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The International Writers Magazine: Comment (From Our Archives)

A Paler Shade of White
Anita Sheard

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.
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.

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 "I’m relatively sane, get me out of here" along the way.)

I digress… 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; I’m 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 "black’s" lexical descendant stabilises, then the battle for genuine respect might be won – maybe… Alternatively, a new Feindbild will be found (we’ve 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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