‘To which word are you referring dear?’ asked the elderly lady as she sipped her tea. Her young companion blushed red with embarrassment – or would have if her complexion had been lighter.
Well, what was I supposed to write? But in the current climate this is no laughing matter. Netflix has just fired its head of communications, Jonathan Friedland, over his use of the ‘N-word’. According to chief executive Reed Hastings, Friedland’s ‘descriptive use of the N-word on at least two occasions at work showed unacceptably low racial awareness and sensitivity’. The circumstances? A meeting with the public relations team to discuss the use of sensitive words in comedy. Good God!
I can understand that the ‘N-word’ is offensive to those of black or Afro-Caribbean heritage whose ancestors were the victims of the slave trade and subsequent racial prejudice; and that it should therefore be used with tact and sensitivity. So, for example, to say ‘her father was a ‘N’, or ‘some of my best friends are ‘Ns’, would be crass; whereas, the use of the term in an account of the history of civil rights in America, would be justified.
But I am puzzled why it is thought that banning or banishing the word ‘N’ and referring to it as ‘the ‘N-word’’, the latter effectively replacing the former in polite conversation, should be considered an improvement, as opposed to merely making things worse, and ‘stigmatising’ blacks even more.
When reference is made to the ‘N-word’, the forbidden word immediately resounds in our head together with all the negative connotations associated with it – connotations which banishing the word was supposed to suppress. Moreover, it is almost impossible not to conduct various thought experiments in one’s head, however momentary or involuntary, subliminal or unconscious, in the same way that we take perverse pleasure in indulging in all sorts of forbidden acts, conjure up all manner of shocking scenes in the privacy of our imagination. Who has not read – as part of our French literary education, you understand –Sade, or Octave Mirbeau, or Georges Bataille without a frisson of forbidden pleasure? Likewise, we imagine ourselves using the forbidden ‘N-word’, we substitute it for ‘black’, we imagine the outrage or embarrassment caused by its use, or non-use, in all manner of situations. For example, the child who asks us on a packed bus, in a loud voice, in Brixton, ‘Mummy, what is the ‘N-word’? Or the Any Questions panellist, who, asked to engage in earnest discussion of the prohibition, inadvertently blurts it out, or feigns ignorance and responds, ‘To what word are you referring, Mr Dimbleby?’ And we end up laughing at the absurdity of it all. Which, of course, defeats what was supposed to be the whole point of the exercise.
More seriously, ‘whites’ learn that when they are in the company of ‘blacks’ (specifically those blacks they suspect would have a heightened sense of past injustices, who have a strong sense of their ‘ethnicity’), they must tread very carefully so as not to cause offence, however inadvertent – for that is no defence. They must think before they speak, especially when they are speaking light-heartedly or engaging in banter. They must be aware that just as blacks are the victims of historical injustice, whites are the perpetrators who must make amends, the bearers of guilt who must atone for their sins. In which case, would it not be better (safer, certainly) to avoid the company of blacks altogether and associate with those of one’s own ethnicity, with whom one can relax and have a laugh without fear of being accused of a racially aggravated hate crime? I wonder how many whites have suffered a sinking feeling on learning that their new colleague was black or Muslim? Not because they were racist, but because they would now forever be tip-toing around, unable to lower their guard for a moment.
I have seen the whole atmosphere of a room change when a black person entered – a person who was to give a talk about diversity and prejudice, no less. The assembled whites fell silent, terrified they would say the wrong thing or use the wrong word. Laughter and good-humour gave way to platitudes and banalities. Suddenly the floor was strewn with eggshells, not innocuous eggshells, but ones that were booby-trapped. And the worse thing is that the visitor must have been aware of the frigid atmosphere: that the whites, those historic perpetrators of injustice, unconsciously irredeemably racist, were all on their guard. All this in the name of diversity!
Perhaps we should ban the expression ‘the ‘N-word’’. But then we would have no term with which to designate what we are banning. And could therefore not ban it. Then there is no way of separating justified from unjustified uses of the term, especially when the prohibition applies only to whites. What if the term is being used ironically? What if one is of mixed race? What if one uses the term ‘the ‘N-word’’ inappropriately? And what about all the other terms of abuse that have been levelled at different ethnic and racial groups through history? The ‘N-word’ is only one of many derogatory terms for blacks. Are the ‘C-word’ and the ‘W-word’ – I cannot bring myself to utter them – any less offensive? What of the choice terms of abuse levelled at Jews over the years? Have the Jews suffered less than the blacks? What of those terms that might cause offence but have generally been used affectionately, such as ‘Jocks’ for Scots – or should I say ‘the ‘J-word’’? The minefield is impassable.
