Brendan O'Neill
Brendan O'Neill

This is about etiquette, not equality

There are persistent rumours that Prince Harry is not his father’s son. But he is certainly his grandfather’s grandson. Like Prince Philip, the undisputed king of making racially-tinged gaffes, Harry has landed himself in hot water for referring to ethnic minorities in derogatory terms.

Philip, married to the Queen, has insulted the Chinese (“slitty eyed”), Asians (“I thought Eastern women just sit around smoking pipes and eating sweets all day”), Aborigines (“Do you still throw spears at each other?”), and Russians (“The bastards murdered half my family”). And now Harry, third in line to the throne, has been caught on a video shot at his army training school referring to an Asian comrade as a “Paki” and telling another soldier with a teatowel on his head that he looks like a “raghead”.

It’s caused a storm of controversy. The Ministry of Defence has launched an internal inquiry, while the Equality and Human Rights Commission (formerly the Commission for Racial Equality) has denounced the prince’s comments as “unacceptable”. Commentators say the incident shows that our possible future king is a man of “no great intellectual acuity”.

That last bit is obviously true. However, don’t let the hounding of Harry by Britain’s race quangos, army bigwigs and commentariat fool you into thinking that Britain has finally transformed into an enlightened, equality-loving nation in which even a prince will be publicly taken to task for using racist language.

Rather, the Harry incident shows that the old elite and its outdated manners (as personified by the Royal Family) has been well and truly usurped by a new elite and its new-fangled manners (as personified by quangos issuing guidelines on what words we may and may not use these days). This is about etiquette, not equality; it is about policing people’s behaviour rather than challenging racial injustice. It confirms the dominion over British society of a new caste of language police, who wouldn’t know what true equality was if it knocked on their front doors.

In the past, Britain was ruled by the stifling politics of “know your place”. The existence of the Royal Family itself – to whom we were expected to bow or curtsy, or to stand tall and proud whenever we heard the godawful strains of “God Save the Queen” – reinforced what Prince Charles recently referred to as the “natural order of things”: the rule of the blue-blooded over the lower orders. The withering away of this traditionalist tyranny over the past 20 years has not led to a new era of openness and liberation, however. Instead, a new sniffy elite has crawled into the hole left by the death of respect for the old elite.

The new brigade as at least many rules and regulations about how we should speak and behave as the old snobs did. Where once there were strict codes about how we should address the Queen, today quangos issue guidelines on how we should address each other: what words we may use when talking about or talking to ethnic minorities. And anyone, like Harry, who breaks the rules will be humiliated in the modern equivalent of the public stocks: the media. In the past, we were expected to bow and scrape before the Queen and her establishment; today we are expected to bow and scrape before a PC elite.

That the hounding of Harry is more about etiquette than equality is clear from the fact that today’s new PC guidelines on how we should address other people coexist perfectly well with the continuing denial by the state of other people’s rights. The Equality and Human Rights Commission is forever telling off politicians and journalists for using “inflammatory language” to “whip up hostility towards immigrants” – yet it says little, if anything, about the British state’s stringent border controls or its penchant for arresting, imprisoning and deporting “illegal immigrants”.

Government officials themselves, the authors of repressive asylum legislation, warn the rest of us against using “inflammatory” language when talking about immigration. A few years ago, then Home Secretary Jack Straw said the use of words like “bogus” and “flood” in the debate about migrants – as in “bogus asylum seekers” or “flood of immigrants” – was offensive. This was in the same month that he used Britain’s Asylum and Immigration Act to deport 3,000 Kosovan refugees back to where they came from.

In 2007, the leader of the Opposition, David Cameron, put pressure on one of his MPs to stand down after he wrote in a newspaper column that Enoch Powell, the old racist Tory who made the infamous “rivers of blood” speech, “had a point” about immigration. It was in the same week that Cameron himself said immigration into Britain had to be cut “substantially” because it was threatening “social cohesion”.

The coexistence of the new PC regime of language-policing with continuing state brutality is perfectly summed up in the Harry affair. Last year, Harry was celebrated and cheered by British journalists when it was revealed that he was fighting on the frontline in Afghanistan. Now he is mocked for using the anti-Muslim term “raghead”. So in modern, oh-so-enlightened Britain, it’s okay to go off and shoot foreigners, just so long as you don’t offend them. You can throw hand grenades at strange Muslims overseas, but don’t mention the word “raghead” while you do it! It all rather sums up the empty, soulless tyranny of political correctness.

The hounding of Harry reveals, not that Britain has embraced equality and rejected colonialism, but simply that it is ruled by a new elite – an elite whose petty rules, etiquette, hypocrisy and unquestioning attitude towards anti-migrant legislation and foreign wars make it easily a match for the tiara-wearing snobs of yesteryear.

  • johan

    and pls, before i get crucified, im not a racist. I consider everyone equal and judge on personality alone. Every race has their perceived derogatory slang. But its what they make of the word. In the usa, african americans seem proud of being called niggas. Again, my post was to prove a point, and not intended in any derogatory vein towards any race or nationality. Hopefully society can rise above that.

  • mundundu

    heh. i was so waiting for a post like this about harry, because he’s almost certainly diana’s boyfriend’s kid — but he’s got chuck’s dad’s sense of word selection.


  • Hein

    Harry who? Who cares what the poms do or don’t do, nevermind their tax sponsored Royal family. Come to think of it, what have they contributed to anything, just like the leeches we support every year with zillions of rands and all they try is to keep us in the third world. Let them go and do a honest days of work for a change.

  • brent

    Huge PC storm in a tea cup, young people shoved together bond by ‘mocking’ each other and others. Wiliam only did what 90% of humankind do when together in groups and under some pressue; be it war, sport or social. Wonder what Pakistani, Arab etc etc groups call whities, blackies other groups when they are alone together? Bet mostly sentiments that would not be printable or videoable on main news.

    Also whould you like to go to war with that p…k who has his instant 15minutes of fame and yes bet you piles of cash for doing the film undercover? Hope he gets group justice for his huge bravery


  • Odette

    @ Johan

    The N word is a source of much debate within the African American community. Popular media’s depiction of the word as being standard usage among African Americans should not be taken as gospel truth.

    Words do have power and when you have been at the receiving end of racial slurs you get really tired of being told to ignore it or not take it seriously. How about telling the people saying it to just stop because it’s not ok and never will be?

  • Verbsap Sapienti

    @ Hein

    That name implies that you are a person of Teutonic extraction, the same background as the current British Royal Family.

    They bring in millions of pounds a year through tourism; what is “an honest days work”? Digging a ditch or living on the dole… sorry, benefits, like so many fellow Brits?

    I certainly agree with your comment regarding the leeches in this country…they don’t contibute a cent to our wellbeing.

  • lyndall beddy

    Harry looks exactly like his uncle (Diane’s brother) to me. They must have terribly boring press in Britain if this is news!

  • Hugh Robinson

    >>yet it says little, if anything, about the British state’s stringent border controls or its penchant for arresting, imprisoning and deporting “illegal immigrants”.

  • pete ess

    Someone still cares what a royal prick says or thinks?
    Someone still thinks anyone royal has an IQ?
    What a waste of oxygen they are.

    I disagree the “PC lot” are equivalent to the aristocrats of old. Striving for fairness is easily mocked, but what would you have instead?

    I agree we cheerfully shoot women and children (especially if it can be with missiles or mortars from afar) rather than “offend them”: Utterly sick, innit?