What’s Wrong With The Word ‘Coloured’?

Since Amber Rudd, the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions uttered the word ‘coloured’, many White people up and down the country have been losing their minds over the outrage it’s caused among Black and Brown people. “What’s wrong with it?”, they’ll demand, while others will say “but it’s okay to say ‘people of colour’, so why isn’t it okay to say ‘coloured'”? Well, it’s really quite simple: the word ‘coloured’ is an old-fashioned term, much like ‘half-caste’ and ‘Negro’. It’s offensive to many Black people. ‘People of colour’ is a relative new construction, and refers to anyone with dark skin. It is not the same as ‘coloured’, which also has connotations with South African apartheid, and which was used to classify anyone who was neither White nor Black.

Sadly, too many white people, Brendan O’Neill, for example, are incapable of seeing this and will claim, without a shred of self-reflexivity, that Black people “see racism everywhere” as he has done in the tweet below.

If anyone is being ‘divisive’, it’s O’Neill, who couches his racism in pseudo-libertarian language of opposition to identity politics.

Look, if you’re born with Black or Brown skin, you’re reminded of your ethnicity and social status every time you look in the mirror. That doesn’t happen for White folk. Moreover, those White people who claim to see nothing offensive in the word ‘coloured’ do so from a position of privilege and view the world through the lens of that privilege. O’Neill rails against ‘identity politics’, which provides convenient camouflage for his evident racism. It’s not the first time he’s done this either.

In their defence, some white people may claim that “John Barnes sees nothing wrong with it”. Well, Barnes is only one man and he doesn’t speak for all Black people, and neither does Trevor Phillips. But just because some Black people have no problem with the word, that doesn’t give White people the license to use it themselves. Furthermore, it reveals a great deal of insensitivity on the part of those White people who believe there’s nothing wrong with the word ‘coloured’.

Those people who share Brendan O’Neill’s weltanschauung will often be heard complaining that they can’t say the word ‘nigger’ and will often offer the feeble excuse, “but Black people use it”. First, not all Black people use it and second, why do you want to use it? Many of the most common racial slurs were coined by White people. These words have power behind them; the power of the dominant cultural ideology. It is the same ideology that produced the pseudo-science of racial classification. Racial slurs coined by minorities to refer to Whites, however, lack the same power. So, honky, for example, doesn’t have the same power as, say, ‘paki’ or ‘gypo’.

When Amber Rudd used the word ‘coloured’ to refer to Diane Abbott, she unconsciously revealed her inner racist in all its classificatory glory. She may deny she was being racist (so what if she’s had an on/off affair with Kwasi Kwarteng?), but when was the last time you heard the word ‘coloured’ being used to describe anyone? The 1960s? The 1970s?

I’ll leave you with the words of Prof. Stuart Hall.

It is much harder for black people, wherever they were born, to be accepted as British”.


Hall (2003:230)

Further reading

Hall, S. (ed.) (1997) Representation: Cultural Representations and Signifying Practices, London: Sage.

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Politics Is Broken? Okay, But Who Broke Politics?

How many times have you heard the phrase “politics is broken” ? Probably too many to count. Many politicians will utter the phrase without asking the necessary ontological questions, like “who broke politics” or “why is politics broken”? Instead, the phrase is spoken as if things just occur without any cause or reason.

When Chuka Umunna and the rest of his fellow Labour splitters left the party and formed the Independent Group (independent from what, you might ask), what we got from them, aside from the usual guff about bullying, intimidation and anti-Semitism was that politics was “broken”. Of course, Umunna doesn’t supply any details, for to do so would mean that he’d have to use his brain for once in his charmed life. However, one may suggest that Umunna believes that our “broken” politics stem from one of three things: Jeremy Corbyn, Brexit and social media. He would be wrong on all three counts.

Intellectual lightweights

Here’s Umunna talking about broken politics in a press conference to announce the formation of The ‘Independent’ Group.

