Ill-bred

Excuse the self-indulgence, but I just want a place to dump my comments on the Independent on Sunday‘s recent article on the “Roger Lewis affair”.

I won’t link to Lewis’s nasty review of Jasper Rees’s book, Bred of Heaven, as I tend to agree with Carl Morris, that the piece is just link-bait. I certainly can’t see any point in attempting to engage with readers of the Daily Mail. If you really need to read the review, but would rather not add to the Mail’s ad revenue, there are some suggestions in the comments on Carl’s post on how to go about it.

The same could be said for Matthew Rees’s sloppily written piece in the Indie, of course, so all I can say in my own defense (since every comment posted there delivers more ad revenue for the IoS, and stoking the fires of indignation only helps the them pay for more crap like this) is that I don’t believe that the Independent’s readership is naturally racist, and there remains a hope that people’s minds may be changed over this issue.

I’ll excuse my self-indulgence further by explaining that I’m currently going through the archives of my main blog, and have come to rue the day that I changed from one old fashioned external commenting system to another, both of which have since given up the ghost and taking with them to their digital graves the literally* dozens of comments that my blog attracted in its first 5 years of life.

I don’t trust disqus, is what I’m getting at.

Anyhow, here are some of my comments from over there, with links to the originals.

[28 August 2011]

Here we go again…

Would the Independent (and the bulk of its readers, if the comments here are indicative) be so willing to defend other racists’ right to free speech as robustly as they are defending Roger Lewis here?

Was David Starkey let off the hook so easily, for instance? How many of you were defending him by pointing out that he was “only quoting Enoch Powell”. Or mansplaining to us that he can’t be a racist because he’s the same colour and nationality as the people who’s language and culture he obviously hates so much?

Also, if anti-Welsh comments are simply harmless fun which should be laughed off, why are Welsh people routinely hounded by the press when they forget themselves and bite back?

How many liberal hands were wrung here when Beca Brown was reported to the CRE and the police for writing an “anti-English” column in the Welsh language journal Barn?

When Aled Cottle lost his job for writing an “anti-British” email to an anonymous blogger who passed the message on to the Liverpool Daily Post, how many English game show hosts were contacted by your newspaper to explain to you how it’s all a bit of fun?

You won’t have heard about those stories, of course, because as far as I can see the Independent didn’t think them worth covering.

[28 August 2011]

If nothing else good comes out of this, at least Welsh has gained a new word today:

saisbonio – vb. from Sais (an Englishman) + esbonio (to explain)

The act of an English explaining to a Welsh why a perceived slight was, in fact, just a harmless joke.

Usage: “Gad i fi saisbonio hynny i ti, Dai.” (Let me engsplain that to you, Dai.)

No, the English version isn’t very elegant, but that’s the Teutonic languages for you.

You’re welcome.

I can’t remember, and the disqus system isn’t helping my memory, in which order these things were posted. This next one was a reaction to someone who’d defended the IoS’s position,as they were simply “reporting the facts”. Good grief.

[28 August 2011]

Reporting the facts?

Like the fact that “the English author tries to become “a real Welshman” after discovering his grandfather is Welsh”?

If Matthew Bell had bothered reading the book, he would have seen, in the first chapter, how Jasper Rees travelled to Carmarthenshire regularly throughout his childhood, to stay with his grandparents, both of whom were Welsh. He also would have read how Rees’ (Welsh) father encouraged the children to clap and cheer as their car crossed the border back into England.

He would then have read a pre-emptive strike against exactly the sort of anti-Welsh language nonsense that Roger Lewis produced in his review.

By the time he got to the middle of the book, he would have seen that Roger Lewis’s claim that “Luckily, [Rees] doesn’t make much headway with the lingo”, is a lie. I’m only half-way through the book, but Rees is already able to converse in simple Welsh. And judging by his recent tweets in Welsh, he has continued to improve.

If Matthew Bell had any journalistic integrity, he would not allow Roger Lewis to get away with the line “the irony is that I’m 100 per cent Welsh myself”. Since when has sharing a nationality with a minority group within said nation been a proof against racism? Roger Lewis is the same nationality as the people he seems to despise; so is David Starkey. It’s really not ironic. It’s par for the course.

While I tend to agree that reporting Lewis to the police was a mistake, it’s certainly consistent with what has happened to Welsh speakers who have published “anti-English” diatribes in the press. And as many here have pointed out, had Jasper Rees’ book been about being his attempt to become part of any other ethno-linguistic group in these islands, an article like Roger Lewis’s would have certainly attracted the attention of the Equality and Human Rights Commission and possibly the police as well.

My bringing up of Aled Cottle and Beca Brown attracted the attention on an anonymous poster, who sounds strangely familiar. Something I can’t quite put my finger on. It’ll come to me eventually.

Animal_Farm accused me of distortion in my account of the Cottle and Brown cases. He may have had a point, at least in the Cottle business, but he was certainly going out of his way to avoid recognising my point. He also suggested I must be in love with Beca Brown. That’s about the level of the discussion, unfortunately:

[28 August 2011]

I didn’t say either of them were my heroes, just pointing out that neither case was reported in the Independent, as this storm in a teacup has been.

Yes, Cottle was stupid and drunk enough to react to extended provocation by the anonymous blogger. Not behaviour I would condone, but certainly something I could understand in this case; at about the same time, I had my address published by this same anonymous blogger, with a suggestion that I was a hypocrite and deserved to be burned out of my home.

But of course, you’re right, Cottle was the villain, because he used some bad words about the English.

As for Beca Brown, I don’t have the original article to hand, but I do recall that the parts about her being ashamed to admit to such prejudices, and how they had been formed, were not included in any of the translated excerpts.

