N****rs in the woodpile

Racist or ignorant?A Tory MP was recently recorded using the phrase “Nigger in the woodpile” when speaking about Brexit. She was castigated for use of the term, with the inevitable suggestions of racism. Whilst not condoning the phrase in any way, I want to offer (for the purposes of discussion) another hypothesis – that she is simply ignorant.

Looking at her, she seems to be from a similar generation to mine, brought up in the 50/60s when this phrase, along with “Eeny, meeny, miny, mo…” was in common use and well before ‘we’ started to recognise the implicit (if not occasionally explicit) racism in the use of the ‘N word’. As a child, I happily used the two phrases already mentioned as well as many others we would nowadays regard as ‘beyond the pale’. I was ignorant, not in the colloquially sense it is often used to insult people, but in the literal sense of ‘not knowing’.

Now perhaps by now this woman should have learned about the offensive nature of her words, and perhaps she hasn’t. Maybe she is so isolated from society in general that she isn’t exposed to the issues of racism, or indeed other ‘isms’, that she genuinely does not realise how offensive she has been.

I guess that this plays in to one of the long-argued views about intent. Can one really be guilty in the absence of intent? This principle even is established in UK) law with the phrase “actus reus non facit reum nisi mens sit rea, i.e. “the act is not culpable unless the mind is guilty”. So whilst ignorance of the law is no excuse and will not stop you getting pursued through the courts, the absence of intent will work in your favour.

So was this woman racist or ignorant? What do you think? Do let me know.

4 responses to “N****rs in the woodpile

  1. Stuart Jenkinson

    Hmm not sure about that one. Its used quite commonly in rap music sung by African americans currently. In the UK I’d accept it would cause offence and wouldn’t use it myself.

    Then there in Guy Gibson’s dog which was killed on the night of the Dam’s raid. It was a black Labrador and in 1943 that was its name. When the film is shown on TV its name is edited out. This seems revisionist in the extreme to me.

    I wonder if nowadays some of chattering classes are professionally offended. It seems there are worse ills in the world today.

    • Thanks Stuart,
      Whilst I accept that the black community DO use the word, it’s being ‘reclaimed’ as being appropriate within the community but not outside where it is still offensive to the black community.

      As for ‘professionally offended’, yes I’m sure that is the case. It’s a it like the days when we were advised not to use “brainstorming” because someone decided that it would offend the mentally ill. That theory was debunked when the mental health charity MIND let it be known that they didn’t mind and indeed used the word themselves!

  2. Well said Geoff!
    Ignorance I suspect and arrogance too, around not needing to learn or understand

  3. Steve Bottoms

    Even if it is ignorance, it’s of a quite spectacularly obtuse kind that says a huge amount about just how cut off from the wider population this woman is. Unfortunately I suspect this is true of many Tory MPs who often seem to come from unthinkingly isolated, privileged backgrounds. If she used that phrase on this occasion, I’m quite certain she has used it just as casually on other occasions and that it has been accepted or even condoned in the circles she usually moves in. On this occasion she was recorded and called out for it. That doesn’t make her ignorance in any way acceptable in 2017. You may have grown up with that rhyme, Geoff (even I did!) but you would not recitevit now would you…

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