Umunna and his empty rhetoric aside, I have my own thoughts as to why politics, and British politics, in particular, are “broken”, but broken is not a word that I would use, and I would suggest that, rather than politics being “broken”, they are dysfunctional and for many reasons for this, a few of which I intend to outline below.

Let’s look back at the 2016 EU referendum (erroneously labelled ‘Brexit’), whose result, rather than produce the government’s desired outcome,  went in favour of leaving the EU by a slender margin.  For the Brexiteers, who continue to sell the result as the “will of the people”, it was a vindication of their beliefs that the EU was a faceless, dictatorial bureaucracy, which stifled our ‘freedoms’. They’ve reinforced their beliefs by evoking World War 2 myths of “standing alone”. Here’s Mark Francois being interviewed on the BBC News evoking another WW2 image, in which he tells the interviewer “My father was a D-Day veteran”.

That’s but one example of the tendency of British politicians to look backwards, evoking myths and legends as they go along. In fact, few can have failed to notice how right-wingers will often lazily compare the EU to Nazi Germany, a gross insult to any European country that was invaded and occupied by the Nazis. The EU referendum shone a spotlight on, not only our politicians tendency to to wallow in imperial self-congratulation, but the rottenness of our political systems and institutions and the crumbling archaic nature of Parliament itself, which exists only to further enrich those who are already rich.  The idea that ordinary voters should have a say in their political institutions are run is seen as anathema.

J’accuse

J’accuse career politicians and their stale ideas, empty promises and vague phrases like “our values”. Politicians like Umunna, Leslie et al, would have us believe that social media is responsible for the current state of political discourse. However, they would be wrong. Their objections to social media are predicated upon the notion that the production and dissemination of information should remain in the hands of the official media; a media which is sympathetic to them and their clapped out politics. These politicians don’t mind using racism to achieve their political objectives and the recent weaponization of anti-Semitism is but one example. If people get hurt, their attitude is to shrug their shoulders and repeat the same baseless accusations. This is where the weaponization of racism and anti-Semitism leads to: death threats sent to prominent people of colour in the media and entertainment industries  and physical attacks on our streets.  Then there are politicians like James Cleverly and Wes Streeting who both use Twitter to troll and smear their political opponents and members of the public.

J’accuse the Westminster Parliament, which is no longer fit for purpose: it exists almost entirely to consolidate and extend the power of many of those who use it for their own ends. Its voting systems are antiquated and many of its procedures are slow, cumbersome and arcane. It is a major obstacle to real change.

J’accuse the glaring imbalance of political power in the country; a political power that is concentrated almost entirely in Westminster. For all their talk of devolution, what we get from our political leaders instead are empty phrases like the ‘Northern Powerhouse™. The fact remains that economically, socially and politically, the north and other regions of the United Kingdom have been left behind, and when voters used the referendum to make this point, it showed exactly how decayed the organs of the British body politic have become. The First Past the Post (FPTP) voting system forces us to either choose between two political monoliths or abstain from voting entirely because of its alienating effects (what’s the point?). FPTP is a gift to cynical politicians and we saw this being exploited in the Conservatives’ 2015 General Election campaign, which played precisely on these feelings of alienation (“they’re all the same, so you may as well continue voting Tory or better still, don’t vote at all”).

J’accuse a sycophantic mass media which is overly sympathetic to not only government, but the same useless politicians who are in politics for prestige rather than making any real difference to the lives of their constituents.  The media lies and covers for these politicians rather than hold them to account. Instead, we see the same media harangue, bully, interrupt and smear politicians of the Left as ‘anti-Semites’ and ‘Kremlin stooges’. Lobby journalists aren’t called that for no reason: they hang around the lobbies of Parliament like flies circling a bare light bulb in a filthy pub toilet. The same media also promotes, legitimizes and normalizes the discourses of the far-right and never misses an opportunity to put far-right figures in the television studios, where it flatters and humours them rather than scrutinize their words and actions. If one accuses the media of bias, they lie and try to gaslight rather than accept the fact that they’re wrong.