But my point was, that when the Conservative AM David Davies said “Anti-English racism is just as bad as any other form of racism and should be dealt with in the same fashion”, nobody at the Independent felt the need to get all Voltaire on his ass, and protect Beca Brown’s right to free speech. When he reported the case to the police, no articles appeared in the liberal London press, suggesting that perhaps this was improper behaviour for an elected representative. When he urged S4C to fire her, Stephen Fry and Gyles Brandreth were conspicuously quiet, and nobody even bothered to ask Carol Vorderman what she made of the whole thing.

Because “anti-English racism” is a real thing, apparently, whereas “anti-Welsh racism” is just a joke.

By this point, I’ve given up trying to be subtle with terminology. I know Cris Dafis and others object to “racism” being applied to any situation where the participants on either side have the same coloured skin, but personally I can’t be arsed splitting linguistic hairs just because people like Roger Lewis aren’t quite as hateful as people like Nick Griffin.

Took a break yesterday. Went to an eisteddfod, of all things.

[Posted at 17:00, 30 August 2011, but in moderation.]

(How many of you lot are regular readers of the IoS, I wonder? The only people arguing in favour of the God-given right to abuse the Welsh sound more like Daily Mail readers to me. No offense, mind.)

“This can’t be racism, the Welsh aren’t a race” is a complete red herring. The relevant anti-racism legislation makes no distinction between ethnicity and race, and Welsh speakers (the target of Roger Lewis’s distain) are certainly an ethnic group by any reasonable definition. If “the Welsh”, in the way Lewis uses the term, do not constitute an ethnicity, then neither do “Jamaicans” or “Pakistanis” or what have you, and the BNP and their ilk can have at it without any fear of legal reprisals. Arguing that an attack on an abstraction like a language can’t be construed as an attack on an ethnic group is just silly, otherwise anyone could attack Urdu as a “moribund monkey language” without fear of legal reprisals from incensed British Asians.

If you don’t believe in the general principal that individuals have a right not to suffer abuse in the press on the grounds of their ethnic background, then you should at least be consistent about it. I’m sure that there are legions of Roy “Chubby” Brown fans who find it outrageous that their hero’s comic genius is muzzled in the so-called free press; even the Daily Mail won’t print his gem-like Paki jokes.

When I were a lad, there were Paki jokes on the telly of a Saturday night, and “thick Paddy” jokes, and “stupid bloody women” jokes, and “disgusting poofter” jokes, and “stingy Jew” jokes and just about any other kind of joke that a The Comedians would stoop to in order to wring a cheap laugh out of their audience. Some of the “thick Paddy” jokes were told by actual Irishmen, as I recall. So that must’ve made it all right.

In my opinion, there is no qualitative difference between all those forms of “humour”, and the article that Roger Lewis wrote for the Daily Mail, and nobody defending his right to do here on the Independent’s website has yet convinced me otherwise. “He’s just expressing his opinion” is not a defence, unless you think that Chubby Brown has the same right to express his “opinions” just as forthrightly, and who knows, even more wittily, in the pages of the Daily Mail.

Once I start using terms like “qualitative difference” it’s usually a sign that it’s time to step back from the computer. Luckily, it’s time to cook.

I’m happy to rant more in the comments here, but I’m not going to engage with anyone on the level of “Roger Lewis was right, the Welsh are over-sensitive/chippy/uppity/humourless”. If you think so, you’re an idiot. That may be open to debate, but not on this blog. Get your own, and whine about it there.

* “literally” in the figurative sense

About Nic Dafis

Yn wreiddiol o'r Waun, Wrecsam, bellach yn byw ger Llangrannog, Ceredigion. Gweithio fel tiwtor Cymraeg i oedolion.
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6 Responses to Ill-bred

  1. Rhys says:

    Certain people keeping banging on about something called Britishness and how one of it’s (unique?) virtues is tolerance. I didn’t quite get it at the time, but now I understand – it’s the tolerance of intolerance.

  2. Nic Dafis says:

    I’m torn, to be honest with you. I presume that at least some of those namedropped by Lewis as being his “supporters”, are simply supporters of the principal of free speech. As others have pointed out, some of those pouring scorn on Jonathan Evans’ decision to go to the police have been less than consistant in their support of “free speech at all costs” in the past. Chris Bryant’s eagerness to use this as stick to beat Plaid with is especially distasteful, given his regular occupation of the moral high ground on matters of journalistic integrity.

    On the bright side; I’ve just finished reading Bred of Heaven, and will be recommending it to my students when Welsh classes start in a few weeks.

  3. Carl Morris says:

    The enemy here is ignorance, not a particular group like Saeson or confused Cymry like Roger Lewis.

    So we don’t need a new word for it, even if it’s a harmless joke.

    This has probably been the single biggest issue on the amateur/voluntary Welsh web in the last month.

    I just wish we could harness this level of energy and enthusiasm for producing new blog posts and images and video about things we care about.

  4. Nic Dafis says:

    I agree with your first point, except for your use of “Cymro” to describe Roger Lewis; this is precisely why we might need new words, and there’s enough material in that one sentence for a whole series of blog posts. What we call things matters.

    Discussing matters of ethnicity and identity don’t seem a particularly bad use of time to me, but ymmv. This blog is precisely about such issues – it’s not where I spend most of my time, as you know, but once I get my teeth into a particularly juicy bit of bone, I’m going to worry the flip out of it until I can’t wring a single strained metaphor from its marrow.

    Things we care about, eh?😉

  5. Carl Morris says:

    I didn’t say it’s a bad use of time and I’m not about to start editorialising another individual person’s blog. But on a macro level I would dearly love to see us match this level of commitment for a range of other topics.

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