I’m not a big football fan (what some of you guys call soccer). In fact I’m not a fan at all. I can whip up some sort of nationalist enthusiasm during the World Cup, but you won’t ever see me in a white shirt shouting “IN-GER-LEUND!”
But yesterday there was an interesting debate over whether Tottenham Hostpur (or Spurs) fans should refer to themselves as “Yids” or “The Yid Army”. Whether Jewish or not, because of the club’s Jewish affiliations, fans for a good many decades have referred to themselves with what Jewish comedian David Baddiel describes as ‘the Y-word’.
Baddiel has a point in that the word has and still does have racist connotations. But I’m with our Prime Minister (and Spurs manager) that if you apply the tag to yourselves as an affectionate phrase, it should be okay to say. You’re claiming a benign definition of the word; a sort of reversal of the Nazis claiming a crooked version of the positive Hindu swastika.
Baddiel makes further points that if the N or P-words were used, the PM wouldn’t even debate their being used. Indeed, he’s right again there. Though some black people refer to each other with the N-word, and even many people of South Asian descent use the P-word, it’s frowned upon to use either when you’re not part of that community.
It reminds me of an old post I wrote where Iggy Pop talked – innocently – live on air about “Paki shops”. The actual word is just a contraction of Pakistani and on the surface is legitimate to use – just like “Yids” refers to Yiddish. But because both words were adopted and frequently used as a slur by racists, we don’t want to know about them, and in most cases that’s fair. But, the problem is never the word. If a far-right member called someone a “f**king Pakistani/Jew/Black”, though they’re using the right word after the F-word, the intent is more obviously nastier than Spurs fans calling themselves “Yids”, or someone innocently talking about “Paki shops”. “Paddy” is an affectionate word for Irish people, but I’ve known historical use of “f**king Paddies.”
I think the people most hurt by those words will be a slightly older generation, those who remember those words only as a slur, whereas people growing up now may see them as nearly-redundant historical curios which might be fun to use as some sort of benign tag. Perhaps the N-word could be used in the future for something positive in some distant future? I don’t think I could ever use it though. But them I’m somewhat an oldie now too!
A trade-off might be appreciable in some circumstances. For example, if “Paki” will always be abhorrent, how about claiming “Pak” (it could be pronounced more correctly like ‘park’, or kept to be like ‘pack’)? We don’t call Indians Indianis (sure, we call Bangladeshis Bangladeshi as I can’t think of a reasonable alternative after sh; Bangladeshos?), Iranians aren’t called Irani (though they are within South Asia), and Afghans aren’t necessarily always called Afghanis. No racist ever used the word “Pak” to my knowledge; so get in there first. And if they do claim it, claim it back! It goes to show how low-IQ racists are because they can’t even coin original terms/concepts.
The British flag for a period was linked to far-right extremists, but why should they have it? England smashed the Nazis! It was rightly snatched back from extremists even though they still like to use it. Yes, the flag also has Empire connotations, but look at what England is today – a tolerant society. That red, white and blue is just a pattern; you have to judge not the symbol, but those who are using it. Got my message? Good.