The Namibian (Windhoek)

11 January 2013

Namibia: Political Perspective

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I WISH we could declare war on prejudice in 2013, because while this wouldn't fix everything, it would make our Namibia a much better place to be. But if we want to eliminate prejudice, we would all need to honestly ask ourselves the question as to whether most of us are not inherently so in one way or another. The answer, if we are truthful, would probably be in the affirmative. While we can (and have) legislated against what one could call the 'crime' of discrimination, for example, this alone will never solve the problem. Change needs to come from within.

FIRSTLY, we need to look at what constitutes prejudiced behaviour. The most obvious example is racism of any form, but also tribalism, xenophobia, homophobia, sexism, the list goes on. About.com says it can be based on a number of facts, including sex, race, age, sexual orientation, nationality, socio-economic status and religion and defines it as "a baseless and usually negative attitude" which includes stereotyped beliefs and a tendency to discriminate against members of a group.

We are all guilty of prejudiced behaviour at one time or another, and even if we are all inherently so in one way or another, if we cannot completely eradicate these tendencies within ourselves, then we most certainly have a social obligation to keep them under wraps and not publicise our prejudices in an offensive manner.

Looking at the most recent example of prejudice at work in our society, namely, the Nama-speaking deputy minister who went on an alleged offensive tirade against Oshiwambo 'domination', then I can't help but wonder whether many of those baying for the blood of the man in question are not themselves guilty of one or other form of discriminatory behaviour. This does not make what the deputy minister did, right. In fact he must be held accountable because of his senior position in society he should know better.

To be fair, he is not the only one at senior level to exhibit prejudice. Quite the contrary. Many have done the same or similar, but societal double standards also dictate that some prejudices are worse than others.

We regard racism generally (white on black) as very offensive in our majority black country. We are also becoming less tolerant of tribalism, in some senses, and the cited example has relevance here. Yet we are far more accommodating of homophobia, and even our legislation is discriminatory in this regard, which is at odds with our Constitution's Bill of Rights.

Perhaps people don't realise they are discriminating or being prejudiced when they make generalised statements like: 'I hate gays', or the Chinese, whites, blacks, or the uneducated for example.

I asked the question on Twitter as to what people thought could be done to eliminate prejudice. Among the feedback I received, @AkinoM79 suggested it "Goes back to unlearning things from one's upbringing. Not an easy process, because it's often subconscious" and @deaconnam says "Education and sensitisation so that our 'differences' are understood and no longer seen as something strange or to be feared". All of which are good suggestions.

Christian Jarret, in an article on BPS Research Digest, refers to a recent study which concludes that "social disapproval is more effective than financial sanctions because the effects linger on even after the threat of disapproval is removed".

He says the following: "If you want to influence people's behaviour by hitting them where it hurts, the wallet is a great place to aim. Say a local authority began fining litter-bugs on the spot, you can bet the streets would be cleaner. But there's a downside. People begin to see the behaviour in terms of a cost-benefit analysis. They stop littering not because it's wrong, but because it makes financial sense. This approach can also encourage would-be litterers to perceive other people's tidy behaviour as a financial rather than a moral choice ... (but) absent the financial threat, litterers are quick to start dumping their junk again".

If we apply this same argument to prejudice i.e. legislating against discrimination, I think that the same applies.

So we have to find a way to make an inherent, and societal change, if we want to tackle the scourge of prejudice and learn to think before we make statements that are likely to offend others. We must also learn to disapprove of prejudice in all forms, and not practice selective condemnation.

While we must still have a long way to go as a nation, there is no reason why we cannot start immediately.

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