Ladies and gentlemen, raise your glasses. We have something to celebrate. Racism, that scourge of centuries past, is gone and gone for good. This is great news! Cheers! Well done everybody!
Jeremy Clarkson knows what I'm talking about. It's been widely reported that the Top Gear presenter has been suspended by the BBC after punching his producer and calling him a 'lazy Irish cunt'. Apparently Clarkson was drunk and annoyed by his food options. In darker times, this might have been seen as a violent racist assault. But, as I write, 925,796 people have signed a petition calling for his reinstatement. Charlie Houghton from Chelmsford remarked 'Jeremy is a bastion of light in a dark PC world' and 1,666 people have 'liked' this remark. Which is fine because, in our new enlightened times, this isn't racist at all; it's a blow against political correctness.
This has been swiftly followed by the BBC Trust, wisely observing that when the Top Gear team used the word 'Pikey' they weren't being racist. Nor were they being racist in 2008 or 2009 or 2012, when they used the term as an insult. This used to be a racist term to refer to Gypsies and Travellers, but that was when there was such a thing as racism. Now it harmlessly refers to something that's nasty and poor and working class, so no one can possibly be offended by it.
This comes hard on the heels of the team having made the word 'slope' (to refer to an Asian man) non-racist by transforming it magically into 'typically ebullient, rather wonderful tribute to a beautiful, hidden country'; their triumphant reclaiming of the formerly-racist idea that a typical Mexican is a 'lazy, feckless, flatulent oaf' into something that's funny and definitely not racist; Clarkson also cleverly magicked the racism out of the word 'nigger' by insisting he didn't say it and then, when footage emerged of him saying it, explaining that he didn't say it, he merely didn't try hard enough not to say it, which is a difference that definitely makes sense and means he isn't racist. Anyway, how could he be a racist? According to his friend A A Gill, 'Jeremy does not just present, he comes up with the ideas, he also writes the scripts. All those jokes and that banter are not off-the-cuff wit'. See? He wrote these supposed racial slurs beforehand. Ergo, not racist.
I guess the problem is some people seem to be stuck in the seventies, when there used to be racism. But to those people I say, come into the twenty-first century! Scrap your Ford Cortinas! Leave your Gentle Giant LPs behind! You'll like it here! The water's lovely! No one is a racist!
Nigel Farage knows what I'm talking about. He has recently declared that racism was a problem 40 years ago but it isn't any more and that is why we don't need race discrimination legislation. UKIP as a party is 'colour-blind', he said. That basically means that, like Clarkson and everyone else nowadays, they're not racist. Now, of course, some people might start saying that UKIP are colour-blind in the sense that 'you don't see many people of colour at a UKIP conference' but you know who those people are?
Yes, the only people who still cling to racism, are a few sad, sad people who long for the olden days of racism and so they try to find it everywhere, even when it doesn't exist. A good example of this is journalist Michael Crick, who asked the UKIP MEP Godfrey Bloom why, of the 270 people on the cover of the UKIP conference brochure (titled 'Changing the face of politics'), there were no black faces. Godfrey Bloom immediate spotted that he was talking to a racist, called him out on it, and, for good measure, wisely attacked him with a pamphlet. Don't believe me? Take a look:
Racists are people who notice racism, the big silly racists.
Rozanne Duncan knows what I'm talking about. UKIP Councillor for Thanet District Council (sorry, former UKIP Councillor), she was filmed for the BBC documentary, Meet the Ukippers, declaring that 'there is absolutely no way I am a racist' - and illustrating this by referring to a couple she knows and gets on with 'I don't if they're Indian or Pakistani - it doesn't matter to me'. You see? Colour blind! She wisely knows that the difference between India and Pakistan is completely insignificant and not worth her attention (India and Pakistan, you should follow her excellent example). She also went on to explain:
the only people I do have problems with are negroes - and I don't know why. I don't know whether there's something in my psyche or whether it's karma from a previous life or whether something happened to me as a very very young person and I have drawn a veil over it because that sometimes happens, doesn’t it?'.
