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What’s the difference between a cliche and a prejudice?

3 years ago

The two words (cliche and prejudice) have different connotations. If I say that someone is talking in cliches, it sounds like they’re being lazy, and saying something because they’ve heard it said by other people before. It gives the impression that what they are saying may be a bit silly but isn’t particularly bad or malicious.

If, however, I say that they are expressing a prejudice – that sounds much worse, doesn’t it. I’m saying that they are expressing a view that they probably haven’t thought about and wouldn’t be able to justify. And nowadays, we generally frown on people spouting prejudices. There is a general agreement that they can be pretty toxic; and as a result we have all sorts of laws preventing people expressing various forms of prejudice in public.

So far so good. But the line between the two isn’t altogether clear. Nasty prejudices often feed on, and have their roots in, much more innocent-sounding cliches. A few examples:

“Most male hairdressers are gay.”

“Jews are good with money.”

“Black people have natural rhythm.”

Those are all cliches.

If you had stood at the Monument holding a placard with one of those slogans on it in 1975, most people passing by would either have thought nothing of it, or they might have thought ‘that’s probably right’.

By 1990 most people passing by would have thought you were a nutter.

By 2015 you would probably be in the back of a police car before you could say Jack Robinson.

Times change, and we are much more sensitive and aware nowadays of the dangers of cliches like those, in feeding nasty prejudices – especially where the cliches relate to race or ethnicity or sexuality. Whether some of us are too sensitive is another issue – but when I think back to the way the world was when I was a youngster in the 70s and 80s, and the sort of things you would see and hear back then, the world seems a much kinder place nowadays.

But what on earth has all of this got to do with Newcastle United?

NUFC is almost always at the centre of my attention – but for most people it isn’t. Most people know not-very-much about Newcastle, or about Newcastle United. That’s fair enough – there are parts of the country I don’t know too much about. But our club has been in the news this last week or two. The team is doing well and now there is all of the takeover malarkey – which means that people who probably know not-very-much about us, or about our club, are being given a platform to express a view.

And in those circumstances what do they do? They talk in cliches.

Most of us are well used to those cliches by now. They are annoying – but we’re used to them.

I am 50 years old. I support a team which has for many years now been one of the biggest few dozen clubs (in terms of financial turnover) in the world. And yet (almost uniquely among such clubs) I have never seen my club win anything. I would quite like to see my club having a pop, or at least punching its weight occasionally – but for that I, apparently, am ‘deluded’. I’m told that I think NUFC has a ‘God-given right to be in the top 4 every year’. I have ‘delusions of grandeur’ and will never be happy until we are winning the league by 20 points each season with Messi and Ronaldo playing up front.

Except now I’m told that I won’t even be happy with that. You see, now it seems that we won’t accept anyone who was born south of Scotch Corner.

Step forward Simon Jordan! In the kingdom of cliches you, my friend, are royalty.

According to Mr Jordan, you see, Geordies dislike Cockneys. We won’t accept anyone from down South having anything to do with our club. There’s no point in a Southerner even trying to help us – we just won’t have it!

Malcolm Macdonald, Sir Les Ferdinand, Robert Lee, Warren Barton, Chris Hughton – God, I hated them. Coming up here with their bleedin Pearly King sequin jackets, cockles and mussels, pie and mash, merchant banker, champagne socialist, knees up mother brown nonsense. It makes me mad!!!

It’s all nonsense of course. It’s probably wrong to place too much blame on Mr Jordan’s shoulders. He’s clearly just a fool who got asked to express an opinion on a subject of which he knew next to nothing. If there is blame to be placed it is on the people who broadcast his drivel.

So, to go back to the beginning

Most male hairdressers are gay.”

“Jews are good with money.”

“Black people have natural rhythm.”

“Geordies hate Southerners.”

When does a lazy cliche become a thoroughly unpleasant prejudice?

If I were to stand at the Monument holding a placard with one of the first three cliches on it, I’d probably get had-up. But the last one – yeah, that’s ok apparently.


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