As a Catholic growing up in a predominantly Protestant town, often prone to bigotry and sectarianism, I learned as a child, to ‘hide’ and sort of down play my own background and identity, and if anything, I came to loathe my Catholic-sounding name, which I felt, made me stick out like a sore thumb, as people made assumptions that I was some kind of fervent, tricolour waving papist. (when in fact I was just a lonely teenage girl with badly dyed hair). It was through traveling, that I came to fully understand what a needless and ridiculous charade prejudice and sectarianism is. This was particularly evident when I lived and studied in England, where I was surprised by how people seemed to warm to me. They thought my accent was charming, and my name was unusual… and made me feel like some kind of beguiling exotic specimen to be consulted on things. It was a very refreshing experience. I felt more secure in my own skin and cultural identity than I did when living back home. When I returned to NI, I sort of realised then that bigotry is a basically deliberate, dehumanising act. It often spreads when in the company of homogenised groups, of an ‘us and them’ mentality, it is fed on insularity and fear. it is tribal, it is defensive and it attacks those who come near its periphery and attempts to justify terrible things… I was surprised at my own bit of bigotry recently when I learnt that someone I know who works in the arts, is actually a devout Christian who believes in Creationism. The reason being that I always thought that Creationists were kinda the enemy in Northern Ireland (lead by their leader Nelson McCausland, who seems to hate most things, and forms of culture if they aren’t ‘orange’ ) and that they therefore deserved to be mocked for their beliefs. In saying this, I’ve always thought that a person’s faith is a private matter – which should be respected. Yet, somehow in my head this didn’t apply to Creationists. Not that I’d ever met one before, but that didn’t stop me from ridiculing their beliefs in the company of others. The more I thought about how this person had never mentioned it to me, (or the fact that they were religious at all) or to anyone else, I began to feel a bit bad; no wonder they didn’t say anything, they would have just been mocked by all and sundry, and myself included – probably throwing the first stone. I thought about the past, and how I’d felt excluded and paranoid because of my own background and I came to the realisation that, perhaps I wasn’t guilty of being a bigot, but maybe I was guilty of just harbouring the same set of allegiances as everyone else around me. So although its a reallllllly obvious thing to say, that you would probably learn from watching an episode of Sesame Street, its worthwhile noting that its important to mix with other people who are from different walks of life, if anything, to stop yourself from becoming an intolerant buffoon. Or some kind of lazy opinionated Daily Mail columnist/arsehole. Or Katie Hopkins, who actually make money from hatred (How entrepreneurial of her.) Really, no one wants that. So to quote an old Northern Irish advert; If you catch yourself thinking like a bigot – catch yourself on.
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