2007 - 2022

The Queen’s English

calaisAs the tabloids call for the army to be sent in and Cameron whips up hysteria talking of a ‘swarm’, we reflect on the language and coverage of Calais.

It was on Radio 4 that an interviewee called in saying he was a lorry driver and proceeded to describe the people trying to get on the lorries at Calais as “ants….they were everywhere”. He disgracefully went unchallenged by the presenter who continued the interview thanking the man for his ‘valued insight’. We know these words well. This is the language of the barbaric, the exterminator, the victor over the vanquished and certainly not that of the civilised nation we purport to be. But it has never been a new language; but part of a long history of the degradation and dehumanisation of fellow humans driven by desperation and circumstance.

colouredNow as then the government has actively encouraged the use of propaganda to distort facts and heighten native fears. Along with a compliant media it has then robbed groups of their humanity for centuries. In this we can observe two elements, the first being the history of language and then the way in which it is used. In my view there can be no distinction between an ‘illegal’ or legal migrant, or even a single mother or the unemployed. All the lexicon used to describe these groups is about creating a culture of division and fear. The rhetoric of the enemy within where those who are fortunate or just barely subsisting are encouraged to despise or be afraid of their fellow humans.

When my grandparents settled down in North London they would often come across signs that said, ‘No Irish, No Blacks, No Dogs’. These signs were in profuse existence for most of the 50s and 60s, even making the occasional comeback in remote areas in the 70s. Lets not forget the election slogan coined by the Conservatives during the late 50s, “If you want a n***** for a neighbour, vote Labour”.

That was horrible so was a leading politician describing Afro Caribbean immigrants and their children as picannies, an especially ripe term from the cupboard of 18th century racism. In the context of the United States, the pickaninny is characterised by three qualities: “the figure is always juvenile, always of colour, and always resistant if not immune to pain”. (Later used a poignant justification for brutality against blacks and indented Irish slaves). But the language used by the Prime Minister and members of the public has a distinct chill to it remnant of the ethnic nationalism we often heard is absent in Britain.

Maurice McleodThe term racism is often called out and without the full understanding of its historical bearing, structural power and linguistic subtleties. We can safely say that the Prime minister joined the ranks of continental nationalists by likening the migrants (most of whom are non-white) to insects. And colour of course is crucial here because it shapes the debate within the context of language and the idea of the alien. European immigrants maybe scorned at but due to the conditions of being in Europe and the superficial similarities it is significantly harder to reduce these groups to animal status. Only with migrants from Asia, Africa and the Maghreb can we be so glib about their bestial state. Their dark skins so far from the norm, their strange calls to prayer, the odd languages and hostile tongues that seem even further away than Continental languages.

racevanWe must go back into the past to see why it has been so easy for fellow humans to be denigrated and for so many of our fellow citizens to be susceptible to this conditioning. In the recently aired ‘Britain’s Lost Slave Owners‘ we saw how the professional classes and big plantation owners numbed themselves to the horrors that fed their profit. The cargo was never seen as human, just assets to be bought and sold. Think on how often traders to throw whole ‘batches’ of African slaves overboard when a percentage got sick for fear that they would lose their insurance at the docking port. I recall listening to letters read on the show of a lady from the Home Counties who was concerned about the death of a slave, but not in personal terms as a human but rather that he was a skilled man and as an asset would be a heavy loss economically.

The Jews from the Pale in Lithuania, Poland and the Ukrainian territories who started to come to Britain in the mid Victorian period were also subjected to abuse when they settled in the East end of many of our cities. They too were seen as an insect horde, killers of children come to pollute British streets and corrupt British christianity. Their anarchist tendencies were a particular concern but this was explicitly expressed in racial terms. Another potent example is that of the Irish who apart from being a perceived threat for jobs both skilled and unskilled were also seen as intrinsically non human. The ‘fenian threat’ posed these Catholic immigrants in the UK were presented in broadsheet newspapers as a threat to the very purity and soul of the nation. They were lacking in Anglo-Saxon purity and therefore were especially feared alongside Jews as a ‘corruption of the white race’ and thus as a danger to the higher echelons of human civilisation.