Basically, she's not a racist, she just has an irrational fear and hatred of black people. See? Makes perfect sense. In fact, she's typical of UKIP voters, 49% of whom say they are racially prejudiced, but 64% of whom are 'not racists', which is definitely statistically possible in this non-racist world.
Malky Mackay knows what I'm talking about. The former Cardiff City manager sent text messages referring to people like South Korean footballer Kim Bo-Kyung as 'Fkn chinkys' and said of a Jewish football agent 'Go on, fat Phil. Nothing like a Jew that sees money slipping through his fingers' and lamented of a selection of transfer targets 'Not many white faces amongst that lot but worth considering'. While he was forced by the racists of this world to apologise, fortunately he also explained to rest of us that this was not racism. How could it be? Racism doesn't exist. It was, in fact - as if he had to point this out! - 'friendly text-message banter'.
The brilliant thing about banter is that it immediately neutralises offensiveness. Once upon a time in the bad old days, if you called someone a poof or a nigger or a paki or a bitch or a yid, they'd be really offended, but now you follow this up by explaining it was banter and they'll laugh along and probably go for a pint with you. If only people had known of the awesome power of banter back in the olden days of yore! When the police were accused by the Macpherson report of institutionalised racism, they could have just explained that it was institutionalised banter and then everyone could have gone for a pint. Those landlords who put 'No Irish, No Blacks, No Dogs' or the MP Peter Griffiths who gained the seat of Smethwick with the slogan 'If you want a nigger for a neighbour, vote Labour' or when Thatcher on World in Action grabbed the National Front vote by talking about British people being 'swamped by people with a different culture', they should all have just pointed out that this was banter, just pulling your leg, and you should lighten up and get a sense of humour and then everyone would have gone for a pint.
David Coburn knows what I'm talking about. The UKIP MEP referred to Scottish Government's External Affairs Minister as 'Humza Yousaf, or as I call him, Abu Hamza'. And in case you think he was basically saying 'all Muslims are the same and they're all terrorism-supporting fundamentalists', you couldn't be more wrong because it was just a 'stupid joke'. Banter, see?
In fact a lot of UKIP candidates know what I'm talking about. Joe Quirk bantered on Facebook that 'dogs are more intelligent, better company and certainly better behaved than most Muslims' Andre Lampitt, star of an UKIP election broadcast, banteringly tweeted that 'Muslims are animals their faith is disgusting their prophet is pedophile' and that 'Most Nigerians are generally bad people I grew up in Africa and dare anyone to prove me wrong'. Ron Northcott, a UKIP candidate in Plymouth, suggested on Twitter that 'Asian Muslims groom our white girls, now they rape our boys. Jordanian Paralympians commit sex offences. We need to reclaim our country' a priceless bit of banter echoed by James Elgar, UKIP local election candidate in Egham, who proposed: '#ThingsAsianBoysDo groom and rape underage white girls, stab and rob innocent old white people, bomb innocent white people #EctEctEct', which his father patiently explained to the PC killjoys was just 'banter'. And then there's Magnus Nielsen, a Camden Council UKIP candidate, who banteringly bantered that Islam was 'organised crime under religious camouflage [...] created by a man called Muhammad who was a gang leader of criminals'.
William Henwood, UKIP council candidate in Enfield, was similarly bantery when he suggested Lenny Henry should go and live in a 'black country'. I mean, it's so obviously a stupid comment, it can only be a joke, unless you think he's a thick racist, which he can't be because racism doesn't exist any more. The same is true of Stourport-on-Severn councillor Eric Kitson's obviously hilarious Facebook comment about Muslim women that we should 'Hang um all first then ask questions later'. Look, he even spelled a word wrong as a clue to how funny he was being. The PC brigade missed another spelling clue when they condemned Ken Chapman, hoping to be elected for UKIP on Amber Valley Borough Council in Derbyshire, simply for saying 'islam is a cancer that needs eradicating multiculturism does not work in this country clear them all off to the desert with their camals that’s their way of life'. I mean: 'camels'. Come on, it's obviously brilliantly witty.
