Not Saussure

January 19, 2007

In defence of Jade and her coven

Filed under: harassment, Jade Goodey, press, Spin — notsaussure @ 7:32 pm

Defending the indefensible can sometimes be illuminating as well as profitable, so, since I predict that within a few days some soi-disant controversial columnists (are you thinking what I’m thinking?)will decide that their readers are probably bored by now with hearing that racism and bullying are bad things — that’s so last week — I thought I’d help them out by exploring a few tropes and topics they might want to deploy in defence of Ms Goody and her friends.

The first, of course, is that they’re merely exercising their freedom of speech. We may well dislike what Ms Goody and her chums have to say about Indians being thin because they undercook chicken, or that Ms Shetty can’t speak English properly and should ‘fuck off home’, but should we not defend — to the death, if necessary, according to Voltaire — their right to say it?

Indeed, were Jade Goody — assuming she isn’t voted out by Celebrity Big Brother viewers, in a poll which, however it turns out, will certainly swell the coffers of Endemol and various premium-rate phone-number providers — decide to raise the intellectual tone of the Big Brother House by engaging in intellectual discussion by explaining to Jermaine Jackson that she’s been reading The Bell Curve, and that it

“has demonstrated to me beyond any reasonable doubt there is a gap in average black and white average IQ”

which has led her to the conclusion, also, of course, of interest to Ms Shetty, that

“Multiculturalism is doomed to failure… because it is based on the lie that all people, races and cultures are equal; that no one race or culture is better than any other… Multiculturalism seeks to impose racial and cultural integration regardless of the wishes of blacks or whites to live in their own communities and pursue their own agendas.”

he might take offence, but she’d be doing no more than expressing an opinion on an issue in psychology and its implications for social theory; topics about which she has as much right and, arguably, the same professional qualifications about which to speak as any lecturer in Russian and Slavonic Studies.

Indeed, on discovering that Mr Jackson apparently now prefers to be known as Muhammad Abdul Aziz and lives in Kuwait, she might decide to share with him her views — if such they should be, of course — derived from an article in The Sunday Express that

We’re told that the Arabs loathe us. Really? For liberating the Iraqis? For subsidising the lifestyles of people in Egypt and Jordan, to name but two, for giving them vast amounts of aid? For providing them with science, medicine, technology and all the other benefits of the West? They should go down on their knees and thank God for the munificence of the United States. What do they think we feel about them? That we adore them for the way they murdered more than 3,000 civilians on September 11 and then danced in the hot, dusty streets to celebrate the murders? That we admire them for the cold-blooded killings in Mombasa, Yemen and elsewhere? That we admire them for being suicide bombers, limb-amputators, women repressors?’

There was no end of fuss, as I recall, about Robert Kilroy-Silk getting the sack for saying that. And if she were to tell Mr Mohammad Abdul Aziz (assuming she could pronounce his name) that she’s discovered from a regular contributor to the Mail,

many in Britain simply refuse to acknowledge that the root cause of the threat that Britain faces is Islam. This does not mean that all Muslims sign up to these evil ideas. Hundreds of thousands of British Muslims do not, while across the world Muslims are among the most numerous of its victims.

But an insupportable number do subscribe to extremist ideas […]

The unpalatable fact is that there is actually a continuum of Islamic extremism in Britain. While probably only a small number on this continuum will ever be involved in violence, too many others subscribe to odious beliefs and ideas which maintain the sea of hatred and bigotry in which terrorism swims.

Well, that’s precisely what the distinguished commentator and no end of other, equally distinguished, commentators have been saying for ages.

Who knows, quite possibly, in a political endorsement I think I might find far more entertaining than would its recipients, she might even announce that, these thoughts in her mind along with concerns about how one immigrant is arriving in Britain every minute, at least when MigrationWatch are counting,

As usual I was moaning about something that I had seen on the news and he just said, “Well, stop moaning and do something about it.””I didn’t really know anything about the BNP but they had come up in conversation a few times because they had just won some local council seats.

“We went on to the computer and we looked them up and I read their manifesto. I’m not too proud to say that a lot of it went over my head but some of the things they mentioned were the things I think about all
the time, mainly mass immigration, crime and increased taxes. Those three issues were enough to make me join so I paid my £25 there and then.

Then, no doubt, we’d be treated to solemn explanations from the Mail about how

When one of the country’s principal winners of Big Brother, a 24-year-old woman who spent much of her recent working life promoting her fitness video and launching a brand of perfume, decides to join the British neo-fascists, there is an argument that something has gone badly wrong with democratic British politics

And what of the perfume?

The Perfume Store said it had stopped selling the perfume “Shh…”, which is marketed under Goody’s name, at its 150 stores.

Surely Jade Goody’s perfume is nothing to do with her views or general behaviour; a rose by any other name would smell as sweet, and all that. If sufficient customers are so put off by Jade’s performance that they stop buying the perfume, then obviously The Perfume Shop would stop stocking it, as they would any other under-performing line, but I doubt there’s been sufficient time by now for the sales impact — if any — to be assessed. Looks to me like a cynical attempt by the store to generate some good publicity by joining in the general condemnation. It’s up to the customers to decide whether or not they want to buy her perfume, is it not?