The reason why it is of concern to all of us is that this language of oppression is not only offensive but a physical threat to liberty and equality for all. We all are practiced upon by the language of British imperialism and class whether we are immigrants or asylum seekers, ethnic minorities in Britain, white working class from our poorest neighbourhoods. We have in the past forty years in this country seen a political rhetoric where the poorest and powerless have been systematically dispossessed and dehumanised by the language of the powerful and propertied. Those with disabilities, single mothers, women and even if we look through the context of the Union, the Scots and Welsh. The voices that can call fellow humans at Calais a swarm, that can deny any shred of human feeling and sense of responsibility are the same voices that oppress us all.

Calling human beings ‘picannies’, ‘lazy’, ‘locusts’, ‘scroungers’ legitimises their rights being further eroded and their persons to be acted upon violently. No-one is saying that our streets are paved with gold, but you do not need golden streets to act like civilised humans. Many in our respective countries across Europe have shown our hearts to be as cold and dead as the pieces of metal and gadgets we value over human life, solidarity or liberty. Our citizenship and plenty are only as valid and secure as we think if we are willing to share it with others. For truly with our history of language and power, can we call ourselves democratic or civilised?


Comments (31)

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  1. john young says:

    Well they told us that the greatest threat to the USA/WEST is ISIS/ISIL lo and behold they along with Turkey have agreed to bomb the KURDS who are rolling back the threat all over the area mad/evil or what? no mention either that Assads Syrian Army and their allies Hezbollah are defeating and pushing them back in Syria/Iraq no no we can,t have that now can we.

    1. C Rober says:

      Mujaheedem – terrorists fighting Russian invader , alqeda fighting western invader , Isil – fighting everyone that dont adhere to a caliphate.

      Kurds – Whem Churchill gassed them he was a hero , when Saddam did it he was acting out Genocide , when the west uses another Islamic country its ok because they are in the UN.

      Syria – Run by a lunatic protecting his people , or again commiting genocide , you cant have it both ways western media.

      Israel a created state to have a convenient partner in the oil territories , to keep the tent people in line.

      Now that the regions of Islam , regardless of the sect and history , begin to fear that they will be next on the caliphate books , they too find a convenient enemy , and more so a conveinet frenemy , the West – bringing more in from the cold to prevent the RussoChina dominance coming from the east.

      1. Lesley Docksey says:

        I wrote this two years ago:
        I think I shall have to update it and include the racist language of leaders!

  2. Mark Rowantree says:

    Spot on! The British establishment has alighted on this issue as one which will detract the lumpen proletariat, such as is left from the harm caused by Tory economic policies.

  3. Grace Ferguson says:

    I remember the signs that read “No Irish No Scotch No Blacks No kids No dogs”

  4. Jim Bennett says:

    In The Sociology of War and Violence, Siniša Malesevic argued that de-legitimising opponents humanity made it easier to create a culture of violence aimed at them. By demonstrating that the “enemy” don’t share human characteristics, it makes it easier to justify ones actions. Beasts and monsters need no compassion.
    In the Balkan conflict, the Croatians regularly portrayed the Serbs as rats, thieves, devils and vultures whilst emphasising their own morality. I needn’t think I need to go into the detail of how this propaganda ended.
    Russia’s treatment of its drug addicted citizens is characterised by identification of addicts as subhuman (Max Daly in Matters of Substance). Addicts are denied life-saving medicine. They are beaten, fitted up by the cops, raped and tortured. They are, according to Russian state-sponsored propaganda, subhuman scum. The characterisation allows the police the license to treat this “scum” without humanity.
    In U.S. Presidential races the obsession with Obama’s racial identity partly
    characterised American politics. A woman at a rally asked Obama’s opponent, John McCain, whether it was true that Obama is an Arab. “No” McCain answered, “He is a decent human being.” Arabs on the other hand…

