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History and (Mostly My) Prejudices

One of the things that some people have noted in the voting patterns in the recent UK referendum vote is some of the demographics that indicate the majority of people at the under twenty five age bracket voted Remain, while the opposite was true in the over fifties. Apart from the concern that this raises in terms of a gulf between two important sections of the UK community, it does leave you wondering why.

Partly, it must be due to mind set and the way that many people in both these groups see the world, based on their own experience and influences over the years. It is hard not to think that in the older demographic part of the decision may have been less than pleasant memories from the wars, from a time that they may not have lived through themselves but would have known a lot about from their parents and other adults who had been affected by that conflict.

Even past the two world wars it might also be some contribution from the fact that many of the member states of the EU now were then (admittedly against their will, based on the friends I have from those countries) behind the Iron Curtain and so wrapped up in feelings about the Cold War. We focus today on concerns with Russia, but in my childhood the threat was the USSR and that was always more than just Moscow.

Old prejudices die hard and while they may not be decisive they might be a strong influence.

In some ways it is the negative aspect of history, where the past drags us down rather than teaching us to move forward without making the same mistakes. It can also provide ample opportunity to offend, often when not meaning to.

I am guilty of this. Back in 2000 I had the pleasure of spending several months in Japan, and thoroughly enjoyed immersing myself in what is a quite unique culture with a fascinating history. I came back to the UK with a great fondness for the place; inevitably I brought back plenty of souvenirs including several T-shirts and the like. One such shirt had a wood cut image of a Samurai warrior emblazoned on it. One day soon after returning home I was walking around Staines with it on when a young Chinese girl came around the corner. She just about stopped herself from screaming; she had responded instinctively, and fearfully, to the image on my shirt. I apologised of course but the damage was done for me. I never wore that shirt again. I had not realised how for some people the interaction between these two great countries still had such rawness.

I reminded myself of my own fallibility in this area this week when I saw something that made me instinctively – and as I reminded myself later, somewhat irrationally – a bit cross.

It was nothing much, just a school kid carrying one of those retro shoulder bags that went through a popular phase a few years back.

Some of them have ‘classic’ logos on them, and this was the problem for me. The logo was ‘Pan Am’.

Now, for many years the now defunct Pan American Airlines was one of the most famous airline carriers in the world (infamously also appearing in ‘2001: A Space Odyssey’ as the operator of flights into space… By the time of a later movie – ‘Silent Running’ – it had become American Airlines who owned the space lanes which seems fairly unlikely too, but I digress). The decline and fall of the airline was a long and complicated process but that is not my point of contact with the logo – for me, this is linked irrevocably with Pan Am Flight 103, which was destroyed by a terrorist bomb over Lockerbie in Scotland, December 21st 1988. This terrible event had more of an impact on me than perhaps would be expected. This was because it happened at the same time as I was out in Newcastle with my school friends to celebrate the fact that we had just finished school that year (long before the days of school proms in the UK, we had to arrange our own celebrations).

For many years that association was to stick with us and we always tried to meet in some kind of commemoration. It has stopped now for various reasons and I miss it; but it does means that this one tragic event has always been on my heart.

So seeing that logo used purely for fashion purposes seemed at that instant in very poor taste. I had reacted instinctively due to my prejudices.

Then I reminded myself that this young lad has no idea he is providing offence or at least making me feel unsettled. It is highly unlikely that he knows anything about that logo or its story (or cares). Maybe I should be disappointed at ignorance, but that is a different thing. So I told myself off for being oversensitive and to get on with more important things.

But it has made me wonder how many of us harbour specific little prejudices of our very own…

… And then how many of them I have triggered to cause offence in my innocence. If I have done so, I apologise.

Can we consign that to history now and move on?

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