Big Bother

A contestant has been evicted from Big Brother UK for using a very offensive “N” word when talking with two black contestants. She got summarily evicted. And, personally, I believe this to be quite right, despite her lame protestations of innocence. The show is watched by millions of wannabe mini-celebrities and racism cannot be tolerated.

Aside from the controversy itself, there is a related one of where we draw the line on language and how politically correct should our TV be? If a contestant shouted “Paddy” at an Irish person, would that merit an eviction? Of “cockney” at a Londoner? Or, to extend the issue somewhat, what if someone tried to offend someone with words like “fat”, or “idiot”, or “bitch”?  

Surely at the heart of this debate is the issue of bullying and the demeaning of other people. Part of daily human discourse consists of the putting down of other people: bullying. And bullying can be verbal or non-verbal and crude or subtle.

But the use of language that demeans someone based on race is quite rightly frowned upon as more grave than other forms of abuse. After all – it was black people who were singled out for the inhuman abuse of slavery and the use of that “N” word was part of that singling out. And Irish people were constantly discriminated against by their British overlords for centuries: “Paddy” came to mean a stupid, drunken person.

I was once witness to a crude and utterly embarrassing episode on a local bus, where a drunken Dubliner accosted an innocent Pakistani. I won’t elaborate on the abuse – you can probably guess. It was of a particularly sad and singularly unimaginative kind. The Pakistani person stood up for himself and kept his honour. And the bus driver also did Ireland proud by shouting for the abuser to “leave the bus and take that racism with you.”

It was a peculiar incident. I was initially ashamed of my city and country and then felt proud and relieved when it ended. Language does matter. It is the vanguard of hatred and intolerance. When we acknowledge that fact we can tolerate it no more.


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