    The demonisation of opponents/other groupings as sub-human has been evident throughout history (and very recent history at that!). Look at the Israeli’s portrayal of Palestinians in the last elections: “The hordes”, or Hutu characterisation of Tutsis as “cockroaches” prior to the Rwandan genocide.
    In Dehumanization, by Michelle Maiese, she points out that dehumanisation is a psychological process whereby opponents view each other as less than human and thus not deserving of moral consideration..
    “Protracted conflict strains relationships and makes it difficult for parties to recognize that they are part of a shared human community. Such conditions often lead to feelings of intense hatred… alienation and exclusion. …Those excluded are typically viewed as inferior…”
    Many people who make these type of comments say they are “joking”. Jokes, however, have a purpose: https://www.psychologytoday.com/…/dehumanizing-others…

    1. Robert J Somynne says:

      Thanks Jim for this comment. I will definitely get this book as I have wanted to go deeper in to the Bosnian context of violence and language. I’m quite concerned and fascinated at how easy it is to connect language and derogatory terms to the visual images that portray humans as sub. The Germans in the Great War looked on as brutish apes in contrast to the image of the noble warrior for Liberty from the Anglosphere. There is also a close connection between using the poverty of groups like the Palestinians to ‘prove’ their danger or impurity. Palestinians are seen as having the general characteristics of the developing world, dirty, poor, alien. Therefore we use the poverty we impose on them to further justify our language of them.

      1. Jim Bennett says:

        Indeed! Great article and great comment.

  5. Lesley Docksey says:

    Perhaps Cameron is putting himself in a position where, like Mary Tudor said when she lost Calais to the French, “When I am dead and opened, you will find Calais written on my heart.”
    Not sure about the heart bit though!

    1. Edward Plantagenet says:

      Surely it read “Callous”? (The old ones are the best ones!)

  6. MacHeth says:

    While working in London , in late 1980’s it was common to see” no Irish no Scots”(or worse ) signs in estate/letting agents windows 🙁 , I would also like to mention that there were many Scots slaves as well, something mainly overlooked/ ignored. An interesting fact from the Clearance years, many of the ships used to transport the victims around the globe were ships that had been declared unfit for transporting slaves , because they were a more valuable cargo 🙁

  7. Andy Nimmo says:

    I thought I’d have a bit of fun at JK’s expense in response to her support for Better Together


    The underlying point made though re continually repeating the bad things in history, while ignoring or forgetting the good is sound and valid.

  8. bringiton says:

    My experience in dealing with Tories is their almost complete lack of empathy for their fellow man.
    It has been suggested that this is caused by the brain being wired in a particular way which excludes all thoughts not concerned with personal survival and advancement.
    Cameron must be desperate to get the immigrant thing off the front pages before his decisive in/out referendum on the EU is enacted otherwise England will definitely vote to exit (which he doesn’t want).

    1. BeeDee says:

      “My experience in dealing with Tories is their almost complete lack of empathy for their fellow man.”

      Given the subject matter … hrrrmmm.

  9. Morag says:

    Maybe there just needs to be an agreement across Europe that we will support people presenting in this way for help. And a Europe wide fund ring fenced to let it happen?

  10. James Campbell says:

    I grew up mostly in the London area, save for 6 months in Glasgow, in 1982. I recall my aunt’s Scottish boyfriend racially abusing Pakistanis on the streets of Pollokshields, when I was 10. I’ll never forget it. Some of the most racist people I know are Scottish members of my family.

    Yes, we have a racist past in England, and this lives on in some sections of society. However, stirring up mud on the issue with this kind of article is quite disappointing. I really didn’t enjoy the tone.

    Making no distinction between illegal and legal migrants is of course right from the point of view that we are all worth the same; at the same time, working on this basis administratively would be the death of the rule of law. No government anywhere in the world would advocate this.

    The offers from the Scottish Government to welcome legally processed immigrants should of course be welcomed by Westminster, as long as systems are put in place to ensure that they cannot live outside Scotland e.g. end up in London or other English cities, for a number of years at least.

    It’s totally OK for governments to insist that asylum applicants do so according to a fair and legal system which facilitates some sort of integration process. Clearly, we have a long way to go on this front.

