Patrick Mercer and Jade Goody

The Times reports that Patrick Mercer, Shadow Homeland Security Minister1, has come out with this gem:
"I had the good fortune to command a battalion that was racially very mixed. Towards the end, I had five company sergeant majors who were all black. They were without exception UK-born, Nottingham-born men who were English - as English as you and me. They prospered inside my regiment, but if you'd said to them: 'Have you ever been called a nigger,' they would have said: 'Yes.' But equally, a chap with red hair, for example, would also get a hard time - a far harder time than a black man, in fact,"
Patrick Mercer MPIt says, I think, "I'm not racist, but I'm happy to use someone's race as a term of abuse". I deliberately said 'use someone's race as a term of abuse' rather than 'racially abuse' because there is a subtle distinction. The latter is to abuse someone because they are a member of a particular ethnic group; the former is to abuse someone by referencing their membership of such a group. The will frequently be concurrent, but it is possible to racially discriminate without verbally abusing someone and it (or Mr Mercer would argue) possible to use a term of racial abuse without 'really meaning it'.

Although the distinction is there it is subtle and hard to tell what the user's intentions are; if you are on the receiving end of racial abuse, it's not immediately obvious in all situations which case it is. We live in a society that has problems with racism, from the BNP to institutional racism to lower opportunities for members of minority ethnic groups. I am sure that Mr Mercer is not a racist, but this adds to the confusion between the two types. I do not approve of the former and I find the latter offensive and Mr Mercer's, who may well complain of 'political correctness gone mad, makes it harder to distinguish between the unthinking and the racist.

It is unpleasant and unnecessary to be attacked over uncontrollable, physical characteristics, but to suggest that it is worse for a redhead than a black is, I think, not supported by the facts3. There is rudeness, which is not good, but there is not systematic exclusion from avenues of advancement in society, increased suspicion from the police and a greater chance of being section under the Mental Health Act 1983.
Jade Goody
It leads to the question of whether Jade Goody is a racist. I do not think she is, but I do think she displayed a great deal of cultural insensitvity on Celebrity Big Brother. Just about everyone condemned her for engaging mouth before brain and causing offence aggravated by racism in a society where people are nervous about racism.

Mr Mercer
"was speaking to Times Online about the formation of a new anti-racism trade union being set up by servicemen from former colonial countries, which he described as "complete and utter rot"."
I look forward to Mr Mercer sponsoring the creation of the Red-Headed Service Person's Emancipation Association. I did, though, talk about unionising the armed forces.

Update 1618 - the BBC report that Patrick Mercer has been given the heave-ho.


1 - I do wonder who Mercer is shadowing - there is no Homeland Security Minister. I suppose it says a lot about the Tories - shadows of nothingness.
2 - I prefer the term 'mentally interesting' to 'mad'.
3 - I am aware that people weren't keen on redheads in the past because of the supposition that Judas Iscariot was flame-haired; it doesn't even come close to what the Jews have gone through on a similar basis.


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