I got into a slightly heated Twitter exchange this afternoon after responding to @conorpope’s tweet to @BevaniteEllie’s statement that she was visiting Burnley. It simply said – “You’re in Burnley ? I hope you’ve had your jabs.”
I took some offence at this – although from the very first I know full well that @Conorpope is no racist – I’ve followed him on Twitter for some time, and guessed that the likelihood was that this comment was in connection with some rivalry between Burnley and some other local town – quite possibly Blackburn, or Bolton. (and it later transpired that this was indeed a comment relating to Blackburn Rovers rivalry with Burnley)
It bothered me though that a town in Lancashire – well known for it’s Asian population, was inadvertently being compared to a country, where one would be likely to need injections before travelling to. Perhaps Pakistan or India
Was I over reacting ? – maybe – but it wasn’t by accident -
I’d just like to relate a couple of anecdotes to give you a clue as to why it bothered me – both relate to me personally, and to sporting rivalry in the North of England – so are roughly analogous to this situation :
The first is about my memories of supporting Bradford Northern Rugby League team (now Bradford Bulls) throughout the 70′s and early 80′s – Our biggest rivals were Leeds, now the Rhinos.
There was a popular “joke” amongst Leeds fans. This was that Bradford was “over run” by Asian immigrants, to the extent that it was really a foreign country, and that all or most of it’s inhabitants were Asian.
Similarly there was a “joke” amongst Northern supporters that Leeds was actually a Jewish enclave within the UK, and that all Leeds supporters were Jewish
At the games between the two teams the two sets of fans would amuse themselves by hurling racial abuse at each other despite the fact that almost all of the supporters for both teams, were white, vaguely Christian, working class people.
Many’s the time when I’ve walked through a crowd of Leeds RL supporters, wearing my Northern scarf whilst they shouted things like “You black Bastard !” or “Acky Acky Acky – I can smell a Paki !” (I’m white and English)
I’ve also been in the middle of crowds chanting “Four by, Four by, Four by two, Four by two, Four by two” at passing Leeds supporters (four by two = Rhyming Slang for “Jew”) and shouted out “hilarious” comments about them having had the ends of their penises cut off.
If anyone was going shopping to Bradford in those days, a typical response might be “Hope you’ve got your passport !”
Less commonly you’d be told to be careful in Leeds if you went to the toilet – “they’ll have you circumcised as soon as look at you !”
It was all done in friendly banter, good humoured, and actually some of it was genuinely very funny.
Make no mistake though, it was very very racist. I’m very glad it stopped as well.
But before you start accusing me of getting on my high horse – I can assure you that I was an active part of that mob yelling anti-semitic chants – my voice was as loud as anyone’s, and I didn’t need much encouragement. Nor did I see it at odds with my activity with groups like Rock Against Racism or the Anti-Nazi League
Looking back though I’m embarrassed about my behaviour then – it was childish, it was racist, and I’d prefer not to have done it. I hope I didn’t cause offence to anyone (although I WAS deliberately trying to offend Leeds supporters).
Rugby League wasn’t my main sport though – football was, and I’ve been a lifelong supporter of Huddersfield Town. Our key rivals are Leeds United. There were often racist chants in the early 70′s – I’m happy to say that I didn’t get drawn in to them – the racism was far more overt than the teasing at the rugby matches.
One of the worst went like this : (to tune of Oh when the Saints)
“The Bradford End. Is always full.
The Bradford End is always full
FULL OF WHAT ?
Full of wogs full of niggers, full of pakis !
The Bradford End is always full”
Nasty eh ? I never sang it, but lots did. It would have been a brave man that told them not to. I wasn’t that brave.
Many of those who sang it (and some of them were black) justified it on the grounds that it was making fun of Bradford, that everyone knew that most City fans were white, and it was obviously a joke. It wasn’t racist. Anyone who objected needed to get a sense of humour (Where have I heard that today ?)
But I didn’t resort to chanting it. What I did do though, like many Huddersfield supporters, was fall into another habit : That of never referring to rivals Leeds United by name. In writing it would be either L**ds or L666ds.
In spoken words it would simply be “Yids”
Why ? Well the derivation is the same as that at the rugby league games in Bradford. Leeds has a significant Jewish population, and several Jewish businessman have been involved with the club. Notably Manny Cussins.
The rest of it was just spite really. Spite and racism – not that any of us had anything against Jews – it was just a nasty name which could just as easily apply to Leeds supporters.
Several years later, long after I had thankfully grown out of all this obnoxious racist rubbish (for which I feel some guilt, but mainly acute embarrassment) I became a contributor to various on-line supporters forums for Huddersfield Town.
Now these email lists and discussion groups have evolved a code of ethics. Top of the list is this : NO RACIST COMMENTS !