    1. Ann graham says:

      Where in this article is it implied that the English are more racist than the Scots? I’m wondering why you felt it necessary to take a defensive standpoint, or to point out that the most racist people you know are Scottish. The piece condemns the language of the media, and of the Prime Minister, not of England or English people..
      I lived in London for 15 years, until last summer. It’s mainly a very accepting, multicultural city. It sadly doesn’t reflect England as a whole -as the extraordinary volume of votes across England for UKIP in the General Election quite clearly demonstrates. Glasgow is also an accepting, multicultural city. A lot has changed in the streets of Pollockshields since 1982, as they no doubt have elsewhere in the course of over thirty years. London included.
      We remain a Union, with no restriction of movement between nations. Therefore your (slightly patronising) approval of the Scottish Government’s proposals on the condition that ‘systems are put in place to ensure that they cannot live outside Scotland eg end up in London or other English cities’ is somewhat unrealistic -not to mention hugely revealing. Essentially you’re saying you’re fine with it as long as they don’t end up in your backyard.
      Perhaps London is a little more racist than you’d like to believe.

    2. Ann graham says:

      (And by ‘London’ I mean ‘you’.)

  11. Charles murphy says:

    I remember signs on factories that said no Irish need apply … And underneath someone had scribbled … ” whoever wrote this wrote it well … For the same is written on the gates of hell”

  12. Shen says:

    I remember right up until 1991 (when I lived in west Yorkshire at that time) my local pub landlord having an A4 typed message saying ‘NO TRAVELLERS WILL BE SERVED’ notice on his front door premises. That all changed when the Travelling community turned up on mass inside his pub and refused to leave and the Police ‘fair play to them, refused to evict them from the premises. The Landlord called time and shut the pub, He died two weeks later from a stroke. When the new owners took over that incident never accursed it’s ugly head again. The local travelling site near where I lived at the time was blocked by the local council and the War on Travellers had just began.

  13. Dougie says:

    After the Irish the Scots were the most common white slave many sold by the Crown for protesting the act of Union many others for the crime of speaking in their native tongue in their native land

  14. Lawrence says:

    Very good article, language can be oppressive. If you tell someone often enough they`re worthless/stupid/a benefit junkie, eventual they will come to believe it themselves. The best way to subjugate it by killing the language. A course run by the University of Exeter with Future Learn was well worth the 6 weeks, very enlightening. https://www.futurelearn.com/courses/empire

    1. Andy Nimmo says:

      In the early 1980’s I worked for an US led consortium in Saudi Arabia.
      Employees were divided into three groups.
      American, Third Country (Western) and Third Country (Eastern). We even had our own living quarters and swimming pools
      The consortium lasted just over a year before losing the contract with the Saudi Government.
      As part of the terms and conditions, they had agreed to employ a certain percentage of the local Bedouin population
      An audit performed showed they had reneged on the agreement.

  15. BeeDee says:

    While I agree with many of the sentiments expressed in this article I don’t think that we can read much into any spur-of-the-moment comments by a no doubt already angry lorry driver. What is more important, given that they had time to reflect, is that Radio 4 chose to broadcast this particular comment.

    I also listened to a TV news broadcast last night that stated (without any tongue in cheek) that the reason that all of these people wanted to come here was because, “Britain’s economy is booming”.

  16. Big Jock says:

    Bee Dee – When these people mean Britain they say England, and when they say England they mean London. Most of the people will end up in London. London’s economy is booming and that is what the world see’s unfortunately.

    Outside London we are all sufferring for their meglomania and greed. They take evrything and blame poverty on people outside London. I pity these poor refugees who think London is the land of milk and honey.

  17. Blair McInnes says:

    Scots are not angels when it comes to racism and language used about others and indeed on occasions ourselves.

    What there is however is a self policing mechanism that subdues rants at the extremes. You see this with Scotland football supporters, political parties and in social contexts.

    Exception to this are the orange order, but I would maintain that this is imported and not indigenous. You could not foresee ukip, bnp or defence league gaining traction in Scotland.

    We see a lot in the mainstream media about Cyber Nats. If anyone on here opponent or like minded person, point out to me a country in transition to independence that has done so in such a mature or dignified matter?

