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A respect for our differences without threat or fear; AGENDA.

Byline: Dr CHRIS ALLEN

Yes, it's Christmas again and we are once again faced with all the normal madness connected to the rampant commercialism that results in shops selling out of this year's 'must have' - the Nintendo Wii - by summer. Not only should I have begun my Christmas shopping in June when shops still had Wiis, but this situation will also means that by Boxing Day I will have become an officially bad parent (ISO 7645 or something like that).

For me, something better to look forward to at this time of year are the now obligatory 'PC gone mad' stories that pepper the newspapers at this time of year.

And so, in recent years, we've had proclamations of 'Now Christmas is Banned' and lest we ever forget Birmingham's very own 'Winterval' celebrations from the late nineties.

What then will offend or outrage this year? Whatever it is, here's my simple analogy on how to 'get over it'.

Imagine for a moment that you're in your local Asda, Morrisons, Sainsburys or Tesco. At the end of the aisle you see a 'try before you buy' display. Usually, it's something that you would never normally buy - let's say prawns in strawberry compote for example. As you walk closer to the display, you begin to weigh up whether or not you want to indulge yourself. You ask yourself whether you're in the mood for prawns and strawberries.

On approaching the display, the assistant welcomes you and offers you a free sample (typically accompanied with a money off voucher - let's be honest, no-one's going to pay full price for it). As they do, you choose to either indulge and enjoy, or politely say 'thank you' and move on. Irrespective of your own choice, you'll accept that somebody else may make the opposite decision.

Rarely though - if indeed ever - would you be outraged or offended.

Being teetotal, when M&S on Colmore Row recently offered me some champagne I neither got upset or outraged. I just said 'no thanks' and left it for the throng desperate for a free sip of alcohol on a Friday lunchtime.

Christmas, Eid, Diwali, Vaissaki, St Patrick's Day, Pride et al are very similar to the prawns and strawberries in that they are not always to everybody's taste. Whatever's on offer though, you have the choice to either politely say 'thank you' and move on or indulge yourself and enjoy. No offence, no outrage and you may even - metaphorically at least - get a money-off voucher.

I personally like to try a bit of everything, Holi in Tipton, Eid in Small Heath, Christmas in Stourbridge and St Patrick's Day in Digbeth amongst others. This is not to say that everyone has to do this or that I want to be a part of any particular 'culture'. Instead, I just like 'trying' even if I'm not 'buying'. On the other hand, I also accept that we all have that right not to do so as well.

In our increasingly diverse society, wouldn't it be nice if we could all just do this and not just offer some kneejerk 'PC gone mad' reaction? Wouldn't it be nice if we could all respect each other's differences without being threatened or fearful of them? Maybe, but we're not there yet.

So in the true spirit of Winterval, may I wish all the readers a Merry Christmas, Eid Mubarak, Happy Hanukah and Solstice blessings as well as anything else

I might have overlooked. No offence . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .

Dr Chris Allen is Director of Research & Policy at brap (formerly Birmingham Race Action Partnership)
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Title Annotation:Features
Publication:The Birmingham Post (England)
Date:Dec 13, 2007
Words:595
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