J’accuse the lack of genuine democracy, and what there is of it is systematically undermined by the mass media and their friends in Parliament. The fact that many working class people in the North of England used the EU referendum to send a message to Parliament and its MPs reveals the decay of Britain’s political systems, the lack of real democracy and its unfair voting system of First Past The Post. Well guess what? The politicians have simply swerved around the issue rather than deal with it.

So, politics isn’t “broken”: it’s dysfunctional, ossified and in an advanced state of decay, and the politicians themselves, rather than accept responsibility for its unhealthy condition, would rather deflect the blame elsewhere. Instead of looking forward, they would rather wallow in nostalgia. But they’re not the only ones: the opinion-formers in the media will always summon up false memories of the 1980s rather than deal with the here and now.  We’re being poorly served by unimaginative politicians and a supine media. We can do much better than these deadbeats.

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Corbyn’s Critics?

Image result for jk rowling

JK Rowling should stick to writing derivative children’s fiction.

The likes of JK Rowling, Eddie Marsan and Frances Barber are often referred to by media pundits as ‘Corbyn’s critics’ but how many of them actually criticize his policies? None of them that I can see. Let’s be honest: an ad hominem or a smear isn’t a criticism, it’s a calumny and for me, at least, it reveals a fundamental intellectual dishonesty and selfishness at the heart of their reactionary and slipshod thinking.

Take this Twitter thread from Rowling, not only does it repeat the same smears we’ve heard for the last three years, it offers up plausible sounding anachronisms as clever metaphors. Clue: there were no saints in the early Christian period, but Rowling’s many followers aren’t smart enough to know that.

I won’t bother posting any more from this thread, but needless to say, it relies on the same tropes that have been used by Corbyn’s detractors for three years. Words like “messiah” make an appearance. The use of this word signifies a wilful misreading of Corbyn’s supporters, who are often referred to in similarly religiose terms or dismissed and trivialized as ‘utopians’, ‘fantasists’ or ‘fans’. The intent, here, is to suggest that Corbyn is a cult leader and his supporters are cultists; blind followers and willing dupes led by a charmingly deceptive evil man whose anti-racism credentials were a carefully choreographed 40 year act. The fact is that Corbyn is a bigger opponent of racism than Rowling or Barber will ever be. Barber herself has drifted into anti-Black racism.

The irony of her use of religious language is that Tony Blair, whom Rowling and her band of intellectually-challenged associates greatly admire, inspires the kind of cult-like devotion of which she accuses Corbyn supporters. Self-awareness? No, not from Joanne.

When they’re not referring to Corbyn and his followers as cult leader and cult members, the usual specious anti-Semitism smears are deployed. Again, these are not criticisms, they are ad hominems. What this tells us about Corbyn’s so-called critics is that they are selective in their anti-racism, which they see as an emotionally-charged weapon to use against a man, who has more anti-racism in his little finger than they have in their entire bodies.

JK Rowling and her band of halfwits may complain about anti-Semitism, but they’ve said nothing about the racism affecting other ethnic minorities. There has been a rise in hate crimes against BAME people and Muslims, but Joanne, Eddie and Frances have been noticeably silent. It is entirely possible that they see Jews (Ashkenazim) as fellow whites, and have a blind spot when it comes to Romanis and Irish Travellers, for example, who were singled out in a pamphlet sent out by John Mann, the MP for Bassetlaw, to his constituents. Mann likes to present himself as an opponent of anti-Semitism, but that’s quite literally the limit of his anti-racism, and even then, it looks cynical and dishonest. None of them have called him out on his hypocritical position and prefer, instead, to repeat the smears they’ve been provided without much thought.

Rowling et al did well under Blair and continue to thrive under the Tories. Those who aren’t doing so well, don’t figure in their thinking. Poor people, the low waged, the disabled and the homeless are treated as abstracts. These are, ultimately, very selfish people who lack any kind of political hinterland. For them, ideology is what other people have.  The world has moved on, but they haven’t. Blairism is dead and so is centrism – whatever that is.