And usually there are none. However it became apparent that several younger fans were still using the word “Yids” to refer to Leeds. They were quickly taken to task, and threatened with expulsion by the other members, and by list owners
Most of them were bewildered – they had no idea that “Yid” was an abusive word for Jew. They simply thought that “Yids” was a deliberate mispronunciation of “Leeds”, and whilst they had no intention of offending Jews, they had every intention of offending Leeds (which is of course within the code of conduct).
This felt uncomfortable to me. I’d never intended to offend people of any race – but I realised over the years that I’d said some really quite unacceptable things, and stood by and done nothing while others showed totally nasty racist behaviour.
As a result I’ve grown into someone who has a sharp eye for comments that could be construed as racist. Some might say I’m hypersensitive – I prefer to think that I have a highly tuned awareness. If I spot racist remarks, in whatever arena, I tend to speak up and say that I don’t like it. That’s not to say that I am particularly judgemental of the people who make the comments – very few of them are intentionally racist – and as I’ve related I’ve been as guilty as anyone of doing this in the past. It doesn’t mean it doesn’t matter though – I really think that it does.
So all those people who want me to stop being hypersensitive, to get a sense of humour and so on. Well I’m sorry I won’t be changing.
I have incidentally had discussions via Direct Messages with @conorpope since this afternoon, which show that he’s definitely not a racist, and that he does understand my position – it’s not a problem for either of us – despite some people who seem to be rather hoping that it was.
Sorry to disappoint.
@conorpope contributes to the excellent Political Scrap Book blog by the way – which today carries a blog on a far more interesting “race row” “Bring back slavery” row returns to haunt Conservative Future candidate Craig Cox | Political Scrapbook
Many of you will have had your attention drawn to this distasteful piece of racist journalism in the Mail : Migrant found dead in the back of a lorry as it prepares to enter Channel Tunnel .
What was shocking about this was that the comments on this article are quite clearly moderated, and yet there were (as of yesterday teatime) just 13 comments, each of which was to a greater or lesser degree filled with hate and xenophobia.
These have been dissected at some length by a variety of bloggers – notably by the wonderful Tabloid Watch yesterday : Mail readers think death of illegal immigrant is ‘good news’
I found the “One down millions to go” comment particularly obnoxious – it is tantamount to encouraging the killing of illegal immigrants.
It was strange that as the day wore on, and even this morning when I looked at the site again in order to bookmark the link ahead of writing this blog entry, the number of comments still stood at 13 – so clearly these comments were moderated – and although the Mail is at pains to say these comments do not “necessarily” reflect their opinions, they have clearly modded out a great many more comments and just chosen these hateful few to display as representative of public opinion.
Well there’s such a thing as free speech I guess – and I also guess that the Mail would defend that right quite vigorously.
There’s also such a thing as incitement to racial hatred as well though. I feel quite strongly that publication of these comments – as “moderated in advance” clearly crosses that line.
Perhaps the Mail have been quietly convinced of that as well – because if you check out the link at the top of the article, you’ll find that there are now only two of the comments left – at least there were at 9.00 on Monday the 2nd of November 2009.
I’m glad that they’ve removed the majority of the comments – so credit to them where it’s belatedly due – but the people at the mail seriously have to think about the hatred they are spreading – if they don’t it will one day blow up in their faces – and quite probably all of ours as well.
Before I start I’d like to say that I’m vehemently opposed to the B N P, and racism in all forms. I’m more or less in favour of the “no platform” approach to the B N P , and don’t think he should be appearing on Question Time.
I was interested to read in the days leading to the programme, this article on the BBC website Magazine : What is a fascist?
Blatant self advertising I thought. I wasn’t initially too impressed. Actually though this was a very interesting article. I learned quite a bit from it –
“Fascism in Italy … had corporatism ingrained in is political make-up. … The corporatist model emphasises co-operation over competition”
That section came as quite a surprise – I expected it all to be about individuals and the survival of the fittest. Much as what we tend to call the “far right” in the modern day political arena.
The article doesn’t actually shed much more light on what fascism is, but it does throw up for me a big issue.
Fascism – Racism – Call it what you will – is so far beyond the pale in this country, that we can’t easily discuss the politics behind it. In a way I’m as guilty as anyone – I’m intolerant of those politics – and resist them and shout them down if I possibly can. But it does get in the way of looking at the darker periods of world history and finding out about the reasons behind some of the most painful chapters of our story.
In Germany for example it’s pretty much taboo, possibly illegal, to debate the holocaust (A point which Nick Griffin, gibbering fool that he is, has actually made). So how will we understand what drove a nation to indulge in such an inhuman industry as that – effectively murder factories.
Personally I find it hard to distinguish a Jew from a Goy, so quite how anyone could view jewish people as so inhuman as to be unconcerned at their deaths is unimaginable. So how do I imagine it ? How do I research it ?
