UKIP being racist

Once again, UKIP have fond themselves embroiled in a racism debate, with Nigel Farage this time leading the line as he defended Kerry Smith using the word Chinky, the crux of his argument being:

Nigel Farage: “If you and your mates were going out for a Chinese, what do you say you’re going for?”

Nick Ferrari: “I honestly would not use the word “Chinky”. Would you?”

Nigel Farage: “No, but a lot of people would.”

Let us firstly make one thing clear: He’s absolutely right.

A lot of people do use the word. All the time.

In fact, there have been several occasions when people have used the word in front of me without thinking twice about it, so oblivious are they to its meaning and effect. In truth, this could simply be considered part of a wider issue in which there appear to be hierarchies of racism, where racism towards black people is officially frowned upon (“Nigger” being unacceptable to the point that it must be truncated to “N-word”), overt racism towards Asians being recognised as ‘a bad thing’ (though “Paki-shop” is still extremely common amongst some people, and the institutional racism towards Muslims that appears to keep certain sections of the media afloat is apparently ok because it doesn’t use bad words). At the bottom of the pile come the Orientals – “Chink”, “Jap”, “Nip”, “Gook” are all officially recognised as racial slurs, and yet somehow they’re seen as ‘not as bad’ as those other ones.

As a typical example of this, there was an incident a few years ago when prime-time Radio 1 DJ Edith Bowman read out a listener’s email in which the inclement weather was described as “A bit Pearl Harbour” . . . as in, “there’s a nasty Nip in the air.” Whilst there was a muted outcry, the fact that it could have even taken place is indicative of the lack of awareness regarding these words. A similar incident involving the “N-word” would be unthinkable; witness the furore over Jeremy Clarkson’s half-uttered mutterings as testament to that. Having listened to the recordings, I’m not entirely sure I can make out whether he says the word or not, but even someone as monumentally stupid as he would not make the mistake of brazenly saying it in all its ‘glory’.

The question that should be asked is why this is? Even within the politically correct spheres of society, this hierarchy remains. The currently accepted terminology ‘BME” stands for ‘Black and Minority Ethnic’. Black is given prominence over other ethnic minorities, though without any apparent reason. As per the 2011 Census, the number of people living in Britain that we would tend to lump wholesale into the group ‘Asian’ (or more accurately, South Asians from the Indian Subcontinent, including those of Indian, Pakistani and Bangladeshi descent) amount to 5.2% of the total population. Black, African, Caribbean or Black British people account for 3.3%. So whilst the obvious initial argument might be that whilst black people are still a minority, they are less of a minority than others – the figures do not bear this out.

Why then is racism towards black people seen by society as wholly unacceptable, but racism towards other minorities has yet to reach that tipping point? Undoubtedly black people were the whipping boys for several decades, and moreover historically they suffered the subjugation and suffering of slavery – so is it some latent sense of guilt? Has British society, magnanimous in its victory, decided to “leave it, they’ve had enough” and turned their attention elsewhere? Perhaps we are simply pioneering ‘Equal Opportunity Racism’?

That large swathes of society and the media seem to have shifted their focus and turned their eyes onto the supposed existential threat posed by Muslims might superficially seem to support this argument. Undoubtedly the Muslims (and therefore all too often by extension anybody with vaguely brown skin whose background originates somewhere east of Greece) are the whipping boys of the day, perhaps with the Eastern Europeans as unwitting sidekicks. Maybe in due course the Orientals will have their day in the ‘limelight’ and it will be the Chinese that are vilified, which seems a more likely proposition if the mainland Chinese continue to emigrate in numbers and the Chinese economy becomes the dominant global force.

If anything, it is somewhat surprising that they have not been targeted for more abuse already, given that many of the arguments regarding illegal immigration can be legitimately applied to a – not insignificant – proportion of the Chinese in the UK. Equally, the accusations applied to other communities – that they are insular and do not integrate – are no less applicable to the Chinese communities. Perhaps the Chinese diaspora have yet to cause the same kinds of negative backlash as other minority communities because they simply have a lower profile; the 2011 Census identifies only 0.7% of the population as Chinese. Perhaps the overall perception of the Chinese is that they are industrious, unobtrusive, and less threatening? Perhaps they are simply lighter skinned and so seem less different?