Which all illustrates the stupidity of attempting to ban a word – any word. Like affirmative action, the effect of forbidding words deemed offensive is the precise opposite of that intended. A more effective means of fostering mutual suspicion and mistrust, racial division and segregation, than the forbidding of the ‘N-word’ is difficult to conceive.[pullquote]
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Here we go. The hill you choose to die on is very noble indeed. May the heavens never cease to ring with the news of your brave stand.
It is notable how many of our right wing commentators in this exchange avoid using the word ‘nigger’ in their replies thus colluding with the censors. A case of peering from behind the curtains while the secret police take away their neighbours?
In response to Myles Harris, the avoidance of writing what might be construed as “hate speech” does not constitute collusion with the censors, but is defensively shutting the stable door BEFORE the horse bolts. We know it’s not a remotely big “brother” who may be watching us, but somebody who is by no means “brotherly”. Our long cherished “free speech” has not only been restricted, but is now effectively forbidden, on pain of penalties of likely increasing severity. The peering from behind semi-closed curtains is because we may be next, and certainly will be if we go out onto the street to object to our neighbours’ abduction. The England we freedom-loving people knew and loved has gone – for ever?
Oh come on! That’s the trouble with the Tories whispering behind trembling hands but never speaking out!
That, Mr Harris, also includes the author of the article, James Monteith.
The genteel debate dithers along and soon even “negro” will found to be oppressive, imperialist, colonialist whatever and have to be swapped for “the N-word” which in time will also be declared offensive to the delicate sensitivities of “Afro-Carribeans” who believe they are always entitled to “respect” from white people.
Now that this debate has moved on to denunciation of those who self-censor perhaps it is time for self-censoring journalists (particularly those useless conformists in the broadcast media) to work up a bit of courage and tell the truth about high levels of crime and violence in the black communities and the threat this presents to other communities. With vast numbers of African negro men (“of military age” as we are often told) determined to break into Europe and demand, rather than request, the right to live here this has become a matter of urgency.
A lesson may be drawn from our attitude to Islam. For many years the discussion of muslim immigration focussed blindly on whether the white populaton were sufficiently tolerant of muslims and prepared to allow them to integrate. Only recently have we begun to understand that very many muslims (perhaps the majority) have no interest at all in integrating with us and are only prepared to live among those they see as their spiritual inferiors for economic reasons.
I think you will find that even the word ‘Negro’ will nowadays raise eyebrows in ‘polite’ society. This endless chopping and changing of acceptable nomenclature for the African race is just another attempt to bully and demoralise us Anglo-Celts. It also, I think, indicates an utter lack of self-confidence among people of the African race. After all, a true Englishman does not give a damn what others call him – he remains an Englishman. The same can be said about the Scots, Irish and Welsh.
Oh well, Brother Harris, since you insist – here’s a ditty from my small collection of slave poetry:
“COONIE IN DE HOLLER”
Coonie in de holler, hidin’ hin’ de logs,
Little pickaninnies ketchin’ pollywogs,
Banjo am a-ping, ping, pingin’ out a tune,
Ebery t’ing am lubly as a day in June.
Coonie in de holler done gone up a tree,
An’ he am a-hidin’ whar no one kin see,
But he know his bizness ‘nough not to come down,
Kase he know him likely meet dat frocious houn’.
Coonie in de holler, hark, I hyeah a gun,
Git a-goin, ‘Rasmus; Jube, git up an run,
All de foolish niggahs runnin till dey can’t,
Bet mah bottom dollah, Rube done peed his pants.
Ben King’s Southland Melodies,
Forbes and Company, Chicago, 1911
As usual, there is a problem of understanding: to call someone a nigger as in shouting “Go home nigger” across the street is rude and offensive. Common sense, sadly lacking nowadays, suggests that, as a word there is no reason why it should not be used.
John Mortimer (RIP) had he not been a craven liberal, would have put the “N-word” in the mouth of his most famous character, Horace Rumpole:
“I’m sorry, m’Lord, you misheard me. What I actually said was – the Crown’s witness is well known down the East End as having an itchy trigger finger.”
James Monteith wonders why the “N-word” is considered an improvement.
“Eeny, meeny, miny, moe…catch an ‘N-word’ by the toe.”
That beloved nursery rhyme was altered at least 3 generations ago to refer to a “tiger” pronounced “tigger”, although I don’t know why.
