Tribe And Prejudice

The Guardian published a brilliant April Fool story earlier this week in which it offered its readers the chance to try a new piece of technology, Guardian Goggles, which would enable them to have a world of carefully-curated liberal opinion at their fingertips at all times. It was brilliant, I thought, not because it was particularly believable, but because of the tone of knowing self-parody in which the piece was written. I read it, laughed out loud, quoted bits to Mr SB, and moved on.
But something about the article stayed with me. I am, as I have discussed previously here, a keen user of Twitter, which in recent days (and indeed, very often) has been Getting Right On My Wick. Most of the people I follow are, like me, and for want of a better stereotype, middle-class lefties. We like nothing better than a good old rant about the Tories and the Daily Mail and we are, for the most part, right. I would say that, wouldn’t I? I’ve made many friends on Twitter and I love many of them dearly. But I’ve noticed many of them investing heavily in pairs of Guardian Goggles recently, and I worry for them.
It started on Sunday. Much of Twitter’s lefty liberal population, which had previously spent many happy, tearful days rejoicing in Team GB’s many London 2012 successes (rowing, sailing, dressage et al), decided to watch the University Boat Race (or, to give it its official title, the BNY
Mellon Boat Race – no, me neither). Brilliant, I thought; we’d all be sitting down on a Sunday afternoon to relive that feeling, watching supremely fit athletes at the top of their game, competing in a time-honoured sporting contest in which the winner took it all. We’d be united in our love of Clare Balding once more, and we’d shed tears along with the winners and the losers in equal measure.
Except that isn’t at all what happened. Everyone on my timeline spent two hours (yes, the BBC’s coverage of a 20-minute race did seem a little excessive) bemoaning the elitism of the whole thing and filling my timeline with their opinions of the rowers. These opinions were almost universally critical. Because they attended the country’s top two universities, the student rowers were perceived as being upper-class twits of no value to society, with egos and senses of entitlement almost as large as their ample trust funds. I even saw a tweet describing them all, en masse, as ‘racist scum’.
Ordinarily, all of this would probably have passed me by. I might even have joined in. But this year I was watching the Boat Race because I had a tenuous connection to one of the rowers, having worked with his father for many years. And so the never-ending torrent of tweets began to really, really bug me – because I knew for a fact that at least one of the people out there was an ordinary middle-class boy who went to a comprehensive school and deserved none of the abuse being hurled in his direction. And if he didn’t deserve it, how many of the others didn’t either?
Now, the thing with us woolly liberals is that we don’t like prejudice. We can’t bear to see others judged by their gender, skin colour, class or physical attributes, and we’re very quick to leap to their defence when it happens. A quick glance at Twitter whenever Richard Littlejohn publishes a column should be proof enough of that. But seemingly none of that applies when we want to make assumptions about those we perceive to be more privileged than ourselves, and so it’s apparently fine to make up stories about them.
Except that it isn’t, is it? While it may be true that some – many, even – Oxbridge students have come from wealthy backgrounds full of cut-glass accents and ponies, it’s no more acceptable to judge them all by this stereotype than it is for the Daily Mail to imply that the receipt of state benefits makes one more likely to kill the children one bred for the money. Oxbridge students, just like Guardian readers, come from many backgrounds and are capable of being just as generous and compassionate. A student from Gaza will be attending Oxford University’s Jesus College as a result of this scholarship scheme; all the other students will contribute £4 per term to pay her fees. That seems like a gesture that any Guardian reader would be proud of.
So, fellow lefties: be careful with those Goggles. Use them wisely, and be careful that they don’t turn into blinkers.


~ by somethingblonde on April 3, 2013.

One Response to “Tribe And Prejudice”

  1. I watched the BNY Mellon Boat Race (full title, just in case we’re legally obliged to use it) with my in-laws. The only thing we complained about during the 8hr coverage (to ourselves, not on Twitter) was: why are there always so many Americans? Anyway, good blog!

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