A brush with prejudice

For those about to read, please know that I’m very VERY aware that I’m writing from a position of privilege and that I realise a lot of my shock and horror of this event is largely driven by the fact that I’ve never been confronted with any form of prejudice before. I know this is not the norm.

The event in question happened several months ago and I’ve been sitting on this blog post ever since. I happened across it today, re-read it and in light of other recent (world) events have revised my thoughts.

I have moved on past this but never captured it and I want to, for myself. To those who offered support on Twitter when it happened (and where my first thoughts were published) thank you. Your words meant a lot, even if I didn’t express that at the time.

It was a short enough statement:

“I wouldn’t want my kids to associate with the likes of you”

It was directed, very clearly, at me. I know this because he looked me right in the face as he said it. There was no doubt, not even a pause. It was delivered with honesty on his part, not hatred, scorn or anger, just complete belief that was he was saying was acceptable.

It happened on a night out after a few glasses of wine, not that that matters. A few of us were standing around chatting and we had just, as a very brief aside, touched on my lifestyle choices before a slight pause in the conversation which was broken with that statement; it struck me hard, almost physically, and my stomach lurched.

Looking back, I don’t think it was the belief behind what was said that annoyed me. I know that some people don’t share my world view and, as they don’t care to accept anything that challenges their views, have neither the social grace to keep their mouths shut nor the intelligence to realise that their world view isn’t the only one available.

What really irked me, I think, was the sheer effrontery of the man, the way such a potentially devastating statement was made with a hint of a smile almost to the point that it took me about 20 seconds to fully process it and realise exactly what had just been said, by which point the conversation had moved on meaning his comment went without response.

“I wouldn’t want my kids to associate with the likes of you”

Was it said that way, with a sneering smile, to allow it to be passed off as “banter”, as not really meant? Leaving the door open for a hasty “ohhh I didn’t mean it like that…” if challenged?

I’m not sure I care; the message was clear, short, direct and brutal.

“I wouldn’t want my kids to associate with the likes of you”

Since then many a witty rejoinder has sprung to mind but I’m glad they didn’t at the time. That is not a phrase that deserves any response. None. OK, perhaps a ‘fuck you’ but nothing more.

Of course the impact it had was exacerbated by the fact it was the first time I’ve been confronted with that kind of attitude. As I said earlier, from the view of society I have I am privileged; I am a white man, who is reasonably well off. My skin colour, sex and financial capability means that people look at me a certain way and make certain presumptions.

“I wouldn’t want my kids to associate with the likes of you”

Regardless of what he was presuming about my lifestyle what gives anyone the right to say something like that? I could level the same claim at him, a small-minded parent who will, no doubt, influence his children with his own views. If I had kids I certainly wouldn’t want them to associate with the likes of him but I don’t feel the need to state that publicly, let alone confront him with that information. What does it achieve?

“I wouldn’t want my kids to associate with the likes of you”

I left shortly after he said this to me. Ran through a lot of emotions, annoyance I hadn’t said anything back, bewilderment as to what he was actually implying? What did he think were the ‘likes of’ me? Was it because of something I’d posted on Facebook (and what had I posted recently?)? Did he think I was gay? Or bisexual? Was it the ‘poly thing’? Is it because I have tattoos?

“I wouldn’t want my kids to associate with the likes of you”

As I said, this is my first real experience of being confronted for something that I know in and of myself, that I no longer ‘fit’ into what some consider is the normative view of society. I was lucky enough to have been raised to question things, and that for me meant not accepting the status quo of society. Life moves on, things change, your world view is not mine.

“I wouldn’t want my kids to associate with the likes of you”

There is every chance he meant nothing by the comment, that it was a badly considered throwaway with no substance or accusation behind it, just one of those jokey comments that are used to quietly re-enforce the hierarchies of alpha male bullshit. But if that’s the case then surely it’s even worse. It’s unthinking and careless, a damaging comment thrown out without contemplation.

I wasn’t attacked physically, there was nothing violent or threatening in the tone of the statement so in a way I was lucky. I wasn’t beaten up, mutilated or raped and whilst I’m not suggesting that my ‘assailant’ would do anything like that, isn’t there a link here? A lack of emotional awareness perhaps? The first seeds in the ‘I’m superior to you’ thought process that some take much much further with horrifying consequences? It’s a horrible thought but, I don’t believe, much of a leap to make.

I am most certainly not equating my experience to the daily barrage that women face, but it has caused me to pause. If one misguided and somewhat vague sentence has such an effect on me, how have similar things I may have said in the past been taken? How are my actions viewed by others?

“I wouldn’t want my kids to associate with the likes of you”

I come away from this learning more about myself, with a renewed determination to be better, for I can’t hold others accountable if I fall into the same behaviours. If I did then I wouldn’t want to associate with the likes of me either.

3 comments

  1. Firstly I am sorry this happened to you. Some people are brainwashed into our society’s norms they would genuinely believe a comment such as that is OK. I cannot imagine why he would have issue with your lifestyle – you are a mature consenting adult, the women you are involved with are mature consenting adults. Where is the problem? I don’t see it.

    That said, the reason I am posting this is because I actually had someone say those very words to me not very long ago. They did not want their children to associate with the likes of me either – someone who suffered from a mental illness and was open about it.

    I admire your post, beautifully written and eloquently put. I can’t think of anything to say other than the above however 🙂

  2. For what it’s worth, I *would* want my (hypothetical) children to associate with the likes of you, because you would not reinforce gender stereotypes or bring casual misogyny into their world.

  3. Thank you both for the kind words. I take some solace in the fact that I am not anything like him and, if anything, it’s pushed me to try and be even ‘better/less like him’!

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