So far, we haven’t mentioned the role of political correctness in all this; let’s remedy that. There’s been much debate about whether Jade Goody’s behaviour, and that of her friends, is racist bullying or bullying simpliciter. If it’s racist bullying, Ms Shetty might well, it seems, have a civil case under the Race Relations Act, since they have a responsibility to intervene in such cases, and it might also be that she has a case to make under employment legislation, as a ‘worker’ of Channel 4.

Indeed, were she a lesbian and being victimised because of her sexuality, she’d be subject to precisely the sort of treatment —

A engages in unwanted conduct, then that has the purpose or effect of violating B’s dignity or creating an intimidating, hostile, degrading or humiliating or offensive environment for B.

— that Lord Mackay of Clashfern was explaining a couple of weeks ago shouldn’t be illegal, at least not when it’s done in Ulster. On which point, and at a slight tangent, those readers — few, I’m sure — who don’t read the Lords’ debates might be interested in the following contribution from Lord Morrow, an Ulsterman who seems to find this sort of thing completely normal:

The Minister also says that the harassment provisions will not stop a Christian bookshop promoting marriage. That is very good. But what he does not say is what happens when members of staff in a Christian bookshop share the Gospel with a homosexual customer. If they urge the customer to repent and turn to Christ—as in Northern Ireland they might often do—they could easily find themselves on the wrong end of a legal action for harassment. The bookshop would not want to discriminate in any way—it would happily sell the person, sell anyone, a book—but it can still be sued for harassment.

Strange place! But anyway… While it’s pretty unlikely Ms Shetty would decide to sue Channel 4 for her treatment at the hands of Ms Goody and her friends, we now and again hear about people suing — sometimes collecting quite hefty damages — employers for failing to protect them from bullying of one sort or another. If these exchanges were taking place not between inmates of the Celebrity Big Brother House who, after all, are being well paid to spend some weeks incarcerated with each other but in the canteen or rest areas of some large company or public employer — a hospital, perhaps, where the people were nurses rather than celebs — then quite possibly Ms Shetty would feel unable and unwilling to put up with it and seek compensation for constructive dismissal had her employers been unwilling to protect her from it.

Doubtless we’d then be hearing, at least from some quarters, about ‘compensation culture’ and ‘harmless teasing’; and if, unwilling to risk such litigation (not to mention being unwilling to risk subjecting employees to the sort of treatment that’s so upset CBB viewers), the hospital trust took the view that people like Ms Goody aren’t racist but are somewhat dim and need of a bit of guidance as to appropriate behaviour (as I understand they’re calling ‘good manners’ nowadays), and, in consequence, organised some courses in diversity or sensitivity or what have you, then I think we all know what some of the papers would make of it all. Getting upset about being called ‘Shilpa Poppadom’ and a row about some stock cubes, indeed; load of fuss about nothing. Good-natured workplace teasing… No sense of humour…political correctness gone mad…

Or, indeed, we might take a different tack and argue that Ms Goody and her friends are doing no more than behaving according to the norms and customs of their community, and, strange and distasteful though those cultural values seem to us, we have no right to try to impose our values on others.

I don’t have much difficulty dismissing these arguments, by the way, since I’m not particularly interested in arbitrating between competing rights. Ms Goody and her friends certainly have the right to say what they want — within the bounds of the law, of course — so long as they’re prepared to take the consequences of their actions. If their exercising these rights, as they see it, leads to their being held up to ridicule and general condemnation for bullying and harassing others, then, then so be it. They’ve brought it on themselves. People certainly also have rights to go about their lawful business without being bullied or otherwise harassed and, in general, these need to take priority. If there’s a disagreement about whether someone’s being over-sensitive, then, if it can’t be resolved amicably — and I have to say I almost always take the view that, even if I didn’t mean any harm by my behaviour, if someone tells me I am inadvertently causing offence, I take that on board and apologise (unless I mean to offend the other person of course) — then ultimately we have courts to decide what’s reasonable under particular circumstances.

Nevertheless, I suspect we’ll be seeing some of these theses advanced in the next few days, as people look for new twists to the saga. And, in the admittedly unlikely event that any columnists stuck for an idea are reading this, you’re perfectly at liberty to use my arguments. I won’t even charge a fee, though it would be ill-mannered of me to refuse an ex gratia payment.

UPDATE:  Rabbit Strike has by far the best comment on all this I’ve seen so far.


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5 Comments »

  1. Brilliant. Simply brilliant.

    Comment by . — January 19, 2007 @ 11:10 pm

  2. Good post. May pen a few words about this myself.

    Littlejohn has commented (see Daily Mail online) – he doesn’t watch trash like BB, he says, but the real racism is in our mosques, not on our tellys.

