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Certain unalienable rights

This morning, I enrolled on a Diversity and Equality course. I like to think that I instinctively model a commitment to both of these in my practice, but I believe that we can all benefit from lifelong learning and the rigours of testing ourselves intellectually... and in this case, ethically. Certainly, as a teacher and practitioner, it is vital for me to regularly become a student and to feel both the vulnerabilities attendant with having to second-guess an instructor, and the hunger to get things right when perhaps not entirely sure what 'right' looks like.

Now, as a white, middle-class, straight, cis woman, it must be recognised that I have more innate privileges than many, and although I have been periodically discriminated against in various areas, it has always been fairly low-key and rarely as a symptom of a more systemic problem. But it has happened enough to sharpen my empathy for those who suffer unfair treatment regularly just because of who they are.

I am proud to be a member of the Arts community, which is one of the most loving and welcoming you can find: I dislike using words such as 'tolerant' or 'accepting' because they seem to suggest an inherent superiority which bestows the right to arbiter what is or is not acceptable in a particular social sphere, and to nod heads with a thin smile of tacit, patronising approval. To be clear, your race, religion, gender, sexuality, disability, health, background (etc.) is none of my business and will never affect my opinion of who you are or what you stand for, or how good a performer you are (dodgy opinions are another matter, and I am very open to the prospect of a glass of tipple and a juicy exchange of views).

To be honest, I find a lot of life difficult enough without having to navigate other people's prejudices: if I had to wade my way through the sort of insidious crap that these 'ists' and 'phobics' chuck around with gay abandon, I would probably just give up, go and live in a cave, and watch Friends on loop for all eternity, .

"It takes all the running you can do, to keep in the same place.
If you want to get somewhere else,
you must run at least twice as fast as that!"
Alice Through the Looking Glass, Lewis Carroll

Watching the BBC's recent - excellent - ICONS programme was a humbling experience. Not so much in terms of what these 'greats' had achieved - we knew that we had signed up for glory - but in respect of what many of them had battled (irrespective of the primary area for which they were being lauded) to get to the top of their game. Mental health illness (Winston Churchill, Virginia Woolf); disability (Franklin D. Roosevelt, Helen Keller, Tanni Grey-Thompson); homophobia (Alan Turing); gender expectations (David Bowie); institutionalised racism (Billie Holiday, Muhammed Ali, Martin Luther King); hostile political climates (Tu Youyou, Nelson Mandela, Mahatma Gandi)); humble beginnings (Margaret Thatcher, Pele, Charlie Chaplin); sexism (Emmeline Pankhurst, Billie Jean King); sexual harrassment (Marilyn Monroe). If this lot had had just a teaspoon of my resolve, we might have been deprived of some of the great wonders of the twentieth century.

As it was, they ploughed on and didn't give up. But how many others have had one knock too many and decided that enough is enough? How much have we missed out on as a result of turning in on our cosy little selves and shutting out anything that threatens our stability as self-proclaimed Emperors of Tradition? This is the cultural equivalent of marrying ones cousin for generation after generation and wondering why the genetic strain is becoming weaker. And it also forgets that traditions are forged, not handed, fully-formed from the skies. The traditions to which these purists cleave today were new and ground-breaking at one time, and much of what we take for granted raised eyebrows at first. Even our language - that cornerstone of collective identity - is a hybrid of Old English, Saxon, Norman, French, Latin, Italian, Portuguese, Spanish, Greek, Dutch, Persian, Hindi, German, Norse, Yiddish, Arabic. The mainland UK may be an island, but our linguistic identity is clearly not. We are bubble and squeak mongrels and should be rejoicing in our diversity: instead, we are launching courses to teach - what should be an instinctive reaction - that we are all created equal. The intentions behind such courses are, naturally, well-meant, and if the experience of just one person in the workplace is enhanced as a result, then their worth will be recovered. But isn't it sad that such courses are needed? That a CPD qualification is required to prove that "yes, I'm not an arsehole".

I read an article this week which pondered whether primary school prizes such as 'star of the week' were actually teaching our children healthy values, or whether they encouraged goodness and kindness solely as a means to a rewarding end (quite apart from traumatising the poor souls who never get picked). Whilst being inclusive is - I suppose - to be applauded whatever the motivating factor, wouldn't it be a lovely thing if everyone celebrated diversity simply because it seemed as natural as breathing? Moreover - warning: recurring theme coming up - what if this sort of behaviour was actively modelled from parents from such an early age that teaching these values at school, or the course I'm about to embark on, wasn't really necessary?

I love learning new things, and am far too Hermione Granger about exams in general than is either healthy or socially desirable... but I'm not convinced that receiving bits of paper for being a decent person is the ultimate way forward. Certainly, as regards the sorts of adult learners likely to enrol on my course... well, they're not going to be raving bigots who actually need the lessons, are they? We're all going to be nice, snuggly, knit-your-own-quinoa types who shake our heads sadly at the adverse statistics and resolve to write more emails to our MP. It's preaching to the choir. Obviously, I'm not berating the course, its providers, or attendants... but wouldn't it be nice if it didn't have to exist at all?

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