There are many more such humorists in the UKIP, clearly the funniest party in Britain. If we could only get a sense of humour, we'd realise that we are living in the best of all possible non-racist worlds.
If we are to understand the disappearance of racism, it's important to understand how this works. Nobody is a racist, but sometimes, for various reasons, they say things which may be perceptually indistinguishable from racism for quite other reasons, as when Kerry Smith, UKIP Councillor in Essex, referred to 'poofters' and to a Chinese woman as a 'chinky bird', not because he's a racist, but because he was on 'a strong morphine based prescription medication for a back injury'. When Nigel Farage said he would be very concerned if a Romanian family moved in next door, he wasn't racist, he was tired. Morphine and sleep-deprivation have a notorious tendency to make people say racist-style things that are not actually racist. I'm sure we can all agree on that.
There were things you could criticise about 'political correctness'. There may have been overzealous and naive instructions that went out (though no one has ever found any evidence of being genuinely being told not to sing 'Baa Baa Black Sheep' or the banning of black bin liners). It may be that the kinds of debates that 'political correctness' generated in the 1980s encouraged a kind of 'victim culture' that meant that 'being offended' was considered a more significant hurt than it is.
For me, the most unfortunate legacy of 'political correctness' was the emphasis placed on banning certain words and replacing them with others. Don't get me wrong: it's obviously a good thing when we are all made aware that language can be an instrument of oppression and a key component of systematic abuse. But sometimes it can feel as if the battles against racism or in favour of sexual equality or disabled rights has just been reduced to a matter of word choices that don't offend people. And that's not politics, that's etiquette. Or, more properly, that's part of politics, but without anything else, it's just etiquette.
And it's the prim, humourless aspect of etiquette that has been seized upon by the racists and homophobes and misogynists and body fascists as the stick to beat the left with; by 'the left' I mean something generous - anyone who genuinely cares about these inequalities, who thinks it is a matter of injustice when a group's human rights are compromised. Now, my memory of those times is that I first heard the phrase 'political correctness' being used as a joke by people on the left as a way of drawing attention to and correcting any excess of rigidity, humourlessness, or simplification. But it's been turned against us to characterise the left as lacking humour.
As the examples above show, it's not the left that lacks humour, but it's the right - the far right - that seems to mistake hatred for hilarity. None of the comments above is funny. They are all, in both sense, witless.
But here's the strange thing. That failing of political correctness - occasional, not systematic - of turning complex political issues into mere word-swapping is now the stock-in-trade of the far right. They exchange 'anti-racism' for 'political correctness'; they swap out 'racism' and they swap in 'banter'.
There's a strange parallel between UKIP and the Conservative Party: both seem to be in the business of denying their central beliefs. The Tories will consistently tell you they are friends of the NHS, that they love the public sector, that they want it to flourish, when the key figures in the Government (certainly the Tory side, but some in the Lib Dem side too) have grown up with an ideological belief in reducing the state to the bare minimum and turning its functions over to the private sector.
Similarly, while UKIP constantly deny being racist in any way, its appeal is to the racist instincts in this country; no one in the country gives the slightest shit about their economic policy or what they'd do with defence. UKIP and its supporters just care about stopping immigrants coming in, for wholly racist reasons (there are no good economic or cultural reasons to care about that). And so many of its supporters and candidates and spokespeople reveal themselves, on a weekly basis, to be racists, to have racist views, to have racist pasts (a letter written by one of Nigel Farage's schoolteachers in 1981 showed concerns that as a boy he was, a fascist, a racist, given to singing 'Hitler-Youth songs').
Perhaps the most successful piece of political correctness in modern politics has been to swap the words 'British National Party' for 'UK Independence Party'. Let's see things for what they are. UKIP is one of those aberrant atavistic upsurges of bigotry and hatred that seems to accompany periods of economic hardship every forty years (1930s, 1970s, 2010s). UKIP are a good old-fashioned racist party.