A while ago, the magnificent Camille from Archives of our Lives wrote an extremely good post about Mexicans, not just Mexicans, but the Mexicans that cause people to spit out the word with a particular sort of venom.
I’ve been meaning to respond to it, but I couldn’t find the words until a little earlier when I found myself muttering the word ‘polish’ with annoyance as I was walking into town along the pavement and a group of eastern european men, smoking and walking 3 abreast didn’t move into single file or yield to let me pass – causing me to walk in the road for a few steps. This sort of discourteous behaviour really pisses me off, simply because its so unnecessary and just represents complete disregard for those around you. But what about my choice of word? Polish.
It is fair to say that there has been a lot of immigration from eastern europe since the expansion of the EU in 2004 gave the right to live and work in the UK to people from Hungary, Poland, Romania, Slovakia, Latvia, Estonia, Lithuania, Bulgaria, Czech Republic and Slovenia. This isn’t necessarily a bad thing, after all, there no point granting Fundamental Rights to people and then complaining when they exercise them to make life better for themselves.
The issue at hand is that for a few seconds I attributed their rudeness to the fact that they were polish. Unfortunately rudeness exists everywhere, it was just as likely to be a British group of men as a Polish one. Perhaps the proper words to mutter would be ‘rude bastards’.
But this got me thinking a bit further, why do we label things? Psychologists will tell you, probably quite correctly, that labels are designed to allow the brain to simplify the world around us, it allows us to prejudice situations and people so that we don’t have to make a full analysis of every situation. Something which would probably cause a bit of brain overload.
So somewhere in the past I’ve been brushed past, or had cigarette smoke blown at me or some other relatively minor, but rude annoyance perpetrated by a Polish person. Thus, in a snap judgement my brain recalled that previous experience and it had concluded that:
- The people were being purposefully inconsiderate
- That Polish people are inconsiderate
- That all Polish people are inconsiderate
- That the fact that Polish people are in this country in annoying
- That the fact that Polish people are in this country and are inherently inconsiderate has damaged my peaceful idealistic mental image of England
These are thoughts which are not by themselves wrong (in the moral sense), everyone has them – they are a natural way by which we sort thought the muddled world in which we live, but not everyone reflects on them and sits around in the evening typing away to tell everyone why they’re incorrect.
Lots of people simply have these thoughts reinforced, layered over and over without introspection to put the breaks on. This is where prejudice becomes problematic, and where racism starts, and when that becomes endemic, no-one is given the chance to break the pre-cast mould.
Besides, before we moan about people coming into ‘our country’ and ‘stealing our jobs’ – what about the guy who just move into your town to find better prospects from 50 miles down the road?
I do wish people were more polite though.