17 January, 2010


Calling a spade a...

Yet another fatuous local-councillor-uses-naughty-word brouhaha, this time in Darkest East Lancs (and I use that phrase advisedly) as fellow councillor Mohammed Iqbal, leader of the Labour group on Pendle council, complains that (as the Mail reports it)

[Tory councillor] Smith Benson made the racist remarks during a regeneration meeting to discuss a drop in visitors to Colne, a market town in East Lancashire.

He told shocked committee members: 'The problem with Colne is that there are too many takeaways. And too many P***s, that's why people don't come to Colne.'

All hell duly broke loose.

I do wish though that supportive commenters would not try to pretend that Paki is merely some cuddly hypocoristic abbreviation of Pakistani. It isn't. This feeble rationalization is vacuous and simply allows the Righteous to score an easy point and to walk away assuming that they have thereby won the whole argument.

I have certainly heard Paki used as a completely neutral term, but mostly it has derogatory or at least negative connotations. To deny that is as foolish as the situation we found ourselves in in the 1970s, when it was polite to pretend that Black people were actually White people with a sort of unmentionable skin condition.

On the whole Cllr Benson's use of robust negative language seems excusable, even justified, if it reflects his honestly held opinion. Given that Colne is in Lancashire rather than Mirpur, he is saying, the demographics are not what he would have expected or preferred. Nor it seems is he entirely impressed with the social and economic contribution of the incomers. Clearly he feels let down.

If that's his honest opinion, fair enough. I don't know Colne well enough to have an opinion either way. Better to speak plainly than to pretend it's a happy vibrant paradise of harmonious diversity with folk of all hues dancing exultantly through the streets as they share bowls of curried hotpot.

The comment thread to the Mail piece is very much business as usual, though the number of "Racist! Racist!" comments is unusually high. The only two comments of note are these

Poles are very nice people generally...what's up with that?

which punctures both the general pomposity and the media's coyness about naughty words very nicely, and

I live near Colne, it used to be a nice place to visit, I don't go there now. Make your own mind up why that is.

which actually addresses the real issue.

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