One of the worst bits about getting older if you’re me is the unfurling horror of how secretly racist/sexist/homophobic I am.
I’ve spent the whole of my adult life strenuously trying not be any of those things – and, all in all, I don’t think I’ve done too badly.
But the more time passes, the more I grasp that growing up in a society that treats being a white, heterosexual, cisgender, able-bodied male as the default setting inevitably fills you with unconscious prejudices.
An illustrative example – not the worst in the world, but very telling.
The other day, I contacted someone enquiring about a service they provide. This person was a woman of British Indian descent. Her name was Atiya – not one I’ve come across before
I wrote her an email and sent it. But when I looked back at it later, I realised I’d called her Aditya by mistake. Aditya is a male name.
I quickly sent a second email apologising. But then it suddenly hit me – in that moment, writing that first email, I think I was being casually, unconsciously racist.
Yes, people get other people’s names wrong all the time. But I simply don’t believe I would be that flippant about using a person’s name – particularly when contacting them for the very first time – if it was a white English one.
I can’t call it a thought process. I can’t call it a judgement call. At the time, I wasn’t consciously thinking anything other than ‘here are the things I want to get across in this email’. But somewhere in my head, I think some bit of me must have gone: “oh, foreign name, A-something something, that’ll do – it doesn’t really matter.” Which is completely disgusting.
Racist society riddles us with these sorts of unthinking bigotries. And I think we all have a responsibility to boil them out of ourselves.
So, in line with me now using this patch of internet to write whatever and do whatever I like – I’ll be hauling myself over the coals when I catch my inner Rod Liddle running riot.