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Spanish practices

an online discussion with Jim Thornton of iconservatives.

27th Novermber 2002

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Dear Sir,

Re: http://www.iconservatives.org.uk/fire_brigades_union.htm

Your use of "Spanish practices" is both racist and incorrect.   Please replace with "British practices."

Kind regards, Warren Edwardes

Dear Warren,

The term "Spanish practices" is a well-established phrase meaning "long-standing but unauthorised working methods".   I am not a racist and the fact that I use the expression does not make me one.

If you want to oppose real racism (unjustified discrimination against people on the basis of the irrelevant grounds of their racial origin) I will be delighted to support you.  The sort of language policing you're engaged in makes the legitimate opposition to racism a laughing stock.

Lighten up.

Best wishes

Jim Thornton

Dear Jim,

OK - maybe not racist - just offensive to many of my Spanish friends and clients (and my wife who happens to be Spanish)

I agree that the term "Spanish practices" is a well established phrase but my point is not a question of "language police."   You favour using well-established phrases.  How about using the even older Nigger and Wog?

It is no different than calling miserly people Jewish or Scottish.   The former has been current since before Shakespeare.   You would not dare to write "He is so Jewish with his money" or words to that effect - an equally long established phrase.

As it happens I agree with what you write but there was no call for a pejorative term when “restrictive practices” would have done quite nicely. The English language is rich enough without being making generalisations about another nation when one is referring to inadequacies amongst the British themselves.

It is no surprise to me that Portillo wasn't elected Leader of The Conservative Party. But you are in good company. Sir John Egan President of the CBI used "Spanish practices" on BBC Radio 5 on Monday. The Spanish Embassy is said to have complained.

Remember the "English Disease"? It's back under a different guise.

Regards, Warren

Dear Warren,

OK. I'll give some ground too.  I agree the long usage of any phrase is not relevant.  

However, I stand by my belief that if your wife really told you she was upset she is being unduly sensitive, and that you are being excessively PC.  

You suggest that there is equivalence between calling a black man a Nigger or Wog, using Jewishness as a term for miserliness, my use of the term Spanish practices, or joking about Scottish miserliness.   I disagree.  The former is the most deplorable and the remainder much less so.  

This matters because many racist people who wish to use the truly offensive terms Wog and Nigger also claim equivalence.  They argue that if we can make a Scottish joke without causing offence why not a Nigger joke.   They are wrong, because the jokes are not equivalent.  A joke against a group like the Scots that is not really discriminated against does no real damage.     

I agree it is often difficult for people who are not involved to realise how much some groups feel hard done by.  It's easy to get it wrong for women, gays, and some other minorities.   Jewish remarks ditto. But the Spanish?   You can't be serious.  

My reading of Portillo's failure to get elected is not his Spanish father; I think many people regard that as a plus, but the latent homophobia in the Tory party.   Personally I think he's by far the most able Tory politician.  

Best wishes, and if I have offended her, my apologies to your wife.


Dear Jim,

Good point.    I suppose that it's not the joke itself that may be damaging but the hidden agenda.   Ann Robinson's remark about putting Wales in the rubbish bin was largely ignored by the Welsh.   It is perhaps a question of whether the object of ridicule has a history of being ridiculed / persecuted.   You’ve convinced me  - almost. As you say, it's easy to get it wrong.  I am from the Indian sub-continent so I know a bit about snide remarks.

So you would be happy to refer to "Scottish miserliness" and not "Jewish miserliness"?   I still think using "Scottish miserliness" and "Spanish practices" open the gates for people who seek to make negative racial / national stereotypes.

Portillo really is quite engaging and I could even change my pro-euro views! I have been almost faithfully Liberal since 1970 but voted  Labour at the last two general elections.  Tony Blair seemed a soul mate. I suspect I'll vote Liberal once again at the next election.  I would be inclined to vote for Chris Patten or Michael Portillo.   I suppose I am socially and economically (in the Adam Smith sense) liberal
as well.

As it happens my wife hadn't noticed the comment about “Spanish practices” until I wound her up about it- and she’s long forgotten about it. You see I am a troublemaker! But the Spanish embassy apparently isn’t too pleased.

Oh and the next time I come across one of Barcelona Football Club’s missile-chucking hooligans I’ll tell him to be a good chap and stop being so terribly British!

Kind regards, Warren Edwardes

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