Monday, January 12, 2009

What about the gorahs?

This morning, Murad Ahmed has written for the Times on the latest "you can't say that word anymore no matter the context" stry doing the round. I of course mean here the Prince Harry called his fellow soldier a "paki" or more correctly "our little paki friend". The furore surrounding this story has of course come about not really because the word was uttered but because of who said it.

Politicians have fallen over themselves to condemn the appalling offence Harry has caused for everyone of sound and civilised mind. Actuallyu lets correct that for minute, the only people Harry could possibly have offended is the person he was talking too, and the people there at the time. Anyone else who may have taken offence, Cameron, Clegg, Brown et al have only done so thank to the News of the World publishing it and then having to be outraged by it.

Earlier on this morning I noted on a Twitter update that if ignorance is no defence then where was the worldwide outrage when George Bush really did just use abbreviation akin to Brits for Britains when he referred to "pakis" in a speech. This is actually an important point, because for some strange reason the reaction to Bush was very much "well he didn't know so it's ok", or "it was an abbreviation, whoops". He was excused on the grounds of context.

Now if we rewind to the Harry incident and other such incidents that have occured we come back to that contextual placement of the words. Furthrmore we need to consider how peer groups speak to each other. As one colleague of mine who was in the forces noted,
"If someone said 'paki' to my face they'd get a mouthful of racial abuse back, that's how it works. It's when you start using those terms behind someone back that it becomes a problem"
This is kind of crucial to the way real racism works as opposed to language that is used which contains identifying features as its core component. Thus I come to the title of this post, what about the gorahs?

If you don't know the word gorah that might be because you speak English and take no interest in learning other language especially those from the Indian sub-continent. I happen to have an interest in it - especially swear words - and gorah is, especially if prefixed with sali, a derogotory term for "white boy/bastard".

It is a term that, like "paki", can be non-deorgotory if contextually placed in a peer group of say white and Asian kids who banter with each other using racial terms. Are there calls to ban it though? Did anyone care when it was used in Bend It Like Beckham? Furthermore, does anyone care if they see a Mexican call a white guy "gringo"? What about if a Chinese person says "gweilo"?

The bottom line it seems is this. Yet again we have a scenario that has been reported in the press which causes column inches of commentary that for the most part fail to acknowledge that the contextuality of language is the key to defining racism, it is the words themselves that are, by definition racially negative.

43 comments:

Croydonian said...

Worth noting that Pakistan means 'Land of the Pure' in Urdu, so in some ways the joke is on those using it as a derogation. The Indian press routinely abbreviates Pakistan to Pak for headlines, by the way.

jonnye said...

As an ex-pat living in Hong Kong, I fall into the gweilo category. The word is most commonly used by other gweilos and seems to categorise all non-Chinese, including the Indians and Pakistanis.

My understanding is that the word originally was meant as an insult or term of abuse, but is now basically owned by the group it was aimed at. Not unlike other words ... It's also quite useful to have a word to be able to group all of the expats together :)

PS We also have a hockey team here who are Pakistan Association, and they're always abbreviated to Pak)

Bernie Gudgeon said...

You should know better, living in south London. Paki is used as a derogatory generic term for anyone from the South Asian region, in much the same way that nigger was once used as an offensive catch all for black people. That is why Paki is now considered beyond the pale.

dizzy said...

Errr I didn't sday it couldn;t be derogotory i said that depending on the context of its usage, like all terms, it might not be.

As someone who has lived in SE London for a decade I have sat on a bus whilst teenagers of all colour who are friends use racial terms but do so without malice and don't see it as a problem.

As such it is wholly wrong to say a word can never be used. It can be, it just depends when, how, and with what intent.

Anonymous said...

I am a 70 year old cockney and have lived in North East and North West for over 20 years. I am frequently refered to, in the delightful terms of VIZ, as the 'cockney wanker'

I refer to 'sheep shaggers' etc 'haggis eaters' or refer to 'trouble at mill' in reply!

Disgusted Grange -over -Sands

Dave H said...