We all tend to know how authoritarian Governments keep a hold on their power – using fear and terror to stifle criticism and dissent and clamp down on any opposition – but do we know how regimes like Mussolini’s fascists, and Hitler’s came to power in the first place – because make no mistake : they had massive popularity in their own countries – far more popular than the rag tag minorities that support the likes of Nick Griffin now.
What was it that made all of those people support an outrageously hateful regime ? How can we learn from that to make sure it doesn’t happen again.
We have a difficulty though because the moment we try to “enquire” about these outrages from history, then others – the hatemongers, the holocaust deniers, the racists, and the “fascists” start to “question” them. Not asking questions about them, but questioning whether they ever occurred. Not seeking to illuminate our understanding, but seeking to twist and warp our understanding of history to their own perverse viewpoints.
On issues such as this I can’t pretend to have any answers, but having just watched the odious Mr Griffin bumble his way through Question Time, I can just say that while ever I have breath in my body I will do all I can to oppose racism, and to prevent any chance of the holocaust and similar crimes against humanity ever happening again.
I have friends, relatives, and colleagues, who do stupid things. Racist things, Homophobic things – hateful things. And you know what ? Most of them don’t even know it. Many of them live in West Yorkshire where I was born and lived until my early 20′s. They are one of the reasons I don’t go back very often.
Antics like theirs are not confined to the Heavy Woollen District – they are all over the place, but thankfully now I’ve moved I’m not quite so caught up in that kind of thought process. I do of course apologise profusely to all those sensible Yorkshire men and women who despise the same things I despise.
Let me give you a flavour …
I know ‘people’ who’ve spent most or much of their lives in Germany and Cyprus with the Army, who complain about all the immigrants in the UK. No irony – none at all.
Some of these “older people” have moved to France or Spain in their later years – still manage to come back to blighty to make sure they don’t miss out on anything, still speak barely a word of Spanish or French, still mix exclusively with British people in France & Spain. Still complain about the immigrants in the UK not making any attempt to speak English (which as I work in inner London I know to be utter twaddle – but there’s no telling them)
These same semi-ex-pats happily complain about the EU – somehow it’s to blame if things are more expensive in France or Spain when they are there, somehow it’s also to blame if things are more expensive in the UK when they come back home. Somehow it doesn’t occur to them that it’s also responsible for them being able to receive free medical treatment whilst they are abroad. When things really do go wrong though, and they get Alzheimer’s disease (it’s so terrible that the French nurses can’t speak English), or they get cataracts that need operating on, or need scans for bowel cancer – where do they head for ? Yes that’s right – back home to England where that inefficient health service that the Labour government has let go to wrack and ruin, is so much more dependable than the ones in Sunny France or Spain.
Back in the UK of course others rarely go out of the country, and prefer to entertain themselves with a good old night out on the Town – where if you’re not driving – and these people do tend to get so rat arsed that it’s not really an option, you’re going to need a taxi or two, or three, or however many pubs and clubs you decide to go to really. And of course the taxis are usually driven by Muslim’s. Yes that’s right Muslim’s – these are the people that “these people” that I know rant and rave and swear about on obnoxious Facebook groups. The people who are a threat to our very existence, who want to blow us all up and take all our jobs (wouldn’t be many if we’d all been blown up mind) – Evil eh ? but if you need a ride down to the pub then who better ?
In fact these Muslim’s – who if “these people” are to be believed are in a conspiracy, with the Labour party and “The Gays” to force us to stop celebrating our St. George’s day. Sorry I mean “are St. George’s Day” – we’re in W. Yorks after all. Well these Muslim’s can rustle up a tasty and reasonably priced Chicken Madras with a family sized Naan, and Saeed down at the Taj is a mate of mine – so we’ll probably get a few extra poppadums thrown in. Actually come to think of it when did any one celebrate St. George’s day anyway. Well for me it was when I was in the cubs, back in 1970. There was very little interest in it then either.
Yes these people annoy me – not all of them do all the things I talk about, and none of them is necessarily a bad person, but collectively I have formed a group of people in my mind who sometimes say good things and do bad, sometimes say bad things and do good. The only consistent thing about their moral and political stances is their inconsistency. They boast about voting for a certain right wing nationalist party (which I’m not mentioning because I don’t want their offensive comments coming in) – but I know full well they can’t be bothered to go and vote.
These are the people who openly say that homosexuals should be locked up, and yet the moment that one of the few openly gay people they know enters the Big Brother house, they see no contradiction in starting a Facebook group to campaign for him to win. He may be a poof – but he’s “are poof”
Well rant over – but what do I do about it. Remember these are friends, family, colleagues. Not easy to kick them all into touch. Not easy either to win them all round to sensible thinking either.
I try and convince myself that it’s not their fault – they’ve just had misguided education. I’m not sure if I believe myself though !