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The Great British Institution Of Bullying (Part 2)

When I wrote this blog about bullying in 2012, I always knew that some day I would have to revisit the subject. So it was that yesterday, on the 100th anniversary of the end of the First World War, that Fleet Street’s bullies and their associated helpers, used the solemn occasion of Armistice Day to dig up the monstering of Michael Foot’s appearance at the Cenotaph in a smart-looking overcoat in November, 1981, which they dubbed a “donkey jacket”.

Here’s what Foot had to say about the bullying he endured.

Like many of this country’s political commentators, history for Andrew Pierce, began with the election of the Thatcher government in 1979. He tweeted this mush.

He was joined by the ever-juvenile, Julia Hartley-Brewer, whose puerile comments amount to little more than trolling.

The idea that the weather may have played a part in Corbyn’s sartorial choice yesterday has clearly escaped her. What matters more to Hartley-Brewer is turning up to a service of remembrance looking as if you’ve just stepped out of the pages of a Savile Row catalogue. The idea that one’s choice clothing is an indication of one’s level of respect is not only risibly childish, this notion is based on a superficialities, because in the postmodern mind, appearance is much more important than substance. As for Hartley-Brewer, she’s nothing but a school bully who never grew up.

Kevin McKeever, who I’ve never heard of, thought it was a “stunt” , but it’s his added claim that, somehow, he and the rest of the media’s bullies are above concocting narratives of ‘disrespect’ and ‘them and us’ that stands out. McKeever’s mini-bio says he’s the “Founder of political consultancy, Lowick”. In other words, he’s a public relations hack.  In fact, his biography on Lowick’s website states:

He has experience of working on political and reputation campaigns in the US, EU and Middle East.

Politically active, he stood for election to the UK Parliament at the 2015 and 2017 General Elections.

Interestingly, it doesn’t say which party, but The Cat has discovered that he was the Labour candidate for Northampton South and is critical of Corbyn.  McKeever also worked for the disgraced PR firm Bell Pottinger and was head of property and planning at Portland PR.

Such is the lack of self-awareness that McKeever projects his and his fellow hacks value-judgements onto Corbyn’s sensible choice of overclothes. Naturally, I put him straight.

Here, the editorial team decided to use colour filters to make Corbyn’s raincoat look a sort of light blue rather than black. The use of digital technology to create a narrative of ‘disrespect’ is one that the media has to own, rather than deny. We’re not as stupid as they think we are. This isn’t 1981, when they could get away with such tricks, the year is 2018.

Right-wing shock jock, Jon Gaunt, followed suit with this unoriginal take.

Appearing at the Cenotaph to pay one’s respects to those who died in wars prosecuted by halfwitted short-sighted politicians – the kind of politicians whom the likes of Hartley-Brewer would no doubt rally behind – wasn’t enough for Gaunt. Apparently, you’re supposed to turn up in the latest designer gear from Bond Street, as Harry Paterson noted in this tweet.

Before I logged off Twitter yesterday evening, I tweeted this.

Every November, it’s the same thing: pass comment on what the leader of the opposition is wearing or not wearing. He doesn’t bow low enough. He doesn’t wear the right clothes. His poppy isn’t big enough. Look, if Corbyn didn’t appear at the Armistice Day ceremony, then they’d have something to complain about. However, using his clothing to make judgements on his character is nothing short of bullying. These people should be ashamed of themselves, but that’s hoping for too much. These people have no shame.

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Let’s Talk About: The Marketplace Of Ideas

First, let’s get something straight: there is no such thing as a “marketplace of ideas”. It is a fantasy of reactionaries, racists and their apologists. Ideas cannot be bought, sold or exchanged because they have no physical form. They are what they are: ideas and nothing more. They are, to adapt Engels, false consciousness (remember that the word ‘ideology’ was originally coined to refer to a ‘science of ideas’ before it was laden with considerable baggage). The notion of the marketplace of ideas is one that has been popularized by LM and its various outlets as well as the free speech fundamentalists that gather around the feet of its self-appointed sages.