    Comment by Mr Eugenides — January 20, 2007 @ 12:17 pm

  3. Ooh thank you for linky. You’ve brought up lots of stuff I should have though. Makes me think. Curses. So I reckon:

    a) The whole free speech thing is obviously very very tricky. She does have the right to say what she likes, which is why I’m a bit horrified the police are getting involved, but it’s the general treatment, the rampaging hostility that I think has got to people.

    b) As poined out at thatssopants.blogspot.com, strictly speaking all the BB inmates are at work – they’re being paid, have contracts, etc. An interesting point.

    c) I almost feel a bit sorry for the silly bugger now, she’s going to take the punishment on behalf of a load of absolute bigots who are never going to get their comeuppance. And she has apologised, although I don’t think she’s fully grasped the implications of her horrid behaviour, and can’t really atone for the things she said because she doesn’t fully comprehend the meaning of them.

    As for the hasty withdrawal of perfume – well, it’s sold on the basis of a positive association, so if that association sours, you don’t want it reflecting on your company. Silly but inevitable really. How many times did you hear a Michael Jackson song on the radio while he was on trial? If he’d been found guilty, it’d be harder to find ‘Billie Jean’ on a playlist now than ‘I’m The Leader Of The Gang (I Am)’.

    I think Jade is the kind of bigot who doesn’t realise she’s a bigot, because she’s defined herself as a good down-to-earth girl and can’t see anything past that. You see it a lot with sexists – the men who make the most noise about believing women are equal, and believe they couldn’t possibly be sexist in any of their attitudes, actually exhibit some of the worst partial behaviour towards women and don’t realise what it means themselves. It’s not limited to the stupid – lots of highly intelligent people do it too. It’s just a fundamental lack of self-awareness. Of course you’ve got to watch yourself if you define yourself as a good liberal or whatever, because prejudice can fester away in you without you realising it.

    All fascinating though, isn’t it? I can’t help but think that all the nastiness and dodginess aside, Big Brother’s finally justified its existence. This has generated such an enormous amount of thinkiness and analysis. Not that the producers have any altruistic aims – it’s one of those ‘right thing for the wrong reasons’ scenarios.

    Comment by rabbit strike — January 20, 2007 @ 12:56 pm

  4. Thanks for the kind remarks; glad you liked the piece.

    Mr E; I’ve taken a look at the Littlejohn article. I had thought of including the ‘others are far worse’ line of argument, but rejected it as too simple-minded to bother with. It just goes to show it doesn’t do to over-estimate people. As it happen, a friend of mine, who converted to Islam when she married, sometimes attends the Birmingham mosque they featured in the programme; she doesn’t usually go there because they’re too whatever the Islamic version of happy-clappy is, but sometimes does when she’s accompanying in-laws who live near there.

    She reckons, and I have no reason to disbelieve her, that they must have tried really hard to find find some complete loonies to interview, because the picture that came over wasn’t one she recognised (otherwise she wouldn’t go near the place, for one thing). She also says (and I didn’t watch the programme, so I don’t know) that she got the impression there was some fancy editing going on; it seemed, according to her, to be bits of answers to bits of questions and brief extracts from longer utterances.

    Rabbit Strike; I think the police involvement is a bit of a none-starter. Someone’s taken it upon themselves to complain, so the police have formally to investigate the allegation of (I assume) harassment, whether or not racially aggravated. That would, I assume, start with their asking Ms Shetty if she wants to make any formal complaints against anyone; if she says she doesn’t, then I can’t see them wasting much more time on the matter. Even if she does, I’m not sure — from what I’ve read — anyone’s conduct amounted to harassment.

    She’d probably have a better case at an employment tribunal, should she wish to bring an action (which I doubt she will). In a way, I think this is one of few positive things to come out this sorry saga — as I suggested, if these events had been taking place not in the CBB house, where everyone knows it’s designed to wind people up and they’re being very well paid to be cooped up in an environment designed to set them at each other’s throats, but in an ordinary workplace that they had to attend every day, then obviously it would have been very serious for the victim of this bullying.

    I just hope it makes people realise just how ugly that sort of behaviour is. I wholly agree with you that Jade didn’t realise what she was doing, and I’m sure she’s absolutely mortified to see how it came over.

    As to the racism (and, as you suggested, sexism) aspects, I have to say I’m far more concerned about how people behave than how they may or may not think. I try to treat everyone (unless they give me real cause to do otherwise, in which case they may find I’m not such a nice guy after all) with the same degree of courtesy and consideration I expect them show me. As I said in my post, if I find I’ve inadvertently caused someone offence or distress, then I apologise rather than get into arguments about whether I meant it or not. Works for me and I don’t normally have many complaints from people with whom I come into contact. Sometimes when I hear people protesting ‘But I’m not a racist’ or ‘I’m not a sexist’ I want to tell them that quite possibly they’re not, but they were still bloody thoughtless and ill-mannered, which is just as bad (and usually amounts to the same thing).

    Comment by notsaussure — January 20, 2007 @ 5:59 pm

  5. Thank you that what i have been trying to write with no success
    That s brilliant

    Comment by jak — January 22, 2007 @ 5:23 pm


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