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Pride and prejudice and social unrest
( 2003-08-03 16:02) (Shanghai Star)

Along with the deepening cleavage in society between rich and poor, a trend is emerging highlighting an insurmountable barrier between the affluent class and the marginalized groups - the uneducated, the poor, the low-brow and the "bumpkins".

In a way, the latter are a sort of "untouchable" caste. For instance, in some cities, they are not allowed to use five-star "plush" public lavatories or walk the downtown streets in cloth-soled shoes.

The absurdity of the prejudice against them was somehow beyond our imagination when they were being heavily fined and left penniless just because of their ungainly gait when they were strolling along the street.

What if they had been neatly dressed, talking over a mobile phone, or having cute young ladies snuggling up to them? I don't think it likely that they would ever be denied admittance when opting for a superb toilet, reprimanded for preferring to wear cloth-soled shoes or financially punished for exhibiting glaringly coarse manners.

It all boils down to the fact that clothes sometimes speak louder than the person who wears them.

On the other hand, we see a different picture, in which youngsters go overboard about fashion and a glitzy life style.

The pop singers dancing and hollering on stage are most likely role models for them to mimic, distracted as they are from their normal lives by the glittering image whipped up by their idols.

To add to the illusion that has a firm grip on the younger generation, film producers also have a role to play in filling the screen with trendy young men of sartorial elegance and sexy girls with sylph-like figures. Not only genteel but intelligent, they are leading a lifestyle typical of the upper crust of society.

It surely would sound sarcastic if these pampered good-for-nothings were to condescend to socialize with manual workers and make friends with them.

The crevasse between the lucky stars and the down-trodden masses gradually widens and mistrust starts to set in.

If I were one of those on the bottom rung the ladder, I could perhaps tolerate the indifference, pride and even prejudice of the upper echelons, but as for their snobbery that borders on outright insult none of that could I put up with. Poor and uneducated as I might be, I am entitled to guard my personal dignity against deliberate disparagement. I would have to fight to protect my personal integrity.

There have been reports of burglaries and muggings committed by migrants against urban dwellers. I wonder if these were partly caused by the urban residents themselves who have long since shown little concern, even disdain, for those who trade physical labour for subsistence.

If that be the case, they should step up their introspection and address a difficult social problem.

Prejudice as well as snobbery is, after all, a two-edged sword.

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