Yes, the two are linked - and before I go on, I'll go on the record and say I quite like Carol Thatcher (although the less said about her geographically challenged, thick-as-pig-shit brother, the better - and, as for her mother, she needs her own blog entry for why I think she's a boorish vampiric vandal of Britain). But, I do realise why Carol's caused offence - it's a shame, because I'm libertarian at heart. Freedom of expression is something I believe in. But my problem isn't that she set out to make an offensive remark or even use racially-charged taboo words. It's not even with her failure to make an honest-to-goodness, gosh, hocky-sticks apology (which Boris Johnson, in similar red-cheeked huffing-puffing majesty, is known to do with frequent amusing regularity). No, the reason I found her behaviour crude is because of that slick-palmed, creepy over-familiarity someone like her occasionally exhibits; the assumption that she knows a group of people well enough that she can say what she wants; and then is incredulous when some other people perceive their personal space invaded. I guess it's racism of sorts; lacking the wisdom of social interaction. As an example that is nothing to do with racism, but everything to do with offence, I fucking adore swearing me. But I tend to do it raucously with close pals, not in the hushed silence of a group of Catholic Nuns praying.
I've had a multifaceted relationship with racism throughout my life. It's not something I perceive to encounter very much, but perhaps I should pay more attention. For a start, I've noticed close friends cringing on my behalf in social scenarios when some 'borderline' comments are made by some stranger professing to understand my 'culture' - something I usually miss, because I'm often not a member of that culture in the first place. Worse, this can cover a multitude of 'Scottish/UK non-conformist qualities', such as my skin colour, my English accent (of sorts; it slips around on an almost John Barrowmanesque journey), my religion, my sexual orientation, my music taste* or which sports team I support. Just for the record, I suppose I regard myself as a UK resident, living in Scotland and justifiably proud to be living here, as I was born and raised here. But I'm not a nationalist (either British or Scottish). Oh, and a little digging around in my family tree will see blood that is a mix of Spanish, African Carribean, English, Scottish (Isle of Skye), Chinese and Canadian. Any trips visiting British National Party (BNP) rallies in either Tower Hamlets or Yorkshire will probably involve four different types of shit kicked out of me. Five, if you include the Scottish.
My paranoia was understandably heightened during my unemployment recently, particularly after a decade of continuous employment, during which I always ran into 'social embarrassment' scenarios of the above two paragraphs. When the BNP membership list came tumbling out of the internet ether at the beginning of November, right in the middle of my unemployed phase, I scoured the list. I noticed a disturbing number of people living in my postcode, as well as seeing a name that appeared congruent with an ex-manager of mine who'd displayed a baseless immediate dislike of me (and, apparently, baseless no more?). Could the reason for all those failed job outcomes be the same reason that haunted me over a decade ago? Desperate times certainly lead to a more closed communities, that's well documented. British jobs for the British, ain't that what Gordon Brown endorsed? As an extra added twist for a Scottish-born Prime Minister, the nation that I was born in would probably want Scottish jobs for Scottish people; in other words, the Scottish archetype. White (or, more accurately for Scotland, cyan). Scottish accent. Dour. Dependable. Likes football. Heterosexual in a very obvious way, and not a threat. One of the lads! Like a slight madman, I started consulting the BNP membership list after every failed interview I had! After all, I surmised, if someone on that list looked like a previous manager I had, surely anyone could be on there?
Oh, and now that I've mentioned I'm libertarian, but understandably wary of BNP members (for personal skin-deep reason), it shouldn't surprise anyone that I support their right to uncensored free speech. Even if that is a right to say they want me out of their sight. Or for me to keep my eyes off their white blue-collar jobs. Democracy, particularly in these internet-savvy times, tends to throw up diametrically opposite parties to the BNP that will protect my interests anyway. And, of course, the police will protect me in the likelihood of BNP harrassment - unless my police friends happen to hate liberal, pussy-footed Guardian readers. Oh...
On that subject, I ended up having an interesting discussion with a friend from school, who now serves in the Army. You'd think that an army soldier would disagree with a wet lefty liberal like me. And you'd be right... just not in the way you'd stereotypically think. Broadly, it was pro-censorship vs anti-censorship, particularly in light of a fellow unit officer being found to be on the BNP membership list. I've already voiced anti-censorship for the BNP (or, indeed, for anyone who might have 'controversial' views in UK society). However, my soldier friend made it quite clear that allowing the BNP to have inflammatory opinions would hamper his job in protecting British people and he made it explicitly clear that he counted me amongst them. His upbringing was the same as mine, in a state school that had a rich heritage of Scots with Pakistani, Chinese, Indian, African American and French backgrounds; in other words, his job hinged on him being not just concerned about the 'enemy', but equally protective of British citizens - no matter what their colour. More intriguingly, he also argued that it wasn't the business of anyone in the Army to belong to any political party, mainly because it involves swearing allegiance to the Crown (and the currently sitting government). So, as an example, an Army Officer with paid-up membership of the Labour Party (or New Labour) might not be a problem now, but should there be a Conservative government elected in future, you have the problem of an Army officer perceived as no longer being loyal to the government. The nutshell summary of this whole paragraph is that he was disgusted that a fellow officer could be a member of the BNP, or, indeed, a member of any political party.
In November 2007, I decided to go and have a quiet drink on a Friday night with my friend, Big Kenny. It was the end of harrowing working week. Seeing as we were of a sufficiently braindead state of mind, we decided to just go to the nearest pub - in other words, a pub full of suits. Full of respectable finance types. Scrub that. A pub full of finance slags in suits who had successfully hidden the impending bank crisis. Anyway, Big Kenny warned me that two pisshead mates of ours were in Edinburgh that weekend, down from Inverness. They were in town, mainly to sample the delights of some scantily-clad female Philosophy students, trying to plug a gap in their student loans, by lapdancing on their clumsily inebriated erections. With that in mind, we glanced nervously at the door of this 'faux posh' wine bar, while we downed our pints and tried to block out the invariable shitness of our working weeks. However, after about three particularly stale beers, our two pisshead mates staggered in. Promptly, they announced loudly, in loud, ciggie-hoarsed voices, "Yaay, guys! We've just been to a fucking ace titty bar! And I got a lapdance off this gorgeous Negro woman...". At which point, we had to stop them in their tracks, before the wine bar bouncers threw them out. "You can't say Negro in front of Chris," protested Kenny nobly, "he's part Black!". Quick as a flash (and still in the same loud volume), pisshead mate claimed reasonably, "Yeah, I know, man, that's why I never said nigger!".
I don't think they got the joke. I don't think Carol Thatcher would get the joke either.
* I quite like reggae, some hip-hop and grime, but I dislike most rap. I like a fair few skinny white boy guitar bands, but dislike 'new MOR' such as Keane. I can't stand music that speeds along at 400bpm and you need to be off your tits on drugs before you can 'truly get it'.
Chris Nicholson is terrified that this blog entry's reference to 'nigger', 'Obama' and the 'BNP' will line him up with some rather extremist Google searches.