Right of Reply: Keith Flett
Wednesday 24 March 1999
on facial hair by Terence Blacker
I HAVE to say that I have, perhaps surprisingly, some sympathy with Terence Blacker's moan against beards ("Sorry, I just don't like beardies").
It was indeed the case in George Orwell's day, and remains so now, that a beard may be a sign of sandal-wearing and vegetarianism, that is to say, of a certain tiresome eccentricity. There has long been the assumption that beards are somehow linked with left-wing subversion, which holds less sway nowadays, given how many beards there are around Mr Blair's cabinet table.
But that is as far as I can go with Mr Blacker. The hidden agenda of his attack on beards is, of course, an attack on political correctness.
Mr Blacker senses that discrimination against people with beards is not quite in the same league as racism, homophobia or sexism. He is right. Ultimately you can always shave the thing off. The problem is what beardism symbolises.
Those employers who ban their male workers from having beards - a growing number, incidentally - are also the same employers who demand that their female workers wear skirts not trousers, and who rigorously discriminate when it comes to annual appraisal time against anyone who does not conform to the stereotype of a young, single white man in a suit.
In a society that should be diverse and inclusive, how you look and how you dress, rather than what you do and how well you do it, is increasingly used by those in authority as a way of defining the enemy within.
Terence Blacker can be a beardist if he wants, but he must recognise that real discrimination exists out there, and that it stinks. Discrimination against beardies really does matter.
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