To claim that all ideas deserve equal time, consideration and space is also a fantasy; a figment of the SpikedOnline imagination. The inhabitants of Spiked World and their related LM spheres believe that “dangerous ideas” should be aired for the sake of ‘free speech’, but some ideas, or discourses, are hidden for a very good reason: they are dangerous, and the fact that they are dangerous also means they’re harmful and likely to cause problems for minority groups or society as a whole.

Free speech is not absolute and anyone who says it is, is not only hopelessly naïve but quite probably working to normalise and legitimise reactionary discourses, in order to further a particular ideological agenda. So it is with Spiked and LM, whose tiresome mantra is “free speech at any price”. If people come to harm because of their airing of bad or dangerous ideas, then, in LM’s eyes, that’s simply the price that one pays for free speech. It’s intellectually dishonest and immature.

All ideas, like ideology, are a product of discourse. The recent revival of interest in eugenics, for example, is a product of historical revisionist discourses, which also come bundled with other reactionary discourses: racism for example. Eugenics, once popular among self-styled intellectuals of the Right and the Fabian Left, was banished to the wilderness of discourse after it was popularized by the Nazis. Toby Young, whose ability to think and construct coherent and logical arguments is poor and, like the fools at Spiked, is obsessed with the notion of free speech at any price. His recent dalliance with education was used a trojan horse to smuggle in his retooled notion of eugenics, which he oxymoronically describes as ‘progressive eugenics’.

Young’s fascination with eugenics comes from his uncritical acceptance of Richard Hernstein and Charles Murray’s The Bell Curve, which posits, among other things, that intelligence, itself a contested term, is inherent to certain ‘races and social classes’, while other ‘races’, those of African origin particularly, score low on IQ tests and are thus deemed, in the eyes of eugenicists, as subnormal. This is to ignore the ethno-cultural bias in IQ testing in the first place.

Young has defended his notion of ‘progressive eugenics’ in this statement:

My proposal is this: once this technology [genetically engineered intelligence] becomes available, why not offer it free of charge to parents on low incomes with below-average IQs? Provided there is sufficient take-up, it could help to address the problem of flat-lining inter-generational social mobility and serve as a counterweight to the tendency for the meritocratic elite to become a hereditary elite. It might make all the difference when it comes to the long-term sustainability of advanced meritocratic societies.

What Young fails to grasp, and to which I alluded earlier, is that intelligence is in the eye of the beholder. Moreover, Young takes Murray’s position and claims, without a shred of evidence, that intelligence is class, as well as, racially based. We should note that Murray isn’t a geneticist or a medical scientist, he’s a political scientist. Hernstein wasn’t a geneticist either, he was a psychologist and sociologist. Many have critiqued The Bell Curve for its research and lack of academic rigour and rightly so, and yet it still cited by right-wing politicians and commentators for daring to speak the truth about ‘genetically based intelligence’.

Young’s ‘progressive eugenics’ is underpinned by racist and classist discourses, which have been around since the 19th century. Indeed, IQ tests, which form the basis for Young et al’s concept of ‘progressive eugenics’ is little more than a justification for scientific racism, which in turn serves as a means to justify social exclusion and the marginalization of already oppressed groups of people.

As this blog points out, LM regards hate speech as free speech. What is revealing about this claim is that its proponents are mostly white people. In a Spiked article titled Hate speech is free speech, Frank Furedi, the leader of the LM cult lazily conflates hate speech with blasphemy:

Hate speech is the secular equivalent of blasphemy. Blasphemy targeted ‘evil speaking’, but in a non-religious world, censors don’t do morality. So hate speech is defined as prejudice directed at individuals or groups on the basis of their identity — be it racial, cultural or lifestyle. In our era of identity politics, criticism of a cultural practice can now be interpreted as an instance of ‘hatred’ towards a group.

