First Person: Are we a tolerant society?
AGREEING to gay marriage is supposed to be a sign of how we have become a tolerant society. And, yes, we have moved a long way from when Oscar Wilde was imprisoned for his sexual behaviour.
Similarly, we no longer tolerate racial discrimination. The Archbishop of York is black, as is one of the young pretenders to the Labour throne. In the age of Obama, no one bats an eyelid. Meanwhile, Mo Farah is the latest British black sportsman to make the headlines, the latest in a line that included such luminaries as Lennox Lewis, Daley Thompson and Linford Christie.
Are we more tolerant though? To begin with, the same party whose Prime Minister supported gay marriage is quite happy to depict all those without jobs as skivers and shirkers. No matter that there are 2.5 million out of work nationally, with places like Grimsby a long-term unemployment blackspot. It is easier to attack the jobless than the shortage of jobs, especially as it means you can get away with cutting benefits.
As for the disabled, we may have cheered them at the successful Paralympics, but they could all work if they really set their mind to it, couldn't they? Not surprisingly, the reaction to this kind of thinking saw George Osborne booed at the summer games.
Then there are the Muslims. We may accept black Christians and others who accept our way of life, but those following Islam are different, aren't they? I mean, they want to impose their own laws, don't they, that go against British democracy? Sadly, as so often is the case, the minority of extremists cause the resentment.
"I'm not a racist, but ..." used to be a phrase trotted to show our supposed tolerance, though it really only showed the limits to that toleration. I suppose it is the same today. Whether it is being hostile to immigrants ("they take all their jobs") or criticising single mothers ("they keep having kids to get more money and housing"), we can all fall into the trap of stigmatisation. That's not to deny us the free speech to express such views rather that we feel tolerance must be earned.