Research reveals the UK’s more liberal than ever, but our progress is surprisingly slow.
The Guardian recently reported that Britons are more liberal than they were 30 years ago, which you might think is an obvious fact. But is this recent painting of Britain as a tolerant society really true?
A study by NatCen Social Research, which surveys more than 3,000 people annually, found that our fair nation has changed in terms of our acceptance of people’s sexuality, gender and class over the course of the last 30 years. It’s good that someone finally noticed all the lynching had stopped, but as a progressive society, this is a little obvious.
It was only last week that Selfridge’s gave EDL leader Tommy Robinson a medium-rare cooked apology when one of their more ethical members of staff told him to “fuck off”. It fell short of expected customer service, but the employee’s actions, and the very existence of the EDL, whistle along to the same, sad tune that Britain ain’t so liberal.
Our progression from ignorant to liberal was fast paced in the past; from feminism, to racial equality to same-sex marriage. However, is it just me or has our aim to improve our tolerance of things slowed down? People are still getting assaulted, humiliated and harassed for their race and sexual orientation. Strong female voices, such as Caitlin Moran, have recently become victims of sexism through Twitter. Entire communities were targeted for their religious beliefs in the wake of drummer Lee Rigby’s murder. This isn’t the behaviour of a supposedly open and accepting nation.
In mostly white 1918 Britain, there was an estimated 20,000 black people living on the fringes of our major cities. 30 years later, Britain was a multicultural society. In the 30 years from 1950-1980, Britain, and most of the western world, witnessed the first solidified major black rights movements. In this same 30 years, feminists began to seriously question women’s roles in society and the seeds of homosexual acceptance germinated. 1970s Britannia finally detached the word “black” from its previous negative connotations. But as I sit and write this in the 21st century, people are still afraid of using the word black to describe someone.
It seems that the subsequent years, 1980 to now, have brought few new hurdles to society’s progress. We’re still tripping over our laces and the huge social advances of the past seem barely resolved. Should we be teaching more to our kids at home and in school? I find it ridiculous we even need to sit children down and say, “So remember, don’t kick that kid in the playground just because they’ve got darker skin.”
The 80s don’t seem that long ago (although I was barely even a person then) for Britons to have said “nah, that lovely man with a great education and who’s brilliant with kids can’t teach my child cos, have you heard? He likes dick.” Was this not at the same time Britons were paying to watch Freddy Mercury in leather slacks, baring his nipples and dressing like a woman? Wasn’t this during the same era the nation saw Elton John marry his sound engineer? Or were they too busy singing along to The Village People to care?
Britain should not be patting itself on the back just yet. For all our social progression, and there has been a lot, there is still plenty more to go. If the 80s showed the small mindedness of Britain and how little we knew or understood of anything ‘out of the ordinary’ – that being 2.4 children, beautiful house in Surrey, 50-hour job and a housewife making a hot-pot – compared to our openness about each and every wonderful difference in other people… Well, it can only get better. At least, we’d hope so.
Image: Franco Folini via Wikimedia Commons