Sunday, 18 January 2009

Racist manure



I let this article, a version of Andrew O'Hagan's George Orwell Memorial Lecture, pass in last week's Guardian Review, but I am very glad to see Tim Lott responding to it in the correspondence column of yesterdays's Review with a certain, to my mind, justified indignation.

The tenor of O'Hagan's lecture is that the English are a brutal, torpid, useless, subhuman race, unlike, say, his own noble, native, spirited Scots. All this is written without nuance or anything much in the way of evidence. In the course of this racist manure he ignores... well, some of what he ignores is there in Lott's letter, eg.

First, he writes: "Thatcher is said to have been genuinely shocked by the ease with which England rolled over ... England lost its unions and nationalised industries without a blink." This ignores - for a start - the miners' strike, the Wapping strike, the Brixton riots and the Toxteth riots. It also ignores an array of other protest responses, such as the alternative comedy revolution, pop music from the Smiths to the Beat ("Stand Down Margaret") and the vast numbers of working-class people who voted against Thatcher.

Second, he writes: "The English working class are far ahead of every other European lower class in the sheer energy of their indifference." Any kind of supporting evidence for such an extraordinarily sweeping statement might have made this more convincing.

Third: "The statistics show that English football fans abroad will still turn to violence faster and more regularly than any other football fans in the world." Which statistics are these? Incidentally, the English have a lot to learn from the Scots about violence - a United Nations report in 2005 showed Scotland to be the "most violent country in the developed world".

Fourth, he writes: "Orwell would have rolled into the towns of England on a Saturday night to examine why people were so quiescent, demoralised, so fearful of outsiders, so drawn to fantasy and spite and so lacking in purpose as a social group." Orwell would probably have produced some kind of factual observation to back up such an assertion.

Fifth: "Depression among children of the poor is recorded as the worst in Europe." O'Hagan doesn't cite the source, but he presumably has in mind the Centre for Economic Performance report published recently - which refers to British, not English, children.

Sixth: "The underclass is the most conservative force in Britain." Is there any evidence for this - from a breakdown of voting rolls, for instance?

Seventh, he writes that "in some quarters" the English working class is "fascistic". Is it really so uniquely full of "spite" as O'Hagan asserts? In 2007, police figures were published for 2005-06 that showed 5,124 racist crimes in Scotland. Given that the population of the rest of the UK is 10 times greater and contains five times as large a proportion of ethnic minorities, this is proportionately a far higher figure than in England. Incidentally, extreme religious sectarianism of the sort that scars the Scottish working class is more or less unknown among the English white working class outside of a few areas of Liverpool. Also, according to figures cited by the Equality and Human Rights Commission, one in four gay people have suffered violence in Scotland.

Eighth, he writes: "As we have seen in the banking crisis, the English people call for sedation, not sedition." As opposed to the anti-capitalist rioting that took place on the streets of Glasgow, Edinburgh, Belfast and Cardiff?

He refers to "the English arrogance which resides in the view that they are naturally dominant in the British Isles". But the English are naturally dominant - 84% of the British Isles is English, 8.5% Scots. It is Scottish arrogance that finds this simple - and neutral - fact so painful to acknowledge.


Speaking with my Hungarian hat on, if O'Hagan had talked about any other class or nation that way nobody would think him anything but a simple racist. The test for loathsome aspects of racism / sexism / any other -ism ? Try replacing the object of speech with another group.



14 comments:

Bill C. said...

If they weren't so serious, Andrew O'Hagan's comments would be risible. He should seek help.

"Lie on the couch, Andrew, and tell me when your problems began."

"Well, it all began a long time ago when my father invited an English family to stay with us..."

James O'Fee said...

I agree. Some attitudes in Scotland - where my daughter is seeking to go to University - are deeply worying. And no part of my genes are English!

Shuggy said...

O'Hagan is an utter fool - best to ignore him. Difficult though, isn't it? There's everything - well not quite everything - that is wrong with Scottish nationalism right there. Doesn't it just reek of complacency? Tim Lott's comment about sectarianism was the usual tourist crap though. Someone claiming to be fastidious about the use of evidence might want to look at the history of Glasgow via-a-vis Liverpool in the nineteenth century.

