Friday, April 07, 2006

Playground insults

The story of the 10 year-old boy who called his classmate a "paki", "nigger" and "Bin Laden" and ended up in front of a judge, has been the lead story in several newspapers today. So, is this "political correctness gone mad" as the judge in the case himself claimed, or a reasonable attempt to clamp down on racist bigotry?

The judge, Jonathan Finestein argued (according to The Telegraph) that "he used to be called fat at school and said that in the old days the headmaster would have given the children "a good clouting" and sent them on their way".

Aah, those good old days when you could beat children and call a spade a spade, or a darkie, or whatever else you fancied... Err, racism aside, is it such a great idea to beat 10 year-old kids (or any kids for that matter) for things they say? And is calling someone "fat" really the same as calling someone deeply unpleasant racist names? There aren't gangs of demented murderers rushing around killing people because they're "fat", but there certainly are if they're black; you only have to look at the horrific cases of Anthony Walker this year, and Stephen Lawrence and Duwayne Brooks over ten years ago, to realise that people still get killed for the colour of their skin. So, "fat", "paki" and "nigger" are hardly equivalents, your honour...

But might taking this language to court be a step too far? Can't the school punish the child and deal with it sensibly? Looking through the various stories in the press highlights each paper's political agenda and what they choose to report, or not. For example, Channel 4 News' website reveals that the child had refused to accept a "final warning" while Sky News tells us that the child accused his alleged victim of calling him "white trash" before he himself insulted him. Meanwhile, the Daily Mirror, which has had a more progressive anti-racist attitude than many papers, adds more detail to the insults offered.

Useful for:
ENA1 - Language & Representation


Alexuwera said...

i think that to a large extent the parents are to blame for not educating their children enough about racism and should be the ones answering to the judge in court. i dont think the 10 yr old boy should be prosecuted, neither of them whatever they said because who are these children hearing these insults from? the t.v? maybe but who's incharge of what they watch and when they watch it?

*Chrissyfloss*- ex SFXian said...

how are you gonna stop kids watchin tv? with all due respect you're being ridiculous- kids will always find a way to do something they're not supposed to. Why shouldn't they get punished for it? Not that I'd know anything about it but it can't be easy being a parent nowdays...

Dan said...

...tell me about it ;-)

I suppose it's a question of where young people draw their influences from. In early years, parents are really important but as kids get older they tend to draw more on peer group influence.

I think Roger Hewitt did some research on this in his "Routes of Racism" stuff back in the 1990s and found that racist attitudes among teens tend to be the result of peer group influence more than anything else (i can't remember the details though).

I'd be horrified if my children came out with something like what this child is supposed to have said, but you can't protect kids from all other influences all the time; maybe the best we can do is instil anti-racist/egalitarian values in them from an early age.

Ash said...

I think TV does have an influence to a certain extent, but more to do with general behaviour rather than words. For example, i got into a lot of gratuitous fights in primary school when 'DragonBall Z' was aired on Cartoon Network. We ran around the playground pretending to be 'Super-Saiyans' and beating the living daylight out of random people. Fun times, but it's scary how it affects us. Another case is with people only a couple of years younger than me (i'm 18) is a film called 'Green Stree' which is all about hooligans at football matches. lots of fighting, and its all about the reputation of a gang across London. The peers in my town have, thanks to influence of the film, called their gang the "Hay Firm Elite" (inspired by the film's "Green Street Elite") and they are the typical chavs that end up in the newspaper for beating up innocents for their mobile phone and such.

So TV has a huge influence on behaviour, but not so much on language, unless there's a particularly catchy phrase. besides, with so much media in today's world, we've heard it all before, so no new words tend to stick so well.