Biographical Non-Fiction posted February 19, 2015

This work has reached the exceptional level
Things change all the time

It's Just A Thought

by giraffmang

Bigotry Contest Winner 

The author has placed a warning on this post for violence.

This is the dictionary definition of "bigot" - a person who strongly and unfairly dislikes other people, ideas, etc. : a bigoted person; especially : a person who hates or refuses to accept the members of a particular group (such as a racial or religious group).

The minute this contest was announced, I immediately reserved a place on it without thinking. It is now the day before the deadline for entries, and I am still stumped. This is rare for me, but I think I have finally figured out the reason why. It is a matter very close to me. Bigotry has shaped who I am as a person. It is a part of me, as it is for so many of my countrymen on both sides of the divide, as we refer to it.

I need to make a few things clear before I begin. I am not black. I am not a woman. I am not gay. I am, in fact, a middle aged (forty-two) straight, married, white male. Many people assume that because of this you are more likely to be a bigot than be a victim. This is simply not true. I am not going to talk about racism, sexism, or homophobia, other than as expressed below.

Bigotry is a simple thought or idea. It is that simple. It is holding that thought or idea for no rational reason whatsoever to the detriment of others.

"White is better than black."

"Islam is the true way."

"Homosexuality is wrong in the eyes of God."

"Men are better than woman."

Or my personal favourite -- "The Pope is the Antichrist and all Catholics are spawn of Satan."

As can be seen today, and has been prevalent on this site in our poetic and artistic form, religion is a massive player in this field. I think something different from you. I believe in something different from you, therefore you are inferior in some way. You are to be disliked, despised, and possibly destroyed. Many view this kind of bigoted attitude as being 'from the east' and like to forget how western religion has also been a massive perpetrator of this itself. We in the west are among the biggest bigots in the world. We know better. We are more cultured. We are better educated. And so on and so forth it goes. We can try to deny it all we want but it is plain to see for anyone with a modicum of intelligence, and self-reflection.

I am going to use this platform that the good Mr. Cahill has given us to share some stories about growing up in the "Western World", and bigotry has shaped my life. It has come out in some of my writing to date but this is raw and bare. This is me.

I come from Northern Ireland. Many may not be familiar with the circumstances of the country so I will attempt a brief overview. Ireland used to be under English control. It gained its independence in 1922, becoming a Republic. On the island of Ireland there are two countries; the Republic of Ireland and Northern Ireland. The latter is not part of the former. It is, however, a member of the United Kingdom. Herein lies a lot of the problems. The country has been "war-torn" for a long time. I grew up in Belfast, the capital city of Northern Ireland during the 1970's and 1980's when the "troubles", as they are referred to, were pretty bad.

Now pretty bad is an understatement of massive proportions. We are talking petrol bombs; car bombs; pipe bombs; muggings; shootings; knee-capping; tarring and feathering on a daily basis. Let me expand upon that. Acts of terrorism on a daily basis by both sides of a divided nation. This was not a war as it has been glorified as in recent years. Now on top of this add in a fully armed police force and the army permanently on the streets. This was not Beirut, Iraq, Afghanistan, Korea, Vietnam, Ukraine and so on. This was, and is, the United Kingdom.

Why? A very good question. The country of Northern Ireland is divided roughly equally these days. On one side there are Catholics and on the other Protestants. Yep, two 'brands' of Christianity. This is a simplistic overview for the uninitiated so please bear with me. Catholics want a United Ireland, and see the British as an occupying force; Protestants want to stay part of the United Kingdom. Now wrap up all of culture, heritage, politics, education and anything else you can think of into religion and you may be halfway there to understanding what a mess this is. When you drive around Northern Ireland, you generally know what religion an area is. The lamp-posts, and curb stones are generally painted a particular way -- green, white and gold for the Catholic areas, reflecting the Tricolour (Irish flag); or red, white and blue for the Protestant areas reflecting the Flag of the Union. The respective flags will also normally be flying. On the sides of the buildings will be huge murals painted glorifying the violence of various paramilitary groups depending which area you are in. There are the IRA, PIRA, Real IRA, the UVF, UDF, UUF, Red Hand Commandos, to name but a few. These groups viewed any one on the other side as "legitimate targets."

Education is key to indoctrinating or combatting bigotry, even Hitler knew this basic tenet. But in a society divided where the children are educated separately and along bigoted lines then this only succeeds in perpetuating the cycle. Even with integrated schools today, Catholic children are still taken out from integrated lessons to be taught religion and history separately from their Protestant counterparts. How does the cycle end? How can people be blamed for becoming products of their own environment when their environment is such?

