Chris Markiewicz's Blog
Every Monday – thoughts, observations and ideas that hold up a mirror to who & how we are

Observation from a Facebook forum

I regularly dip into a Facebook forum page for people with visual impairment. As is typical of such pages, people will post questions, comments, experiences and so on.

Most, but not all of the subscribers to the forum are UK based and the majority seem to be white British.

What I have also noticed is something quite intriguing. As and when someone with a strange sounding name places a post and their command of English appears none too great, the number of responses (ie people willing to engage) seems to be far less compared to other posts.

My first reaction to this was of surprise and my thinking ventured as far as to consider whether it was racist.

And then I thought again. I recalled an acronym that came into vogue a couple of decades back: PLU – People Like Us.

We like to be around people like us. I realized that perhaps the readers’ reluctance to engage with others from different cultures, was less about racism and more about the comfort of being around others who “speak the same language”, both metaphorically and literally. When we do so, the communication flow is easier and more is understood implicitly, rather than needing to communicate in a more considered, even stilted way, in an effort to understand each other.

I think our species at its root is quite tribal. You could say that it’s very recent (in evolutionary terms) that we’ve had to engage with other humans from different cultures. Yes, we do ultimately have our common humanity, but that’s overlaid with all manner of different backgrounds, shared/unshared experiences, beliefs and so on.

Much of this is, I’m guessing, sub-conscious. Examples have been featured in media reports of organizations who employ PLU’s, often without consciously realising it. I recall once, some years ago, waiting in the reception area of a major software company to meet a mate of mine who was working there on contract. I was astonished to notice that every man leaving the building that evening after a day’s work was short in stature and a significant proportion appeared to be Asian– I’m talking at least a couple of dozen with not a single tall ‘un among them! In fact, my mate was also short. Was the company being “heightist”?  I doubt it – rather (unconsciously?) recruiting PLU’s.

The idea of Britain being a multi-cultural nation is very appealing – the richness of that is intoxicating, once barriers are broken down. However, I think that our species’ DNA – wherever we are from – may still contain much of the PLU component and that it may be a while yet before everyone is ready to fully integrate with everyone else.

There is no doubting that racism does still exist and needs to be dealt with – preferably through education rather than legislation. However, to confuse it with peoples’ desire to hang out with other’s like themselves,  can be a simplistic over reaction – just as I fear I over reacted when looking at that Facebook forum page.

I would be surprised, if any of the people on that forum are racist, although some may be. In fact given that they, as disabled people,  are in a “minority”, they’re possibly even more likely to be, at very least tolerant if not ready to embrace other cultures. What they seek though, is probably the comfort of engaging with PLU’s in an easy, undemanding way.

Nevertheless, I think it is important to stretch beyond that comfort zone and seek to engage with “people unlike us” – much easier for some though, than it is for others. I’m certain however, that it would add untold richness to all our lives.

I won’t venture to judge whether being drawn to PLU’s is “right” or not, but more to notice it as another fascinating aspect of our human nature.



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