One More Widow, One Less White Nigger

So to the latest faux outrage on social media as right-wing journalists and newspaper columnists react to a throwaway tweet by Gerry Adams, the president of Sinn Féin, as he watched the 2012 Quentin Tarantino movie, “Django Unchained”. A revenge tale set in the southern United States during the era of African-American slavery, it inspired Adams to send out this crass message to his 100,112 followers:

“Watching Django Unchained – A Ballymurphy Nigger!”

The SF leader was obviously drawing a comparison between the subjugation of the Irish under Britain’s colonial rule and the travails of African-Americans under the era of segregation in the US. Unfortunately he did it in the worse way possible. The phrasing, and the association with the unspeakable horrors of African slavery as practised by the US, and the UK before it, was simply idiotic.

However, and it is a big however, one cannot deny that the phrase, “white nigger“, was relatively common as a derogatory expression for Irish people among British soldiers and officials in Ireland during the early years of the 1966-2005 Long War. It may have been just one racist slur among many, joining more familiar terms like “Paddy”, “Mick”, “Bogger”, “Taig” and “Bog Wog” (the word “wog” being a commoner UK equivalent of the pejorative, “nigger”, in the 1960s and ’70s), however its use, and the attitudes behind its use, were all too real. Certainly real enough to leave dozens dead and wounded in the Ballymurphy Massacre of August 1971, when troops from Britain’s infamous Parachute Regiment went on a two-day killing spree in West Belfast. This was the very same unit of the British Army that would gun down fourteen people attending a civil rights demonstration in Derry just six months later, an event known to the world as the Bloody Sunday Massacre of January 1972. The discriminatory expression was also real enough for the singer, Elvis Costello, to add it to the lyrics of his 1979 protest song, “Oliver’s Army”, referencing the activities of the British Occupation Forces in Ireland:

“There was a Checkpoint Charlie,
He didn’t crack a smile,
But it’s no laughing party,
When you’ve been on the murder mile.

Only takes one itchy trigger,
One more widow, one less white nigger.”

Are we to demand that Costello’s most famous release is banned from the airwaves, or broadcast with the offensive comment on British racism towards the Irish, and how that influenced Britain’s policies in the north-east of Ireland, edited out?

The late night tweet by Gerry Adams may have been ill-judged but it wasn’t racist, and it wasn’t unhistorical. When the British Ambassador to Ireland, Sir Andrew Gilchrist, and Major T.B. McDowell, one of the unionist board of directors of the Irish Times, were casually referring to the newspaper’s editor as a “renegade or white nigger” because of his support for the Irish civil rights movement in 1969, then I think Adams is perfectly entitled to acknowledge its use.

Perhaps that is where the real outrage lies? As the British would say: don’t mention the war…!

 

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2 comments

  1. So, er why is Peter Robinson standing between Gerry Adams and Obama? And why is he wearing a wig? And why is he kneeling?

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