The Paris Metro incident involving Chelsea FC fans has highlighted the fact that off-the-cuff racist and abusive remarks are on the rise in the media and everyday life. It is time to act to stop it, says Jack the Blaster
The Sight of Chelsea football supporters this week chanting about how they are proud of their racist behaviour is a shocking image. It is a timely reminder of the ongoing battle to make sure people understand that using language that offends and threatens is not acceptable — and that we all have a civic duty to turn round and tell people who do to shut up.
But while the behaviour of the thugs on the Paris Metro was obviously disgraceful, sometimes the language of hate is used in a setting that is not always so obvious, but still requires the person spouting such rubbish have it carefully explained to them why they should watch their mouths.
I once gave a lift to a man who was Oxford-educated and writes a column for a leading national newspaper. I was, perhaps foolishly, shocked to hear him call my car “chavvy” as I played him some bassy roots reggae on a sound system I had built into the boot. The rest of the journey was spent with me in an uncomfortable silence as I tried to work out how to pull him up on using such a term.
Instead, I dropped him off and vowed to spend as little time in his presence as I could in the future.
More recently, I was speaking with a theatre director. He is a kind and intelligent man. I was explaining to him the fashion genre known as “casual” — that late ’70s and ’80s trend to wear pristine Italian sports wear by brands such as Sergio Tachini. “Casuals?” he said, “Oh, you mean chavvy.”
Another friend, a highly respected lawyer whose work includes fighting for the rights of the families whose loved ones have died in police custody, called a greasy-spoon cafe I suggested we drink a tea in as “a bit pikey.” ow these small, individual uses of offensive words by otherwise open minded, politically well-oriented people — OK, forget the newspaper columnist who is an unbearable snob — may seem minor.
But the use of words that define someone in a derogatory way should simply never be tolerated and sadly, while we have managed to make taboo many of the more offensive terms of recent history, the words pikey and chav are all too often bandied about by those who should know better. I have recently come across a chilling reminder why it is absolutely not OK to use the word pikey, ever.
I was researching a story about hate crimes and spoke to a solicitor who told me about a client, a woman called Mary. She happens to have come from an Irish Traveller background, has five children, is their only adult carer and had fled a violent relationship. Mary has been housed by a London council for many years in temporary accommodation.
Her oldest child — now a young adult — has a form of autism and looking after him is essentially a full-time job. Their life has not been made easy by the very people who should be on their side. The local authority has shoved them from pillar to post, throwing them into unsuitable, private rented homes.
She has watched as her meagre income has been reduced under the Tories’ vindictive benefit cap. Mary suffers from stress-related problems, a product of the prolonged and violent abuse she was subjected to and, to make matters worse, she has found those in a position to help her at the local authority have also, over the years, used racist terms of abuse towards her — such as pikey.
In October last year two of her sons were attacked by a gang in an alleyway near their home. They were threatened with a knife, robbed and beaten up. This terrifying episode included not just a violent physical attack. They were also called “pikey retards.” This is a hate crime — pure and simple. The older son’s disability and their ethnic background was the motivation for these violent criminals to behave in such a way.
This was, sadly, not an isolated incident. The family has had eggs and mud and all manner of rubbish thrown at their home. Their garden has been broken into. They are living in completely intolerable conditions. The police said the events weren’t linked ... but then things took a sinister turn for the worse.
In January the family woke up to find their home daubed with graffiti calling them “pikeys.” The police were called and the officer told the mother she should get her sons to clean it off and that — as there were no witnesses — no further action would be taken. Prior incidents were ignored. No-one has been caught and the family lives in genuine fear.
This individual story may sound extreme — but it is sadly the case that such events take place in Britain today. We have seen the recent rise of the far-right, which has resulted in the language of race seeping into mainstream media. News outlets are only too happy to allow the likes of Nigel Farage and their mindless acolytes dictate the agenda in the run-up to the general election.
While debates based on people’s ethnicity are not challenged, we will see stories — such as Mary’s — become more and more common place. So when you next hear someone use the term “pikey” or “chav,” don’t keep your mouth closed. It is your responsibility to tell them it is not acceptable and take the time to explain why.
It is time for a concerted effort to banish such offensive words to the same bin other racist terms have been.