Labelling, slurring and changing times

Does race or nationality actually exist or is it an invention of people for their own convenience?

Peter Warland

“Forget the past – the future will give you enough to worry about.” George Allen Sr.

Regretfully, I haven’t been to Africa more than once and the only trip we made was to Morocco which, in many ways, is European. I did get into a fascinating conversation with our tour guide who informed me that the King of Morocco, who is an Arab, must, by law, marry a Berber woman. Fascinated, I pushed on and asked our guide if he too was an Arab. He was. The next day I dared ask him if his wife happened to be a Berber. She was. “What about your sons?” I asked and was assured that they too were Arabs. I didn’t get around to asking if his daughters were Arabs or were to be relegated to Berbers.

But all of this made me wonder: does race or nationality actually exist or is it an invention of people for their own convenience? Is it one of the various methods of separating ‘us’ from ‘them’? We all do it; we label everyone.

We did it when I was a child growing up in London, England. We didn’t think much of the Irish nor the Welsh; the Scots were beyond the pale. We were suspicious of the Catholics and disliked the Jews, even though we frequented their stores on Sundays, especially around Christmas for the sales.

When we went to war we were informed daily that the Germans were swine, that the Italians would run away and that the French, even though they were our allies, were not above suspicion, probably because they ate frog’s legs.

In fact, we all grow up separating in various ways our world into those two labels: US and THEM. It has probably been that way since the first homo sapiens made their way out of Africa. It wasn’t just racism; it was more like pure prejudice. WE are normal: THEY are different. What WE do is the natural thing to do and the proper way to do it; what THEY do is wrong and nonsensical and it is perfectly all right for US to mock and make jokes about THEM. What was the last Newfie joke you heard or repeated?

And from labelled prejudice come biased opinions, distorted impressions, bigoted ideas and warped concepts of THEM. Then, if THEY begin to crowd us, or appear to threaten us and our way of life, or seem to be usurping our assumed superiority, we attack.

The trouble is: without too many actual attacks here in North America, people are getting a little tetchy and, I am afraid, I am going to be forced to start saving up. With fourteen billion cell phones in the world recording every syllable spoken, I must start watching my mouth. I made a racist joke the other day. My companions snorted but didn’t protest but then, neither one was packing a cell phone or any other recording device (I hope), otherwise I might be in deep doo-doo.

And likewise those people who, over the years have labelled me Sassenach, Gringo, Tete Carree (square head), Limey, Pom, American (by a drunken Frenchman), and something in Welsh that I cannot pronounce let alone spell but sounded extremely abusive, had better wash their mouths out with soap before my lawyers come down on their heads like a ton of bricks.

Just ask Donald Sterling, who once thought he owned a good part of the L.A. Clippers, an NBA team. He made racial slurs with some friendly soul recording him and ratting on him. Poor old Donald, merely because he spoke as so many do about others, has now got to find out which part of the Clippers he actually owns. Then, if his wife will let him, he has to sell the team and pay a fine in the millions of dollars and then, I bet, Inland Revenue will be after him too.

It’s just not fair these days. A person can’t get away with labelling folk and slurring them. What is the world coming to?