Can we have the word Kuffir banned too?

If that's not in routine use as a hate word I'll name my bum February.

Blue Eyes said...

Talking about context don't you think that "our little" anything "friend" could be construed as quite derogatory?

"Our little asian friend" would be just as unpleasant, "our little friend of Pakistani ethnic origin" wouldn't be very nice. Conversely would you like to be referred to as "our little white friend" by a group of your non-white friends?

dizzy said...

I;ve been called all sorts of derogotory terms for "white boy" by friends. Couldn't give a flying fuck because I give as good as I get.

Lord Snooty said...

You make some good points here about the importance of context. You can't just reduce these things to whether a particular word is 'OK' or not - it's more complex than that.

My take on the context here is that Harry is an over-privileged white man, infused with the spirit and culture of British colonialism, and working in an institution that has strong racist elements. In other words, this is further evidence that he's a racist idiot.

Jerboa said...

One is deeply grateful that one's infelicities of language and mistaken attempts at humour one made when young were not made available to the media at the time. Especially those made when one was a squaddie and engaged on long and exhausting night moves. As for those comments uttered when one was unloading fish trains and racing pigeon specials, heaven forfend that they shall ever find their way into the public domain.

dmc said...

Well the ordinary everyday people round here are saying"good ol Harry".I think its the "elite"that are way out of touch with reality.
Do they not realise every little tantrum like this adds to anti muslim opinion with normal people.

dmc said...

@ Jerboa....ummm quite.

I hate Tories said...

All this sociology stuff about 'context' is all very well but I think this is actually very simple. Harry is a first-class piece of racist scum - just like that toff Boris and all the other Bullingdon boys. It's gonna be great when they're running the country, isn't it?

dizzy said...

What's simple is that sort of comment.

I hate Tories said...

Why are you so reluctant to say that Harry's a racist? Failure to condemn is just one step behind condoning.

dizzy said...

Because I (a) don't fully know the context of the video, and (b) don't know, and cannot know, how that platoon talked amongst each other and how tight they really were.

I hate Tories said...

Weasel words, Dizzy.

Ask yourself this. Would Harry have said this to the face of a Pakistani person? Would he have said it in a public place or in the glare of the media? And why not?

I've no doubt he's grown hearing this kind of language and the attitude that goes with it, from grandparents and others. It's inbred, a bit like his family.

dizzy said...

"Would Harry have said this to the face of a Pakistani person?"

He did exactly that in the video.

dizzy said...

Which incidnetally was the point I made in the post about a colleagfue who is ex-forces who is from Bangladesh who said int he forces saying it to the face is key and you give back what you get.

dizzy said...

One other thing, I think it is particularly ironic that in a post and thread generalised prejudice that you should make your judgement based on your own generalised prejudices as well.

I hate Tories said...

Yadda yadda yadda

I find it 'ironic' that you refuse to condemn what was quite clearly racist and unacceptable, whilst happily attacking me. That says it all about what your position really is. You bend over backwards to let Harry off the hook ("I didn't see it", "oh, it's all about context") but lay into anyone who dares to call him racist (or indeed to question your attitudes). Very telling.

Lord Snooty said...

I'm confused now. What exactly is your position? Do you think this was racist or not? Or are you saying you don't know cos you didn't see the full video? I think you're being a bit slippery on this one and, given the subject, that reflects rather badly on you.

zulu warrior said...

Dizzy - can't you do something about all these lefty trolls? A bit of banter and buggery in the barracks never did anyone any harm. Snooty and his sort are typical of the PC brigade.

dizzy said...

I'm saying that I don't know how that platoon actually spoke to each other so its a bit difficult to say whether Harry's comment was something that was said with deliberate racial malice or something that was part of the general tit for tat stuff that goes on in a close knit unit of soldiers.

zulu warrior said...

I forgot to say that I regularly use the word 'Paki' to our brown-skinned friends and they generally don't mind at all. And if they do, I get some friends together and we kick the crap out of them. Saying this is wrong (I mean some of your commenters, not you Dizzy because you haven't condemned it at all) is just political correctness gone mad.

