Context is everything. Unfortunately it’s also the first thing to go when someone attacks an opponent using their choice of language as a weapon. I’ve called this blog post “I’ve decided to vote Conservative and so should you!” which is something I would never, ever say. Something I would never, ever do. Though I’m sure some of you clicked this link to find out what could possibly have sent this seemingly intelligent, left-leaning obsessive into the enemy camp. Out of context that quote is worrying. In the (somewhat meta) context of a post about the importance of context it makes a little more sense. It’s just a salacious quote from the body of this post slapped in the title line to draw in readers.
However, the removal of context can be used as a more dangerous tool of attack. It pains me to write this post, it really does. The people I am about to appear to stick up for are hated by me and hopefully, in the full context of this post, you’ll understand that I’m not supporting them at all, I’m simply digging a little deeper into the mechanism of the attacks (justifiably) made on them.
A short while ago a newspaper got its hands on an unaired clip of right-wing opinions-for-sale arsehole Jeremy Clarkson using the word “Nigger” in a link on Top Gear. Out of context that is awful! It’s not much better IN context. However… The way the word was used by Clarkson wasn’t in a racist attack on a person of colour, or as a means of describing someone in a derogatory way. It was used in the context of the old counting rhyme “Eeny Meeny Miny Mo” which – before the days of political correctness – contained the line “catch a Nigger by his toe”. In my school days it was always “catch a piggy by his toe”. A friend informs me that, during his school days, the word they used was “tiger”. The BBC aired a take of Clarkson’s rhyme where he says “teacher” in the interchangeable place. I daresay – as was the case in my 67 year old Dad’s childhood – Clarkson the boy used the word “nigger” and nobody in the schoolyard thought anything of it.
Clarkson IS in the wrong. However, his crime is not that of “being a racist” but of “using racist language”. His crime is being a thoughtless, insensitive and arrogant dickhead. His crime is not self-censoring himself when repeating a childhood rhyme on a television programme. The error was pointed out to him there and then and a different take was used. Jeremy Clarkson is a massive bellend and a horrible man, as far as I can tell, but I don’t think it’s fair to call him a racist, at least not based on this single incident. The papers reported the story under context-free headlines such as “Clarkson in N-Word outburst on TV” which is absolutely not what happened. I feel sick almost-defending him, but there it is. I still hate him for many other reasons and so should you.
Also, remember when UKIP mouth-for-hire Godfrey Bloom was reported to have called party activists “sluts”? Disgusting right? Yep. It is. If taken on face value. However, when you read more into the incident and put his comments in context a slightly different picture emerges. Two UKIP activists were quoted as saying, for some bizarre reason – the context of which I’d LOVE to know – that they hardly ever cleaned behind the fridge. Bloom, talking about this quote, said “they’re a bunch of sluts!” I know, it still sounds awful. But then when I think back to when my Nan was alive I remember hearing that word all the time! My nan used to say to us “Don’t leave your clothes on the bathroom floor please, boys. We don’t want anyone thinking we’re sluts, do we?” or similar. In HER generation the word “slut” or “slutty” meant untidy, lazy, messy, unclean. Bloom must be almost a hundred years old by now so one could believe that, rather than suddenly calling some messy activists Sluts in the way most know the word to be used these days (which would be odd and would make little sense, even from Bloom’s horrid position), Bloom meant “sluts” to mean “messy people who don’t clean behind the fridge”. Again, context – and a little History of Language – is everything here. It’s still not nice to hear, it’s very stupid and rightly he should be brought up on it. His “Bongo Bongo Land” comments are blatantly racist, whatever context they’re used in, so feel free to carry on despising Bloom as I do. The man is an animal.
And now, today, Labour MP Austin Mitchell is accused of “trivialising sexual assault and offending those who may have suffered such” by using the word “rapists” in a tweet about the aggressive and almost-forced takeover of drug company AstraZeneca by rival giant Pfizer. A takeover would mean that UK jobs would be lost and delays would be caused to important drug trials, but there’s billions of dollars in it for Pfizer if (when) the takeover goes through. A few moments ago, on BBC News, Mitchell defended his use of the word “rapists” by claiming that – just as politicians and the media use the term “rape of the land” to mean aggressive or forced construction projects or the destruction of the rainforests – he meant that one company forcing itself on another is rape in the corporate sense. He claimed that “rape” means forced sexual activity without consent but also means pillaging and aggressive destruction and that it was by this latter definition that he used the word in his comment. There’s maybe an argument that he could’ve used a better choice of word, but there’s not much of an argument about the definitions. I don’t know Mitchell very well. He might be a prick for all I know.