It is true that Chinese people have not suffered the slings and arrows of outrageous racism to the same degree as black people have in the past, nor to the extent that Asian people currently suffer. It does not manifest itself in the institutional harassment that black people are still widely victim to. It does not manifest itself in the negative headlines and dog-whistle politics we see Muslims subjected to on an almost daily basis. Perhaps then the reason why racism towards Chinese people and Orientals in general is not afforded the same gravitas as racism towards blacks is simply because it has not reached the same levels of severity? Every action creating an equal and opposite reaction and all that? That’s not to say it doesn’t exist of course, but the racism towards Chinese is more casual; it’s the kind of racism that can be slipped into conversation and promote a laugh, rather than an awkward silence. It’s the kind of racism that, by-and-large, Chinese people let slide, because it’s too much of a pain in the arse to keep making a big deal out of it. Perhaps some Chinese people are not bothered by it at all, and maybe this is due to the stoical nature of the Chinese character? Perhaps, beneath that inscrutable exterior, it is the inherent racism within Chinese society that as the Chinese people are (clearly) so very superior, why would they be bothered by such trifling things?

For whatever reason, in terms of volume, in terms of vitriol, racism towards Chinese people has not reached the giddy heights of racism towards black people, and so perhaps that is why it is seen as ‘not as bad’. Maybe, their day has simply yet to come.

Yet the notion that black people were somehow historically singled out for special attention is slightly erroneous; it would be to ignore the dubious yet glorified history of the British Empire. They were not the only race to be enslaved, nor the only culture to be subjugated, though the sheer volume of the African slave trade dwarfs all others. Even if the justification why racism towards black people is considered worse than other is “well, we really were awfully bad to those chaps” then it doesn’t really speak of a lesson well-learned, does it?

Hong Kong, the British colony where my father was born, was taken by force in retribution for the Chinese restricting the British opium trade, itself an act of economic warfare designed to balance out the trade deficit that existed at the time. If not Equal Opportunity Racists, the British were certainly Equal Opportunity Imperialists.

Perhaps then the shift in attitudes came about as a result of the race riots seen in the early 80s? Perhaps when (by-and-large) black people decided they’d had enough and took to the streets to defend themselves against injustice and oppression, this caused a shift in the nation’s consciousness? Perhaps it takes extreme acts of violence to implement that level of change? Large scale action causes a reaction.

Perhaps the ‘scary black man’ trope just resonates with a lot of people, and they’re too scared to offend in case something physical happens to them as a result?

For whatever reason, the hierarchy exists. People are fully aware that the “N-word” is off-limits (except behind closed doors, with like-minded people), “Paki” is widely recognised as offensive, but is still used with alarming frequency. “Chinky” is – apparently – up for debate. So much so, that even an Ofcom ruling on the use of the word in the Vicar of Dibley took the view that “the term was used with a commercial rather than personal connotation” as “the context in which the term “Chinky” was used robbed it of any potential racist connotation.

Which brings us to what is usually the first argument used in support of this – what must inevitably be called the ‘Partridge Defence‘ – which states: “it’s not offensive, it’s a type of food!”

Where do you begin . . . ? I’m surprised I actually have to lower myself to the level of debating this, but I suppose when trying to educate you’ve got to work with what you’ve got.

“Chinky” might be used to describe a type of food, but that is Chinese food, cooked by Chinese people. To try and employ this argument is equivalent to arguing that “going down the Paki-shop” is not offensive, because “how can you insult a shop?” or trying to claim that saying “that Nigger music” would not be offensive because it referred to a musical genre. If you are calling that type of food “Chinky”, then by extension you are calling the people and culture the same thing, these are not discrete concepts. The word “Chinky” is being used in place of the word Chinese as a direct replacement, and so fundamentally there is no distinction drawn between them – it would be no different than if it were used to describe a person as a “Chinky” instead of as Chinese.

And here then is the real sticking point for those trying to make this argument. Whilst Farage may have shifted the debate slightly, to where some people might believe the waters are a little muddier (they’re still pretty crystal clear to a lot of people), we must return to the source of this scandal.

The commotion commenced when tapes emerged of Kerry Smith referring to “that Chinky bird” – not in reference to going out for a type of food, but unequivocally in reference to a person, a Chinese person. Kerry Smith called a Chinese woman a “Chinky”. The initial excuse was that he was dosed up on medication and forgot to moderate his language as a result; obviously this resulted in the widespread piss-taking it deserved, as ordinary (ie non-racist) people do not suddenly drop a veneer of respectability and become racist homophobes merely because they’re on their meds.  To compound the issue, an LBC interview with Mr Smith confirmed he was unapologetic and utterly failed to see how what he’d said was offensive, painting it as that beloved banner of the ignorant, the ubiquitous “telling it how it is.”