LM’s basis for ‘free speech’ hinges on what it sees as ‘identity politics’, which has become something of an Aunt Sally for the libertarian right. You will notice that there is no criticism of identity politics when it is deployed by the Conservative Party as a means to wriggle out of its racist Hostile Environment policy or its defence of Shaun Bailey’s recent bigoted comments, when they were criticized by many on the Left. LM’s other claim is that we now live in a post-racial world, but this is nothing less than wishful thinking and intellectual dishonesty – especially because structural (which the Right denies exists) and institutionalized forms of racism persist and show no immediate signs of abating.

It is baffling that people like O’Neill and Young are given so much airtime when their ideas lack as much as a scintilla of academic rigour or, indeed, erudition. The ideas that they proffer in the media are never challenged but are accepted as axiomatic by broadcasters. Yet, any attempt to challenge their bad ideas is met with defensiveness and claims that those who oppose them are “shutting down free speech”. However, this is to assume that free speech means that the other person is compelled to listen to badly thought-out arguments without having a right to reply. On the contrary, free speech means being able to challenge bad and dangerous ideas and discourses. O’Neill, Furedi and the rest of LM need to learn that.

Further reading

Butler, J. (2013). Excitable speech: A politics of the performative. Routledge.

Here’s the Manic Street Preachers.

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What Is It With The BBC And The Far Right? They Can’t Help Themselves

I’ve written on this blog before about the relationship between the BBC and the far-right. This is a relationship is about as old as the corporation itself. The first manager, and then Director General of the BBC, John Reith was known to admire Hitler and Mussolini. Coincidentally, the BBC was founded in 1922, the same year that Mussolini came to power.

I came across this photo on Twitter and no, it isn’t photoshopped. This is actually Newsnight’s Evan Davis having a selfie taken with Britain First’s Paul Golding and Jayda Fransen.

We’ve been here before. Remember this from a few years ago? Nick Robinson claimed he didn’t know who she (Fransen) was.

Image result for nick robinson jayda fransen

It’s a piss-poor excuse.

The fact of the matter is that the BBC has always gone soft on the far-right, while, at the same time, denying a space to the far-left for balance. On the exceedingly rare occastions when someone from a far-left party is invited into the studios, they’re talked over, shouted down and patronised, while their far-right counterpart is given the softball treatment.

We’re constantly being told how figures like Paul Golding and Jayda Fransen aren’t far-right or fascists, but are ‘populists’. This would seem to indicate that the BBC is seeking to trivialize, even legitimize neo-fascist politics.

Davis claims he was “duped” in this article in The Daily Star from 2016.  If your job is to report on politics, then it’s incumbent upon you to know who is involved in which party.

 

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Own the words and own their definitions

Words matter, and far too many people repeat the language that permeates the field of mainstream political and social discourse. The father of modern linguistics, Ferdinand de Saussure, said that language is a “system of signs”. Words are like pictures, and when we think of a word, an image of the object comes to mind. Like me, George Carlin was interested in language and how it’s been used, some would say ‘hijacked’, by the dominant ideology to shape the way we see the world and ourselves. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=vuEQixrBKCc

ducksoap

ElmoIn political discourse certain words and their definitions are mini soundbites.  They are hooks onto which an argument can be attached and they are guides to direct the perspective of the opponent or the observer.  

New words and new meanings for existing words acquire a majority consensus for their respective definitions quickly which are difficult to alter.  Many of these definitions are specifically designed to hide or to distort. 

For example, alt-right” was invented as a tool to humanise and to downplay extreme-right racists, populist” was given a new definition that sought to obscure the extreme-right nature of the politics to which the word is applied, “gig economy” was invented as a jaunty neutral description of low paid, insecure, unsafe, unregulated employment with no statutory rights, and moderate” was given a new political definition that sought to describe nothingness as a viable entity…

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