Anonymous said...

Perhaps the Senior Officer of the news of the World should speak to the Editor.

Lord Snooty said...

So is it OK if I call you a gutless apologist for racism, as that's part of the general tit-for-tat stuff that goes on in the political blogosphere?

Cheers, you racist prick!

confused liberal said...

So if it's 'just banter' and we add 'no offence, mate' at the end, we can say what we like? Sounds like nonsense to me Dizzy. Harry was out of line and needs to grow up.

dizzy said...

So is it OK if I call you a gutless apologist for racism, as that's part of the general tit-for-tat stuff that goes on in the political blogosphere? Cheers, you racist prick!

If you feel you must you can, although you'd be missing the wider, calmer and more academic point about language, contextualisation and it's usage.

So if it's 'just banter' and we add 'no offence, mate' at the end, we can say what we like?

This, like the last point is one of those classic tactics of reading what is said and then concluding something else is being said from it.

No, what is important is that whatever is said between a peer group that is closely tied is between them. Try going to here and see if you can get the point easier. Go and sit on a bus in a diverse city like London and see friends talk to each other in ways you might find offensive.

The key here is that (a) no one has the right not be offended, but more importantly, (b) it is a matter for the person subject to a term to define whether they it is offesive or not, not others watching to prejudge.

Thus, if a group of people, from mixed ethnic backgrounds, who are close friends choose to speak to each other in ways that might be offensive, from calling each other a cunt to using terms of racial identity, it is down to them to consider whether what they are saying is acceptable, not wider society.

As I said, I have not seen, and I;m happy to change my view should I be shown, any comment from the person in question and their view of it. As the title of this post pointed out, and interestingly has been ignored by many, there are many terms that are used in racially deorogotory weays about white people too but they are ignored which suggest a double standard in the whole debate anmd discourse on this subject.

Sadly politicians are rarely allowed to have these sort of discussions, because when they do they cause supposedly egalitarian people to start hurling round accusations of racism as has happened here.

Lord Snooty said...

I understand the "wider, calmer and more academic point about language, contextualisation and its usage" - my first comment on this thread applauds you on that front - but I think it's sometimes too easy to use that to let people off the hook. In my view, that's what you're doing here - hence the 'apologist for racism' charge.

The 'double standards' argument you make is often wheeled out in these debates and I think is largely bogus. As you emphasise elsewhere, context is key. For someone from a dominant majority group with a history of repressing particular minorities to use an offensive term about a member of one of those minorities is very very different from the reverse situation. To claim this is double standards is frankly a load of rubbish.

dizzy said...

For someone from a dominant majority group with a history of repressing particular minorities to use an offensive term about a member of one of those minorities is very very different from the reverse situation. To claim this is double standards is frankly a load of rubbish.

That is not what I was claiming,. I was pointing out that the principle that is adhered to in anti-racism argument is selective dependent on what is a bogus argument of "history".

Sorry to say this, but I am not responsible for what someone else did 100 years ago, or 50 years ago for that matter. The point about "gorah" and other terms is also well dcoumented by that rabid racist right wing bastard Darcus howe in his documentary "Who you callin#' nigga" which made a very good point abiout how racism between non-whites is ignored because of the obsession with the argument you have just put forward.

Lord Snooty said...

"Sorry to say this, but I am not responsible for what someone else did 100 years ago, or 50 years ago for that matter."

True enough. But you cannot escape the fact that what you say to others has a particular meaning precisely because of these cultural historical resonances.

SoundnessOverContent said...

"RACIST BANTER IN ARMY SHOCKER!" Really, racist banter amongst friends is pretty normal. I don't see the chap involved complaining and all the people spouting their sanctimonious comments clearly didn't grow up with friends of other races, other they would know that this means absolutely nothing. Seriously you've never sworn at friends in a joking way?

dizzy said...