So even if you want to try and make the argument that “it’s ok when you’re talking about a type of food” (I wouldn’t recommend it, you make yourself look incredibly stupid), Kerry Smith wasn’t talking about food – he was talking about a person.

The next argument trotted out is usually an appeal to the masses, or argumentum ad populum – which is essentially “but a lot of people say this, so that makes it ok!”

It’s really tempting to invoke Godwin’s Law here, but there are an infinite number of examples of issues that were not just widely supported at the time, but enshrined in law no less. Slavery was deemed perfectly acceptable, women were not allowed to vote, people were put in prison for being poor, girls could marry when they were just 12, homosexuality was illegal.

Just because a lot of people say or do something, that doesn’t mean it’s right.

I’m pretty sure this is something most of us get taught as a kid, and yet for UKIP and its supporters, it seems they still haven’t quite got the hang of this yet. Hence whenever somebody within UKIP says or does something embarrassing, expect squeals of “but just look at all the other parties! They do it too!”

Doing the right thing is not simply conforming with those around you. For the supposed ‘anti-politics’, ‘anti-establishment’ and ‘not like the rest’ party they claim to be, you would think UKIP would know this better than anyone. It seems deep down they talk the talk but are unable to walk the walk.

Of course, this argument has also been employed in relation to popular culture as well: “it’s no different to what was said on the telly” – shows like Only Fools and Horses, or Till Death Do Us Part. Whilst I suppose we should make some allowances for UKIP’s inherently anachronistic nature, it does seem to have passed them by that society has moved on in the last 30 odd years. Perhaps they haven’t progressed past the denial stage yet. Just because something used to be acceptable, it doesn’t mean it still is. Ask a host of 70s Radio DJs and TV presenters about that one. Society moves on, it’s called ‘progress’, it means moving forward. As much as UKIP and its supporters seem to hark after ‘the good old days’ – they’ve been and gone and are left in the past.

The final, and probably most facile argument of all, goes a little something like this:

I don’t get offended when somebody calls me a Brit, Australians don’t get offended if I call them Aussies, Chink and Paki are just abbreviations like Brit and Aussie, and they’re no more offensive 

And if you’ve ever said that, then you’re a cunt.

I can call you that without being offensive, because I’ve just decided based on entirely arbitrary criteria determined by me, that the word cunt isn’t offensive.

And in truth, actually, it isn’t. The word cunt is just a word, it’s simply a combination of letters. Combinations of letters cannot be offensive in any objective sense, because without meaning, significance and context they simply become random abstract things. What makes the word cunt offensive is the associations and history that we’ve attached to it.

Chaucer certainly made liberal use of it in the Canterbury Tales, Shakespeare used it as a play-on-words in Hamlet; it is only in recent times where society has attached such significance that it has risen to become the overlord of obscenities.

So, are “Chink” and “Paki” any more offensive than “Brit” or “Aussie”? In an abstract sense, no, because no word is offensive. But that is to hypothesise that these words can be divorced from their history, the context. Nobody in this country has ever had a brown paper bag containing dog-shit set alight and shoved through a letterbox as a complement to “BRIT GO HOME!!” daubed across their walls. Aussies (in the sense of white, non-indigenous Australians) have not spent their entire lives as second-class citizens perpetually being discriminated against, with Aussie as the abusive term used to denigrate and discriminate against them.

Because what people do not seem to realise is that to understand what racism is, they must firstly put aside egocentric notions of whether they intended to be offensive or not. Racism is in the ear of the beholder, and it is not a series of isolated incidents and abstract words; it is a system of oppression and abuse that takes place over a lifetime. Even if you do not consider somebody to be racially inferior, then I’m afraid that is entirely irrelevant when it comes to using racist terminology. Even if you are not using it in a way intended to be racist or offensive, it’s still irrelevant.

This is not about you. Because you are not the person that is subject to racism.

The person on the receiving end has heard that word before, thousands of times, and the majority of those it has been used as a term of abuse. All too often it has been accompanied with fists and feet; the association is unbreakable, it cannot be undone.

