irish but I was classed uppity by many Aberdonians. They thought I hadn’t the guts to be Irish which was even worse than perhaps my pretending to be English. Of course, there was an active bombing campaign in towns across Northern Ireland that month, so the Troubles dominated the news and my ‘fake’ accent was distrusted.
Having escaped to the UAE and then travelled the world, I was happy to find that my accent wasn’t a burden. Then I made a return to Aberdeen two decades later for offshore survival training. I needed to be rescued by a barman who had overheard how some rough looking, glue-sniffing Aberdonians had planned to mug the wealthy American once he left the bar. The barman realised I was the American despite having told me he knew by my accent that I was from Dublin as I was ordering. He created cover for me to leave by distracting the very incoherent and twitchy group of potential muggers. I exited discreetly by a side door and fled. I presumed it went well for him because neither of us featured in the news the next morning.
Neither one thing nor the other, I left Aberdeen confused but at least I was requalified to go offshore on helicopters and ships and rigs and things.
Sad thing, prejudice. We all have it, see it and know it’s going nowhere.