    Scottish nationalism has a small extreme, but 99.9% know if we stray down the path racism, violence or just plain meanness towards others on these islands we will set back our cause. We have examples close to home to learn from.

    Conversely, the mainstream uk press and state broadcaster can normalise racism against Scots without our recourse or other disciplines. Examples being the long running too poor, wee & stupid, the guardian cartoons, unsubstantiated reports of SNP activists doing x, y & z and most of all the bias displayed by the state broadcaster and the drip, drip of negative Scottish stories.

    The nationalist’s political opponents have long given up attacking the SNP’s record in government. Their strategy is to attack Scottish institutions as a proxy to attack the SNP. Examples, police and NHS, crime has never been lower in modern times and people are living longer than they have ever done. there is room for improvement, but these achievements have been achieved during austerity budget cuts.

    My point being, opposition have a job to do, but when you continually run your country down and you are controlled and funded out with Scotland, when does that become racism or colonialist rule? Not forgetting the collusion of the state broadcaster and MSM.

  18. florian albert says:

    No Irish No Blacks No Dogs; these signs ‘were in profuse existence for most of the 1950s and 1960s.’

    This is fantasy.

    Nobody in the 1950s spoke of ‘blacks.’ It was an import from the US in the mid to late 1960s. People used the words ‘coloured’ or ‘negro’.

    1. Jim Bennett says:

      I honestly don’t know about tis so googled and got a few interesting results:
      http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/magazine/6681337.stm – see quote from Bala Superamaniam
      http://historum.com/european-history/73110-no-blacks-no-irish-no-dogs-no-facts.html – anecdotal evidence
      http://historicalgeographies.blogspot.co.uk/2011/01/no-blacks-no-irish-no-dogs-slavery-and.html – interestingly it’s this single photo which repeatedly appears in articles about this.
      http://www.civilrightsmovement.co.uk/civil-rights-uk.html – assertion of the “no blacks” signs but again, no non-anecdotal evidence.

      But, the question of whether anti-black racism existed is quite clear, whether the “no black” signs existed or not. You only have to loo at this survey to see that even if the signs aren’t up, a barrier does exist: http://www.runnymedetrust.org/news/525/272/No-Dogs-No-Blacks-new-findings-show-that-minority-ethnic-groups-are-still-discriminated-against-when-trying-to-rent-private-housing.html

  19. Will says:

    The reason for the TorIes hyping up the hysteria is obvious to me they are trying to set their stall out to create propaganda to gain a NO vote and Brexit.

  20. arthur thomson says:

    This post was a good reminder to us all.

    The plight of the people at Calais and those in other parts of world is an acute one and I agree with the point made by Morag.

    With regard to Scotland, the use of particular words and language has long been used as evidence of the relative worth of people. Just one part but a very important part of the process of deliberately fostering a sense of inferiority and acceptance of the superiority of others.

  21. John Craig says:

    Aren’t we all getting a bit carried away about this? Cameron’s ill-advised use of the word “swarm” is nothing in the light of what we have called one another recently. Shouldn’t we be looking to mend our own divisions. My wife is a retired nurse, she holds I believe, the singular position of having been recruited straight from her training, into the Scottish Air Ambulance Service. Her hands are now crippled by arthritis but a notable Surgeon pointed out the dozens of lives they had saved, the scores of babies safely delivered, the hundreds tended and mended and the comfort brought to those whose time had come. She voted Liberal at the election.
    A stones throw from us lives a woman of an age as ourselves, a rabid ( and I use that word with care ) Nationalist. She describes all those who do not vote for the Nationalist cause as Scum and Filth.
    I am completely aware of the depths people are sinking to in the Unionist/Nationalist debate. It is worthwhile bearing in mind that a great slice of the anti nationalist comments and vitriolic statements we see on a daily basis are generated south of the border. Maybe things aren’t quite as bad in Scotland as they would appear. Our battleground is here in how we conduct ourselves. The utterances of the David Cameron’s, the injustices he and his like would wish to foist on us,
    these are irrelevances. It’s how we regard human beings in Scotland that matter, it’s our values we have to consider. We can feel superior when our own house is in order.

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