Referring again to that third to last paragraph, the one beginning with “I have seen the whole atmosphere of a room change when a black person entered…”, the change is because of the risk factor. “Whites” have been made aware that if they say something that might conceivably, remotely, be construed as”hate speech”, and if there is somebody within hearing who is not white, and who is disposed to report it, eg to the police, then that white person or persons is/are automatically in serious trouble. “Whites” are equally aware that if a person who is not white makes an unpleasant remark about white people, then there is no mileage to be gained by making an issue of it. Put another way, because in the past white people were perceived as “persecuting” people who were not white, legislation was passed through Parliament to make it illegal. However, the whole thing has been turned on its head, so that the minority people who are not white can with ease and with the system on their side freely persecute the white majority who, it would seem, have the misfortune to be white, and who moreover are permitted to have no defence. The same applies with religion; the only religion that can be denigrated, to to any extent that the denigrator wishes, is Christianity; all other religion may not, must not, be criticised in any way. This is what England has become, and is why the room goes silent.
That third to last paragraph, the one beginning with “I have seen the whole atmosphere of a room change when a black person entered…”, neatly sums up the situation our do-good liberals have gotten us into with their insistence on white guilt/black victimhood. In their world a personal sense of guilt over “white privilege” must be maintained if one is to retain credibility as a moral individual.
Those of us who are not welcome in those sophisticated circles may have a quite different response to the arrival of a black person. Many of us are becoming aware of a growing arrogance among young blacks toward white people (urged on by left wingers who have their own agenda). We also view with alarm the unwillingness of our political/legal establishment to acknowledge the very high crime rates in our black communities (as though it were racist to do so). Then there is the widespread popularity of that genre of black pop music – rap/hiphop. Much of this highly influential yet numbingly repetitive music exhibits a violent and sexist swagger which would be roundly condemned if it originated in the white community.
But I guess none of that matters. We must concentrate on more serious matters and continue our genteel debate on the use of the N word. This censorship of language is futile. Offence against an identity group is a valuable moral and political currency and will not be relinquished by a few polite adjusments to acceptable language.
The writer is evidently upset that his liberty to go around calling people niggers is (socially) clipped. But can he not come up with a less specious argument to bring the term back into use? I mean the argument that calling people niggers is the right instrument to heal ‘racial division’ by creating ‘mutual trust’.
Your remark reveals you as a priggish little Robespierre who sees liberty purely in terms of the ability to “do wrong”. But of course, at the far end, liberty is precisely and rightly that – the freedom to do what others consider wrong. I consider the socialist morons, who have connived in the invasion and resettlement of Europe by historically hostile outsiders, to be not just wrong but wicked; however, I am happy to let them make their arguments; I allow them to engage in their spectacular misrule if they win elections. Clearly, you – and they – are increasingly unwilling to return the compliment. More directly, you wilfully misinterpret the article. The author tells us that whilst addressing people with certain words is offensive and therefore off-limits, the very freedom of the mind dictates that REFERENCE to such words must remain permissible. Friedland, it seems, was sacked for MAKING A REFERENCE. If you can’t accept that distinction, you’re nothing but a squalid, coercive, extremist thought policeman; if you can’t understand it, you’re thick.
If I read it too much in my way, you read it too much in yours. Let’s keep with your distinction of use from REFERENCE, where use means ‘going around calling people niggers’ and REFERENCE means pointing at speech that remains inert. The writer begins by exposing the attempt to erase a word from the mind as ridiculous. That’s fine. Then by degrees he comes to complain about his disability to use (non-inertly) the term in the company of friends (and that’s the emotional core of the argument). Yet who decides this? Let’s be clear, the author does not make a Jordan Peterson defence against the state-directed forced use of words, he’s arguing (peevishly) against social limitations. I suggest to the writer there’s plenty of friends among whom he may call people niggers with abandon, just as there’s other classes where calling women cunts isn’t hard on the ears.
I find the term still useful in describing those black people who conform to their negative racial stereotypes – the drill ‘artists’ who espouse and commit violence for ‘respect’ – they are ‘niggers’ in a way that, Sir Trevor McDonald, say, is not. I also feel free to use labels like ‘chav’, ‘scumbags’, ‘trash’ against white, anti-socials who are a blight on society. Similarly, here in Paris, ‘Arab’ refers to certain members of the muslim community who refuse to integrate with French society and continually complain that their specific needs are not met. The young men in this group tend to be attracted to drug dealing and ‘gangsta rap’ and are closely related to the ‘niggers’. My good friend – a theatre producer of Algerian parents is stereotypically French and, to a frenchman, would not be referred to as ‘Arab’. Similarly Sajid Javid is an English cabinet minister – whereas those men who thought it their cultural privilege to sexually predate young white girls are just ‘Pakis’ in my eyes.
Finally, I would feel more inclined to confine the word ‘nigger’ to the dustbin of my lexicon if the people to whom it refers weren’t so keen on using it themselves.
Yes I deal much in this way with my own children. When they’re good I’ll admit them in to my company as equals, but when they’re bad I won’t have anything to do with the little Paki niggers. I don’t feel this rule is schizophrenic at all. In fact it checks all the boxes of a harmonized household.