That should now be enough of a background to bore everyone with.

My first experience of bigotry, as with many experiences, starts at home. Although at the time, I did not know what bigotry was. My father was a very, very good man whom I loved dearly. However, one of the things I remember most is the way he spoke about Catholics.

"Son, I don't care who you hang around with whether they're Black, Chinese or whatever, but don't you ever bring a fucking Catholic back to this house."

My father was a product of his upbringing. His education and his environment. A very good man who was loved by many. He died when I was eighteen, and at his funeral, there were people lining the streets. I mean hundreds of people. Was he a bad man? I think not.

I first started walking to school by myself at the age of around eight. It was only around the corner really. On my way to school I had to walk through an army checkpoint, having my bag searched on the way to, and from school every day. I will repeat that I was eight years old. I witnessed at this age, a car drive by the checkpoint and hurl bags full of dog shit, and cartons of piss at the soldiers. Nice.

My primary school had to have cages put over the windows because of the constant threat of petrol bombs being chucked at it, and not just at night when there were no children around. Countless childhood friends moved away because their families were petrol bombed out of their homes for having links with the security forces. Those links were usually tenuous at best.

At the age of twelve, not long after I started secondary school, I started taking the bus to school. These were public buses and not school buses. In Belfast, you knew what religion someone was by what school they attended. As I said before, educated along religious lines. As I was getting off the bus at my stop, an older kid from another school took out a modelling knife (scalpel) and put it through the base of my right hand thumb. I still have the scars and limited movement in it (at least, that's my excuse for the typos). Although proud of it at the time, I am ashamed of my resulting actions now. A few months later when on the bus, I stayed on a while longer until this kid reached his stop. When he got up and was holding onto the bar behind the driver's cab I ran down and swiftly booted his wrist, breaking it before hastily jumping off the bus and legging it all the way home. That was how things were.

A very close friend of mine who shall remain nameless was a phenomenal guitar player. After a night out in town, he decided to cut through a park where he was jumped by four men, who beat him so badly that doctors had to induce a coma to prevent further brain damage. They also broke all the fingers in both of his hands. He had a scholarship to play guitar but was left unable to play. As it turns out, the guys that jumped him had mistaken him for something he wasn't. Bigotry has no genius'.

During my University years, I attempted to take a new sport -- Gaelic football. I was a talented rugby player once upon a time, and I liked the attraction of Gaelic football (a sort of cross between rugby and soccer). I was okay at it. The thing about that sport is, it is a Catholic sport. I am not Catholic. I made the team, but it soon came to light that I "played with the other foot" (a colloquialism for the other side, meaning religion). I have never had a worse beating in my life. I can still feel it.

As mentioned above, I was a rugby player and as such we travelled all over the country and across the border into the Republic of Ireland for our matches. On our way home after a fixture near Christmas, we went through an army checkpoint in a place called Cookstown. The English squaddies there were a good laugh and we got through with a bit of banter and no issues. Unfortunately for the squaddies, about three hours later, three of the five of them were dead. A woman had pulled up in her car and handed them a tub of Roses or Quality Street (chocolate sweets). This was when they used to come in metal tins at Christmas time. The squaddies thinking nothing amiss opened them. The tin contained a hefty bomb that left two of them mourning their dead colleagues.

My final recanting of the scale of bigotry comes from the events that unfurled in August 1998. The IRA planted a bomb in the town of Omagh. It went off as the shops were letting out for closing time killing 29 innocent people and maiming many, many more. A friend of mine who had taken the afternoon off to go shopping with her mum was caught up in this. She ended up losing a foot and needed to have her head stapled back together. It later came to light that a dry run had been carried out weeks before so the IRA knew exactly where to plant the device to do the maximum amount of damage.

All of this because, when it is boiled down to its simplest form, I think something different from you.

That is what bigotry is. This is who I am. Do I carry all of this around with me every day? Yes, I do. Is bigotry a part of me? Yes, it is. Do I let it consume me? No, I don't, and that is the difference.

I left Northern Ireland in 1994. I left that environment. I took myself away. Disgusted, I packed a bag with four changes of clothes; twenty pounds in my pocket and got the hell out.

They say people don't change. Bullshit. They can, and they do. I don't forget where I come from. A part of me is even proud of it. But I don't let it rule me. Our thoughts and perspective on things change all the time. So I remember it. I think about it. I use it.

At the end of the day, it is just a thought, or an idea. They change all the time, don't they?


Contest Winner

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