Checking myself

Post date: 07-Feb-2014 19:03:57

I have been variously shocked, bemused, incredulous and downright furious over the #pantigate row the last couple of weeks in terms of RTE’s role. At the same time I have been inspired, humbled and hugely challenged by the response from Panti herself.

Panti’s Noble Call at the Abbey ( profoundly moved me. I have watched, rewatched and shared it multiple times. And yet, the comment that sits most strongly with me at the end of the week is one a friend of mine made on my post after she watched it:

“Made me want to stand up and cheer. And check myself for my own prejudices. However much I like to think that I don’t have any.”

Like Panti herself, I am “painfully middle class”, I am also straight, married, smart and respectable and probably the kind of woman who makes a good neighbour and definitely gives to charity. True, I grew up with one parent from another country but she is white and American so that diversity was never very visible in me. I was also raised in a minority religion - the Church of Ireland - and as such differed from the vast majority of the population. While these small and subtle differences from the majority occasionally gave me a sense of otherness from my peers (most especially when I didn’t get a pretty white dress and collect cash from the neighbours!), they were never the cause of abuse from others. Rather they fuelled my own belief in the importance of equal respect for all and I have been rather smugly satisfied with my egalitarian and liberal views throughout my adult life.

Now however I feel challenged. I am checking myself to see if it is true that my behaviour consistently reflects those beliefs. The reality is that we are hard-wired for prejudice. Panti is absolutely right. As uncomfortable as it is for me and as challenging as it is for my self-satisfied liberal self-image, we are all naturally inclined to identify with those who are most like us and to instinctively distrust, dismiss or disown those who are different. Panti is also right that in Ireland not only are we wired for prejudice but we are conditioned to homophobia.

I am checking myself to see what I have ever done to contribute to the kind of equality I say I aspire to in our society. It’s a comfortable position to have in my armchair. I say that I’m not in favour of gay rights, or childrens’ rights or women’s rights but that I’m in favour of human rights - the inalienable right of all human beings to be treated decently and equally. That’s easy for me to say over wine with my friends (who, surprise surprise are really all quite like me). But now I am checking myself to see what have I ever done about it?

As I write all of this I realise that I am in imminent peril of becoming what Panti herself calls an occasional and accidental activist. And even then I need to keep checking myself to ensure that I’m being true to that ambition.

In the meantime, I need to follow my friend’s advice and constantly check myself for my own prejudices. So at the end of this week I find I am deeply grateful to the controversy and, more particularly to Panti’s extraordinary oratory for shaking me out of my comfort zone and setting me a whole new challenge for 2014. Checking myself.