However, the point is this – and I’m as guilty of this as anyone else: The Left love a reason to attack their opponents on the Right and vice versa. If a Tory-supporting TV loudmouth is filmed saying “nigger” then, regardless of the context, he is a racist. If a UKIP spokesman calls a woman a “slut” then he’s a woman-hating monster and deserves to be attacked (he IS a woman-hating bigoted prick, but… not… here…?). If a Labour MP uses the word “rapists” in any way other than to condemn the sexual assault of women then the Right will take their revenge and leap on him too. All three examples I’ve spoken about above are justifiably reportable. Each usage of the offending words or phrases deserve looking at. At least two of the three (maybe all three, I don’t know, but can’t find evidence of it) have a history of saying things that a decent human being would just not say and, if only for their past offences, deserve our derision and hatred. But context IS everything and when you take it away you can make anything anyone says mean anything you want. Language is a beautiful thing, rich with nuance, subtlety, colour, creativity and interpretive meaning. Instead of attacking these people for saying something that they’re too stupid, too arrogant, too thoughtless, too set-in-their-ways or too ignorant to realise may offend, even if that’s not how they meant it to be taken at all, maybe we should be attacking the people who do and say things and really MEAN them to offend, to hurt, to divide and to discriminate.
Our government says it should be British Jobs For British People and UKIP, BNP, Britain First and countless other right-wing parties and organisations agree. The government and UKIP also say that immigration is welcomed as long as those who come here work for a living rather than “abusing” our benefits system. Now if you look at those two ideas side by side a dark and potentially dangerous pattern emerges: Immigrants are welcome here as long as they have a job, but all our jobs should go to British people first and foremost. So those immigrants arriving and not having a job because the Brits have them all are NOT welcome! This is a policy pair that, when read separately, seem very reasonable! British Jobs For British People means less youth unemployment and more people in work – a good thing. Immigrants welcome as long as they work is also reasonable! Multicultural Britain encouraged while also bringing in taxes that will help our economy – win win. But seen in context of each other the one cancels the other out. Immigrants are welcome as long as they work, but they CAN’T work because all our jobs are for Brits only. So, really, immigrants are NOT welcome!
It’s not as clever as they think it is, it’s divisive and breeds a culture of rivalry and competition based on race and colour. Not content with nurturing a divide and rule ideology among people of different social class, we now have those in power doing exactly the same thing between people of different ethnic backgrounds. I can’t help but feel this sort of thing has happened before in history. Turning brother against brother and neighbour against neighbour, seeding suspicion and bad feeling between strangers in the street or on the tube, stifling freedom of speech by clamping down on valid and essential political criticism. Like when UKIP sent the police to a blogger’s house to ask him to remove a poster from Twitter which fact-checked a satirical policy poster using the party’s own website as a source for claims such as “UKIP want to scrap Maternity Leave” and “UKIP want to further privatise the NHS” – what sort of world are we living in where a political party, fighting an election campaign, want to STOP people knowing their policies?
No. It’s easy to attack someone for ignorantly using a racist childrens’ rhyme, for using archaic definitions long lost, or for using a word by its correct definition in – I believe – a valid circumstance, much to the horror of those looking to attack for attack’s sake or those who, sadly, for whatever personal reasons, can only see a single, horrible definition as much as they wish they could not.
Context is everything. I hate Clarkson and think he should be sacked, not for this recent incident but for the countless others he’s managed to wangle out of unscathed. I hate Bloom because who wouldn’t? The man is a disgusting individual. I don’t know much of Mitchell but I don’t see that what he said was in any way inaccurate and it’s unfortunate that offence was caused. Please take this blog in the context it was meant, I’m not defending these people against the rightfully distressed. I’m defending language against those who seek to strip it for their own means. Also, I’m not voting Conservative and neither should you. They’re a bunch of cunts. And I mean that exactly as you think I do.