The Jeremy Clarkson debacle is like something out of Brass Eye. No, it’s like a parody of something out of Brass Eye.
Eenie meenie mynie mo catch a n***** by his toe; if he hollers let him go, eenie meenie mynie mo.
It’s an old fashioned ‘choosing’ rhyme, that’s all. Any racist meaning it might have had in the past was long ago rendered meaningless by over-use, and any such alleged meaning is obsolete in the way that ring-a-ring-a-roses no longer means whatever it arguably used to mean. Even if it did once have connections with lynching (think Strange Fruit) and apparently there’s no evidence that it did, it ceased to evoke any such thing to the world long before little Jeremy C was a glint in his mother’s Paddington Bear.
I’m sure it never crossed the minds of the children and the child-like persons who use the rhyme that it was anything other than a handy, not very efficient choosing aid.
I always used to think “Catch an N-word by his toe” was to do with swimming, because how else, I reasoned, could you catch anyone by the toe? But I also knew that if the toe’s owner didn’t like it, all he/she had to do was ‘holler’ in order to be let go. Surely he (or she) would do that immediately, if only with surprise, so that’s alright. It’s just a nonsense rhyme.
But how the hell did a purely descriptive word that originated so objectively and innocently, which was also the description of a shade of black or dark brown, become more offensive than the most taboo profanities and rude words? Especially when swearwords and profanities have wormed their way into universal usage and comparative acceptability ever since Kenneth Tynan broke through the barrier in the 1960s by being the first person to utter the word FUCK on “national television” - although according to Wiki some people dispute this - and, what was I saying? oh yes, and became the new norm through celebs and edgy comedians like Gordon Ramsay and the one who mocked Rebecca Adlington? (I know his name but I’m pretending I don’t)
Personally I have never understood why isolated words caused offence in themselves; the actual offence was really and truly because they were, more often than not, intentionally used in defiance of ‘society’s rules’. To provoke a response, preferably outrage.
Surely the fuss over Clarkson using (or not using) what they call the ‘N’ word is so pompous, so ill-conceived, so twisted that I actually feel pangs of sympathy for a man I normally associate with the off switch.
Libby Purves (£) of all people seems to agree that this fuss is ridiculous. But like the newspapers that criticised the riots over the Mohammed cartoons but were too scared to reproduce them in their newspapers, Libby Purves or the Times, (eenie meenie mynie) has published the ‘N-word’ with the ‘igger’ represented by asterisks; as have I.