I left secondary school in 2014, having been introduced to topics such as class, race, beliefs, policies, crime, drugs, culture and diversity for the first time in my sociology lessons. Before this, like many other of my peers, the main source of information regarding any of these important concepts came from the TV, from newspapers, or from friends and family. And I never particularly stopped to question these opinions - whether they were biased, hurtful, or even untrue. With The Sun’s circulation hitting around 1.2 million papers a day, the British public is desensitized to the “ever-growing threat” of immigration, or ‘benefit-scroungers’, or ‘thugs’, ‘hoodies’ and ‘chavs’, or terrorists who threaten to dismantle the British “way of life”. We see these notions so prominently that we begin to believe they are true, without ever questioning the motive. It dehumanises the people they write about, and makes us blind to the hostile divide that has been created.
For many children, such as myself, I was privileged with the ignorance of topics such as race, ethnicity, and immigration until I was older and had chosen to study them in sociology at A-Level. Growing up in Bournemouth, a town where 91% are white; 57.1% identify as Christian and 38% as no religion at all, I wasn’t exposed to a great deal of intersectionality. In fact, of the 314 districts in England, only 18 have a population of less than 60% white. 15 of these 18 districts are based in London. Like millions of other children, I was mindless to the injustices that people face due to their race, class, gender, or a combination of these elements because I’d always viewed life through a simplistic white, middle-class gaze. I thought racism had died with slavery, and that healthcare, housing, educational and political institutions treated people equally. I didn’t even recognise that people from different backgrounds and ethnicities weren’t represented in TV, in advertisements, in fashion, in Barbie dolls, even in plasters available to buy in stores. I didn’t ever have to. Even feminism seemed like a joke to me - I remember me and my friends joking about feminism, and not understanding why it was still an important movement. After all, women had the vote and could now get professional jobs, shouldn’t they stop attention seeking and find more valuable causes?
Without knowing it, a lot of my early exposure to other cultures and backgrounds was primarily through programmes, music and TV. Many comedy shows such as The Simpsons, Little Britain, The Catherine Tate Show and even Friends rely heavily on exaggerated stereotypes, which is undoubtedly where I subconsciously embraced a lot of narratives about people from demographics that I very infrequently came into contact with. Growing up in Bournemouth where the majority of people are white and middle-class, my expectations and viewpoints were seldom countered and became embedded in my thinking. Even with the rise of social media and the internet, which supposedly supplies individuals with the tools to do their own research to inform their thinking, people tend to connect with friends and celebrities who have similar interests, viewpoints and narratives. This means that social media users tend to be exposed to a limited number of perspectives on important social topics, and have their opinions further cemented because they are less frequently challenged by people who think differently to them.
So why does this demonstrate that sociology is an essential school of thought? Sociology strives to answer all kinds of questions: why some people are religious, why some people take drugs and why some people struggle to acquire and maintain a job. Instead of simplistically brandishing people as inherently bad, it uses statistics, theories, people’s lived experiences and case studies to paint the whole picture. It encompasses elements of history, data science, criminology, psychology, geography and even maths to explain why things are as they are. It allows children to have educated discussions about topics that unknowingly directly impact their own lives, such as one-parent households or unconscious bias, enabling them to make sense of their surroundings and their identity. While Britain has a strong tendency to “not see race”, sociology endeavours to make race a topic of conversation. It strives, above all, for understanding, which is conducive to a better life for every individual.
Being able to learn about important social topics from a neutral, informative standpoint has allowed me to be more empathetic and understanding of other human beings’ lived experiences. It has also allowed me to be critical of media and other information that I’m presented with, which previously I would have likely accepted as truth. It has challenged notions that I have always believed to be true. Sociology has single-handedly tackled my pre-existing prejudices, discrimination and stereotypes, and has encouraged me to seek new approaches to social matters. It is a subject which openly discusses the world, its processes and problems, and seeks to improve lives through better understanding. For that reason, I have gained more knowledge and experience from studying sociology than any other subjects I studied at school combined.