Tuesday, January 27, 2015

Colour Me Offended

Having got up at five thirty this morning (yes, I was surprised too - who knew there was a five thirty in the morning as well) in order to travel nearly a hundred miles to a four hour training course with an eight o'clock start, and having then driven straight back home, I'm completely and utterly knackered.  The only reason I'm able to function now and write this is because I went back to bed this afternoon for a couple of hours sleep.  While I'm on the subject, I should add that I'm actually no stranger to early starts, previous jobs having frequently required me to get up before the crack of dawn on a regular basis, so I think that I'm well placed to challenge the widespread fallacy that there is something virtuous in getting up early.  Believe me, there is absolutely no virtue in crawling out of a warm bed when it is still dark and nobody else in the world is awake.  Tearing oneself out of one's valuable sleep to stumble into work really isn't something to be proud of.

Anyway, due to today's insanities, I wasn't able to keep up with the news as I usually do, meaning that I came home to find that actor Benedict Cunberbatch was busily apologising for something he said which might, or might not, have been racist.  Which seemed pretty startling.  Upon further investigation, it turned out that he'd used the term 'coloured' in reference to black actors.  Now, the use of the term 'coloured' instead of 'black' is something I've fallen foul of in the past. It all stems from one of those changes in the usage of a word or phrase which occur over time, but which some people remain unaware of.  When I was a child, back in the late sixties and early seventies, we were taught that 'coloured' was a more polite adjective to use than 'black'.  It was considered more accurate descriptively, as, typically, it was used to describe a whole range of non-white people, from Afro-Caribbeans to Asians, very few of whom were, literally, black.   Of course, those were the days when awareness of the apartheid regime in South Africa and its classification of non-whites as 'coloured', was lower.  There was also generally less knowledge of the way US slave owners had classified slaves according to the perceived 'shade' of their skin colour or racial heritage as variously 'coloured', 'octaroon' and so on. 

All of which, clearly, would be pretty offensive to non-whites.  But here in the UK, particularly in provincial market towns of the kind I lived in, we were blissfully unaware of all this and people like my parents, who considered themselves liberal and progressive minded, honestly thought that 'coloured' was the less offensive term.  Although, over the years I, and most of my generation, have accepted that the reverse is true, that 'black' is the term non-white people prefer to have used, old habits die hard and occaisionally we inadvertently use the word 'coloured', instead.  No offence is meant.  But that doesn't stop the media and various other opportunists with their own agendas to push, jumping on instances such as Cumberbatch's use of the word to label the user 'racist'.  Personally, I'm saddened by the fact that we still live in a world where we feel it necessary to draw attention to each other's skin pigmentation at all.  Can't we all just regard each other as human beings?  But, if it isn't race, then the bigots and those with dubious political agendas will find some other trait to seize upon and exploit in their quests for divisiveness - if it isn't religion (witness today's 'Islamaphobia' and the perennial anti-Semitism which plague the world), then its gender or sexual orientation, (just look at the continued assaults on women's rights all over the world and the continued scourge of homophobia).  Even now, some bigot out there is devising new forms of hatred hitherto unimagined.



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