George S said...

Point taken, Shuggy. Just Lott hitting out. Wrote a brilliant memoir, The Scent of Dried Roses. Working class family, mother's suicide, great delicacy. He is not going to like being patronized by some fool who knows nothing about English working class life.

Background Artist said...
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Dafydd John said...

Sounds like complete rubbish to me as well. However, as a Welshman let me say it isn't unusual for us here to be smeared similarly with rather unpleasant stereotypical generalizations by pundits and so-called experts from the other side of the Dyke (often in 'liberal' rags like The Guardian!), and we appear to be the only nation left in the world that it is acceptable to make jokes about. But of course when we complain we are accused of having no sense of humour, or that we are far too sensitive...

George S said...

I do remember a certain Anne Robinson making a comment something like that, Dafydd. However, further back, I also remember the great honour in which Welsh poetry was held - Dylan Thomas and RS Thomas particularly, but also Dannie Abse - and, of course, the great rugby team of the seventies. Not to mention the choirs. And Shirley Bassey and Tom Jones. There was a strong working class behind them too, lending a sort of spiritual weight. Chiefly the miners.

In other words there were major cultural figures.

One of the factors Tim Lott mentions elsewhere (and this did start with O'Hagan's article about the English working class) is the collapse of the great mass industries and the unions associated with them. That kind of impotence may be partly behind the recent name-calling.

And I have always disliked Anne Robinson - even before The Weakest Link.

Billy C said...

Dafydd, I'm an Englishman who's roots lie deep in the pits and pots of the working classes. I've worked in both those industries and also as a long distance driver. It was during the latter occupation that I travelled South Wales extensively, and no place on earth has welcomed me more than The Valleys. That was in the days of coal when your communities were bright gems of light shining brightly from the blackness of their toil. Beautiful people they were too. And is there anything more moving than the sound of a Welsh male voice choir? Richard Llewellyn is one of my favourite authors. Need I say more? But, when England play Wales at Twickenham, my heart is with the English. As it should be. I'm sure you feel the same supporting Wales. Nothing wrong with that. It's as it should be. With passion but without hate.

I reckon Andrew O'Hagan has passed the dividing line between national passion and hate of a nation. He stereotypes because he genuinely doesn't like the English. I've seen the same thing before in some Scotsmen. Inferiority complex? Probably, but they have no need to feel like that because there have been many great Scotsmen who have equalled and surpassed many achievements by the English in their particular field. They have the right to be proud, but not so proud they have the right to be outright obnoxious as Andrew O'Hagan is.

Dafydd John said...

Just to make it clear, I agree with everything that's been said. In fact, my point is made stronger - I hope - by showing that I know how unpleasant it is. And these sorts of attacks on ordinary working people can leave an unfortunate impression on a nation - as with the Treason of the Blue Books in 1847 ...

SnoopyTheGoon said...

O'Hagan... mmm...

Re O'Hagan saying things about people, I am not sure you've stumbled on this opus:

http://www.telegraph.co.uk/comment/3626825/Mel-Gibson-deserves-pity%2C-not-pillory.html

As for O'Hagan's IQ - he is what Shuggy sez. A bit more here:

http://simplyjews.blogspot.com/2008/07/case-of-marching-morons.html

(I knew I remember the name from somewhere)

George S said...

The first link no longer works, Snoopy.

Poet in Residence said...

Bring back Robert the Bruce and the spider!

And then away with the Sassenachs and down with the Lairds!

And also down with all the Anglo-Saxon incomers* tarting up those abandoned falling-down crofts, bringing tourism and electric to the Hebridies,...

Up the Picts! Up the Taffs! Up the Magyars! Up the Tudors! Up the Armada! Up with Cadwallader! ...

Up the Creek and down the Liffey!


*a gut Scottish word for ye!

George S said...

I suspect that in the current economic climate 'incomers' will mean those with incomes.