"But you cannot escape the fact that what you say to others has a particular meaning precisely because of these cultural historical resonances."

Only if (a) they are sensitive to it and (b) they are not one of my peers and are awware of its contextual usage which is the overall point. I would not accept that as a general rule my choice of language will always hold a particular meaning because of cultrual historical resonance for the viewer/listener.

Likewise, it would be wrong of the viewer/listener to assume offence without first establishing the definitional and contextual meaning of the terms usuage.

Lord Snooty said...

I'm not saying it's a general rule that applies automatically in every single instance of conversation.

What I am saying though is that that cultural historical baggage is often there and you can't simply deny that by saying 'I'm not responsible for what happened 100 years ago'.

I think you raise a further interesting point. Whose meaning should be concerned about? The intended one of the speaker? The one received by the immediate audience? Or that perceived by second-hand audiences? Is it possible not to intend racism, for the people you are talking to not to perceive it as such but for others hearing or reading about it later to see it as racist?

dizzy said...

Is it possible not to intend racism, for the people you are talking to not to perceive it as such but for others hearing or reading about it later to see it as racist?

I woould say no it is not possible and the secondary offence is unfounded because they were not the target which, again, comes back to the whole contextualisation issue.

As Ive noted before, if you sit on a bus between 16:00 and 17:00 in London you will hear things that would make the, for want of a better term, chattering class cringe about racism. However, they are not being racist, they're just talking amongst their peer group.

Lord Snooty said...

"I would say no it is not possible and the secondary offence is unfounded because they were not the target which, again, comes back to the whole contextualisation issue."

I half-agree with you on that. But isn't the point about racist language that it is in effect targeted at a whole (racial) group? So, to use your Clapham omnibus example, a racially mixed group of teenagers use the word 'Paki' on the top deck, entirely devoid of malice and purely as intra-group banter. But a middle-aged Pakistani man sitting a few rows in front hears this and finds it racially offensive towards him. Is he wrong to do so? Can he not legitimately turn round and accuse the speaker(s) of being racist? Or, to give perhaps a better example, a white person on that bus hears the language, says nothing at the time but notes some of the members of the group who she happens to know. She later tells her Pakistani friend what was said and who said it. He is offended - would he not be entitled to go round to the teenagers' parents who he knows to complain about this racism if he sees it as that?

dizzy said...

I think we're conflating two things here. Whether someone shoudl express their view, and whether that view itself is correct. Should person X in your second example be free to say "I think you son/daughter was being racist", yes. Would there argument that racism occured be valid, no I don't think so.

Move the argument on and think of Mary whitehouse and some of the things she took offence too and the reaction to her offence.

Lord Snooty said...

"Should person X in your second example be free to say "I think you son/daughter was being racist", yes. Would there argument that racism occured be valid, no I don't think so."

Interesting. I think I part company with you on that second one but only on those specific facts, not as a general principle - you illustrate that nicely with your Whitehouse example!

I think this has probably run out of steam and I will leave it there to avoid boring everybody else. But some interesting points here.

I hate Tories said...

Your 'tweet' about lefties screaming 'racist' whenever someone right-wing tries to have a discussion about language made me laugh. Isn't this the kind of "judgement based on your own generalised prejudices" you were berating me for earlier? Hypocrite and racist. Nice combo Dizzy.

zulu warrior said...

I hate Tories - what the fuck is a tweet? Don't you mean 'twat', as in 'Dizzy's a racist twat'?

Buffoon Boris said...

Dizzy:

Don't think you should let zulu warrior get away with calling you that. We racists need to stick together. Just spoken to Dave and Oik and they both agree - these lefty proles should be put in their place.

mixtogether said...

Dizzy,

never commented before until I saw you taking flak from Pickled Politics for this post.

I think it's great that you take an interest in Asian languages (is it just the profanity that you like?!). The only reason gora doesn't get criticised is precisely because not enough people know what it means.

The idea of dirty whiteboys is VERY common and causes problems for a lot of MixTogether members. Would like to know more about your thoughts on the subject.