International Writers Magazine: Comment (From Our Archives)
Black people used
to be "coloured" and various other names which I shall leave
to your imagination. Disabled people used to be crippled by handicaps;
are they any "differently-abled" now that they are "disabled"
instead? Personally, perhaps in my ignorance, I find the word "coloured"
a far more attractive word than "black" with all its connotations
seeped in folklore and religion. "Handicap" gives a sporty ring!
More importantly, are such groups viewed any more positively for being
differently labelled? A rhetorical question, naturally.
Paler Shade of White
Have you ever
noticed that "white" never changes hue; that able-bodied
never gets abler or punier? Are gay people jollier since pejorative
words like "dyke" have been reclaimed and "gay"
itself re-defined? No matter how "sun-tanned" or pale-and-interesting
"white" people are, they never become "flesh-coloured",
"pink", "fawn", "cream", "winter
white" or any other hue, for which paint manufacturers invent
such picturesque names.
Labels reflect only the extent of our ability to describe a disparate
group and can only be an approximation, but changing them also reflects
our ambivalence and discomfort around those groups. We cannot call a spade,
a "spade" any more, in case it is now a "shovel" or
a "capacity-challenged trowel". Contrarily, there are still
those minorities, or functional minorities like women, who remain "fair
game". An excellent example for me was during the recent dreadful
"reality" show where Z-list celebrities munch (and retch) their
careers back on track with crunchy nut critters and subject themselves
to physical degradation and torture in the jungle. (Please note here that
I do not follow these excuses-for-entertainment as I believe schadenfreude
is a poor excuse for a laugh. However, as my partner insists on augmenting
the viewing statistics I pick up titbits from programmes such as "Im
relatively sane, get me out of here" along the way.)
In the course of said viewing one of the "contestants"
repeatedly rebuked and insulted women. Had he replaced "women"
with "black people" in his diatribes he would surely have been
removed, as occurred following another incident (of alleged racism) that
happened in a "Big Brother" household and which hit the national
media. (A more fitting end for Jungle Jim would have been to leave him
in the jungle when the show was over; Im sure a vengeful female
spider could have feasted on his scrawny torso, or a dingo bitch have
fed her pups. Not that dingoes live in the jungle
Anyway! The battle is not yet won, the larger lady has not yet burst into
vocal music. Changing labels does not effect change in attitudes When
"white" changes as a concept, or "blacks" lexical
descendant stabilises, then the battle for genuine respect might be won
Alternatively, a new Feindbild will be found (weve
made an auspicious start on asylum seekers, Poles and Muslims).
By the way, as if it mattered, I am a pale brown, English dyke of a certain
age, with mobility, vision and emotional health issues, who is too short
for her weight; re-label me if you dare!
© Anita Sheard Jan 2008
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