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.
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, S. (ed.) (1997) Representation:
Cultural Representations and Signifying Practices, London: Sage.
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.
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 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.
I’m not cheering the attack, I’m highlighting your hypocrisy.
You justified a similar attack on Nick Griffin because you don’t like him and find his politics distasteful.
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.