So when a Chinese person hears the word “Chinky” or an Asian hears “Paki” – these are words positively pregnant with significance. They are laden with baggage. They act as reminders of that lifetime of being alienated, ostracised and abused, simply because of their race. It is the racism they have dealt with their entire life bound up in a microcosm. Those few abstract letters represent every beating they have taken, every window that was smashed, every humiliating encounter with a random stranger abusing them on the street.

For me personally, just hearing or reading the word is enough to provoke the fight-or-flight response, so deep are those associations ingrained.

For a British person hearing the word Brit or an Australian being called Aussie – nothing. Because they have no history, significance or context. They simply are abbreviations.

To explain further, and to remind white people that they do not have a monopoly on racism, there is a Chinese term of abuse – gwei lo. Right now (before I tell you what it means or you Google it) it is probably utterly meaningless to you. Even when you find out the meaning (it is normally translated as ‘foreign devil’ and – ironically – is applied to all foreigners regardless of skin colour, because to the Chinese, well, you’re all the same) it probably seems quaint and innocuous. If someone were to call you gwei lo, it’s extremely unlikely that you’d actually take genuine offence and more than likely on finding out what you were being called you’d laugh.

However, imagine you’d grown up as a foreigner in (the Cantonese speaking part of) China. Imagine you’d spent a lifetime of people moving chairs on the train when you sat down. Imagine you’d spent a lifetime of being denied opportunities because of your race. Imagine you’d lived as a second-class citizen, and the soundtrack to that was gwei logwei logwei lo on constant repeat. The word would become a weight around your neck. It would be the tangible reminder of your inferiority. It would be your racial slur. The Chinese you knew might say “oh, but we don’t mean anything by it” and brush it off casually as being used in a friendly, positive manner, but underneath that light-heartedness would be the heavy undercurrent of racism and discrimination.

Equally, imagine a parallel universe in which white people had been enslaved by black, imagine a world in which white people were discriminated against, white people were denied justice, white people were second class citizens. Imagine then the power the word “Honky” might have. In our society, call a white person a “Honky” and they’re liable to laugh at you it is so inconsequential and powerless, but in this topsy-turvy world where white people were subjugated, get called a “Honky” and you might feel the sting that barbed words can bring.

Or perhaps not. Perhaps you might be the kind of character that is not fazed by these things. Perhaps it might be like water off a duck’s back, just as some black people do not rise to “Nigger”, some Asians do not rise to “Paki” and some Chinese do not rise to “Chink” – some people just have thicker skin I guess. That being the case, do we hold them up as shining examples and encourage everyone to be more like them, so that everyone can go around using these words guilt-free, without the imposition of being called racists? Or should we take the view that the right thing to do is moderate our language so as not to cause offence?

Seemingly there are quite a lot of people that believe the former.

According to them, the fault lies not with those people either too ignorant to know the meaning of these words, or too stubborn to accept that they are offensive. Instead, it is the stupid Pakis, the silly Chinks, always looking to find offence when there is none. Why can’t they understand that these words are being used in an entirely innocent, nay positive way?

The mind boggles, it truly does.

So let us conclude by addressing the final argument, though it is not an argument as such. This is the appeal to free speech, the notion that just because some people are offended, that should not infringe on another person’s rights to say whatever they hell they damn well like.

And the answer here is, it doesn’t. Anybody can say whatever they feel like. Saying something racist is not against the law in and of itself. As part of another crime, it can be a factor, such as racially motivated harassment, racially motivated assault, inciting racial hatred etc. But being racist is not against the law, regardless of what these people think.

Indeed, if you use these words, accept they are offensive and racist and use them anyway, because it is your right to express yourself as you see fit, then kudos to you. I can respect somebody who is openly racist and proud. I might disagree with them entirely, but at least they have the courage to stick to their convictions and take ownership and responsibility for what they say.

What you can’t do, is say something racist, and then expect to be protected from being called a racist.

It’s called being an adult. If you say or do something, then be prepared to accept the consequences. If you say racist things then people will call you racist, stop crying about it.

It almost seems in the minds of these people that being called a racist is somehow actually worse than being racially abused. For all of their pontificating about minorities looking to be offended and playing the victim, they do a very strong line in hypocrisy. Seriously, you’re using racial slurs and yet you want to get precious because somebody called you a racist?

And to those people, there’s really only one response: Grow up