Did you hear that? A decisive click and tap? The sound of a heel and sole coming firmly down — another step along the road to a world where the ultimate crime is to cause offence?
I seem to be writing and talking about this subject more and more at the moment. The absurdity of some of the stories one hears is simply staggering and, as I have said on numerous occasions, rather disturbing.
The latest concerns Carol Thatcher — daughter of former Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher:
“Carol Thatcher will no longer work on The One Show after being reported for making an off-air remark, the BBC has announced.
“The daughter of former Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher referred to a tennis player as a ‘golliwog’ backstage during filming of the BBC One programme.”
From what I have read, this comment does not seem to have been in the least bit racist. How do I define “racist”? Well, quite simply, hatred or intolerance has to be involved — a very real sense of racial superiority. This quite clearly was not the case. A cultural reference such as this is not racist, and is not something that requires an apology.
For many of us, golliwogs were an all too apparent part of our childhoods. They were on jam jars (which is what Thatcher was apparently referring to), figurines could be collected — hell, I even had a stuffed toy golliwog. Did that make me a racist? (I was six, by the way!) If I still had that toy, would it make me a racist? Would those people who accused me of perpetuating a damaging stereotype be right? Or is this just a load of old nonsense with no real relevance where civil rights are concerned?
“But it offended someone!” I hear some out there saying. “We can’t just go around offending people!”
Well, I’ve said it before and no doubt I’ll say it again… and again. Offending people is not a crime. Some people might like it to be, but it isn’t. We don’t all have the same opinions. We don’t all have the same view of life. Yes, times have changed. In many ways for the better. But I personally refuse to apologise for such inconsequential comments.
And, yes, you can argue that they are not inconsequential but, ultimately, removing a golly from a jar is not what changes attitudes. It’s mere tokenism. It’s people wanting to be seen to be doing the right thing. If it were that simple, BNP membership would not be rising. To focus on something like this is to take one’s eye off the ball and miss the real issues.
It’s time we recaptured our sense of humour. It’s time the anally retentive among us booked themselves in for colonic irrigation and stopped shitting rusks. It’s time we stopped allowing the uptight do-gooders to dictate the language we use.
I very rarely deliberately go out of my way to cause offence — but when I do so, accidentally or otherwise, I apologise. But only if I think it deserves an apology. This was a private conversation — a private conversation that was actually pretty innocuous — and were I Carol Thatcher I certainly wouldn’t apologise.
[EDIT: As this story has developed it has become increasingly apparent that Carol Thatcher’s comments were rather more offensive than a simple use of the word itself. It transpires that she has indeed apologised to those concerned privately — as she should have — but at this point, the seventh of February, she still hasn’t offered the unconditional public apology that the BBC is demanding. Given that this was not a public issue until the story was leaked, and that apologies have been made to those concerned, for me that should be an end to the matter. The BBC’s handling of this matter is still questionable, in my opinion, however.]
I’m with her agent. It’s the BBC that owes her an apology.
[UPDATE. — PLEASE READ.]
© 2009 Gary William Murning