Thursday, November 15, 2012

Getting rid of 'Yid'

Football supporters aren't renowned for their delicacy when it comes to the chants 'sung' (or in Millwall's case, grunted) at games, so it's not much of a surprise to find that homophobic, sexist and racist abuse often plays a part in many of them.

Recent events involving Chelsea supporters monkey chanting at black Man Utd players, Leeds Utd supporters singing songs about Sheffield Wednesday's manager Dave Jones and (unfounded) allegations of child abuse against him, and Sheffield Wednesday supporters goading Leeds' fans with references to two murdered Leeds fans have been in the press recently, but another element of racist chanting is picked up in this great article by Anthony Clavane on the use of the word yid.

Clavane has written extensively on Jewish involvement in football, most recently in his book Does Your Rabbi Know You're Here?, but previously as part of his excellent book on the mighty Leeds United, Promised Land, so he knows his stuff. Clavane points out that there's a clear difference between non-Jewish rivals using the word yid, - as he puts it "a term of opprobrium equivalent to words like “Nigger” and “Paki”" - and the Spurs fans themselves claiming the term as a badge of pride.

What makes this such a good topic for discussion within the English Language A level is that it's all about words, meanings, identity and context. Words themselves are rarely - ever? - bad in and of themselves, but some words can pick up such negative connotations that they rarely escape disapproval. With yid being a term used for so long by anti-Semites - Moseley's fascist blackshirts in England, Hitler's nazis in the 1930s and 40s and Chelsea's neo-nazi supporters in the 1980s and early 1990s - can it ever be used without carrying associations of prejudice and genocidal hatred?

Well, if nigger is anything to go by, then yes. But only with some heavy qualification. Who is using the term? What do they intend by it? What position are they adopting when they use it - solidarity or opposition? What context is it being used in?

Spurs - a football club with a long history of Jewish involvement, but arguably as much a Jewish club these days as any other - has fans who may well see the word yid as their own and describe themselves as yiddos or the Yid army, but the chucking around of terms like this by a now largely gentile fanbase runs the risk of making the term seem acceptable for general use.

That's why, as this Mirror article explains, the Society of Black Lawyers has called for those chanting it to be prosecuted. But is the case as cut and dried,  as simple, as they say?  The Mirror reports that Tottenham Hotspur have released a statement which sounds more nuanced and intelligent than many of the bland club releases that generally reach the press:

"Our guiding principle in respect of the 'Y-word' is based on the point of law itself - the distinguishing factor is the intent with which it is used ie if it is used with the deliberate intention to cause offence. This has been the basis of prosecutions of fans of other teams to date.

"Our fans adopted the chant as a defence mechanism in order to own the term and thereby deflect anti-Semitic abuse. They do not use the term to others to cause any offence, they use it as a chant amongst themselves."
But how do we deal with this? Could, potentially, Jewish Spurs fans end up in court accused of racial chanting against themselves? That would seem ridiculous.

As Clavane points out, "In a perfect world, the Y-word would not be used. But it would be idiotic to report to the police any anti-Semitic chants heard at White Hart Lane. The real evil emanates from the anti-Semites who taunt Spurs – and, it should be noted, Jewish players and fans from other teams."


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