Wednesday, January 30, 2008

Twenty Major and the Race Question

I am writing this piece in response to a recent post, and the subsequent responses to that post by the well known Blogger Twenty Major. You can view the post below:

Twenty's Post

In this Post TM describes a person who works in his local shop who he has taken a dislike to. The ins and outs of their dealings are largely irrelevant here, except for his describing The said shopkeeper as:

" He’s a rather swarthy looking individual ..."

Whether or not TM was aware of the exact definition of the word 'swarthy' are unclear to me. If he had used the word in error, and meant to use another word say sleazy, or smarmy or whatever, then there would be no issue.

However Swarthy is defined as being of a Dark complexion, dark skinned. I cannot understand how it could be construed as anything else, it cannot be used to describe any trait or way of acting, it describes skin complexion, full stop.

OK so then the comments on the Page about the post turn a bit nasty and start to discuss the N word, which is used as a derogatory manner to describe black skinned people. It should be noted at this point that, the Twenty Major Blog is not a place for the faint hearted, commenters regularly use vulgar language, and the blog itself contains gratuitious bad language sex jokes etc.
How ever I was amazed to hear Twenty Major in the comments himself berating, and even threatening to ban from the site a commenter who was using the N word.

My point in all this is that TM had referred to somebody who he doesnt like(the swarthy shop keeper), and he has quite categorically told us that he is dark skinned. So was he not being racist himself? As it happens I dont think so. I have only been reading his posts for six months or so, and find it to be funny and entertaining, often the most entertaining parts coming in the commentary. He talks of imaginary(certainly hyperbolic) friends and situations and things that get on his nerve etc. and every so often gives us nice little writings with twists in the tale(often violent but always funny) I hope he just slipped up and used the wrong word, and then forgot to tell us,

I wanted to comment but I missed the thread, and then wanted to post in todays blog, but I think my comment might be too long, so I will mail him the link and he can comment or not

"its all the fucking same to me"

Just to very importantly point out, I am not a sandle wearing, flower in the hair love and peace type, or anything like it. I am probably as racist as the next fellow(its in our nature to protect our own tribes) but civilisation asks things of us, and to belong to civilisation we must behave in certain ways, and the most important ways we do that is by treating each other with respect. I had always gotten the impression that TM was a major advocate of Civilisation(amid all the coarse language and smut) and so I hope that there was no double standard here. I Fully agree that the "N" word is wholly unacceptable, but so in my opinion is describing a swarthy person who you dont like(be he real or imagined)

Thanks for *Reading

SAm Crea

* I dont mean the place outside London, not that there's anything wrong with reading, or anybody from there, its just that I was thanking you for Reading(verb) this article.


JC Skinner said...

Oh, puh-lease do yourself a favour. Kill off the thought policeman in your head.

cnut said...

He definitely meant Swarthy. And yes, it was definitely racist, but that's OK. It was racist in the same way as say, a Scot might refer to the English as a bunch of effete sasanach bastards or that an Aussie might refer to a Kiwi as a flamin' sheep shagger.

The Swarthy reference goes beyond mere racism. As I am sure you are aware, popular literature from Victorian times on invested the word "Swarthy" with more than just a descrption of the depth of sun-tan. It has generally carried with it connotations of untrustworthiness and shiftiness that a literal translation of the word would not. Pirates, for example, were always referred to as Swarthy and indeed, any horny-handed son of toil might also be described thus.

So, the word goes beyond the literal meaning in that it carries some historical literary baggage with it, making it an apt term in the context of the piece.

In exactly the same way, the N word, as we seem to be calling it as a default, carries its own historical, societal and literary baggage. Anyone aware of this baggage would know that it is not an acceptable term in exactly the same way as Swarthy is (not to sound too Douglas Adams-esque).

Of course, it's possible I could be talking complete bollocks.

samcrea said...


To do so would that mean that I would end up thinking more? and therefore end up typing more big long stupid replies to other peoples blogs at 3am, I think maybe a bit of thought policing is called for!!


Thanks for the clarification of the word Swarthy, I think maybe TM was thinking along same lines as you.

JC Skinner said...

Not the sort of thought policing that replaces ideology for personal analysis.
Those are the thought police you ought to shoot on sight.
Or, if it makes you happier, do at least try thinking more and typing big, long, but not as stupid as before replies.

samcrea said...

"Not the sort of thought policing that replaces ideology for personal analysis."

I really dont understand what your saying here. But look thanks for the comments, and sorry if it was a bit waffeley(sp?) It was meant to be just an observation on the use of different words and their connotations.

JC Skinner said...

You're working from an ideological base, is what I'm saying.
Now, I appreciate language carries within it all sorts of subjectivity.
As cnut has pointed out, some people believe 'Swarthy' auto-connotes racist perceptions of those described as such. They believe this because an ideology told them to.
However, and I do appreciate it isn't without human subjectivity, but not one of the dictionaries on my shelf define 'swarthy' in any way that it could be considered a racist epithet. Lacking ultimate objectivity on language, I'd argue the dictionaries come closest.
When Cnut, not that I'm having a go but he did my work for me here, started applying 'connotations' to the word, he invested it with his own subjective perspectives which tally closely with those of certain ideologies.
You know the ones - their Orwellian by nature, and authoritarian, telling us what to think about whom and what words to use to do so.
Tabloid media handily summarises them as PC.
Such ideologies, while useful in small doses when used to pry open closed neanderthal minds, have long since become destructive in closing minds that would otherwise be intelligent and open and not automatically start hitting the 'male white middle class guilt' button.
That's what I mean.
Sorry for banging on.

cnut said...

Hi JC and Sam,

I know, I know - we should be finished this. Anyhoo - just a quickie. JC, I understand exactly what you mean, but a literal dictionary interpretation often is not enough. The conversation started about the N word. I really don't think the literal or dictionary definition of the word is sufficient to convey the reasons that black people in particular find it so offensive. It is only when you look at it in historical and societal contexts that you understand the outrage of black people over the use of the word.

Language evolves and words that originally carried a literal meaning for one thing can often change to having a different meaning even though the word itself does not change.

The N word literally means "black" (Latin - niger). Black people have no problem being called black, but the N word has connotations connected with being considered below-human in some way that it is highly offensive.

Wouldn't you agree that all language uses connotations or baggage to go beyond literal meaning?

samcrea said...

chris Rock

cnut said...


Xbox4NappyRash said...

I'm reading from the start so bear with me, it's not often I can actualy add any useful information to any discussion but here goes.

Swarthy - is sod all to do with the victorians, it's from the Germanic word Zwart.

I don't have any German of note but the Dutch for black is Zwart, and incidentally they have a nickname for a fall guy 'de zwarte pete' i.e. the poor black fella gets the blame.

there you go...