Tag Archives: Wapping

Smoke (Ethnological Forgery Series No.56)

[It’s a song by Can]

Another day, another cynical compensation-seeker with a contrived grievance (Southend News Network, h/t Frank Davis).

In all fairness I have seen comments here and there, presumably from people much older than myself, about ‘smoke’ having been a term once used, briefly, in London, for Jamaican immigrants in the 1950s. But to the best of my knowledge this term was not at the time a derogatory one, any more than ‘spade’ was in New York. People had to have a word of some kind.

But nowadays, of course, any word used by whites to refer to blacks is ‘racist’, particularly if there’s compo in the offing. Even those words which the blacks demanded be used last week are actionable this week. And, of course, few litigation targets beat the NHS, which has to set aside a large percentage (the exact number is classified) of its budget to meet legal costs anyway.

The litigant ‘victim’ says:

The word ‘smoke’ is just another horrible word that can be used to describe a black person, and while it is nowhere near as commonly-used as other terms in modern society, it is still an unacceptable insult to someone over the colour of their skin… My biggest fear in all of this is that a seriously ill black person will arrive there, see the sign and look elsewhere for urgent medical attention. They have the same signs at lots of other hospitals as well – I shudder to think how far they will have to travel before they get the help that they need.

Yeah, right.

They have the same signs at all hospitals; it’s an NHS policy. As I suspect the litigant well knows. Now, for no better reason than this case, they will all have to be changed. As will all those other things with ‘smoke free’ in their name. While it is clearly today’s bad news for the health-nazis, this will perhaps cost the NHS even more than Mr. Malcolm’s compensation. His lawyer says

…that this could be a ‘huge moment’ in the fight against racial prejudice in modern British society.

A huge moment in the fight against financial probity in modern British public services is more like it. He goes on:

If this case goes to court, it was throw up some fascinating and difficult questions that will need to be answered. One of my clients at the moment is a distraught Mexican domestic cleaner who works for a London company that has just changed its name to ‘Spick and Span Cleaning’ – he is just one person who could benefit from the outcome. I also represent a group of 240 Italians who live in Wapping in East London – they are watching the situation with interest.

Any person of reasonable firmness would roar with laughter at this blatant April Fool attempt, though perhaps a connoisseur of satire would deem it too broad.

But there are no such people now, and it isn’t satire. People are out there, by the hundred, looking now not for ‘offensive’ words, in or out of context, but for offensive syllables, with a pack of baying weapon-lawyers straining at their chain leashes.

I hope that Mr. Malcolm is satisfied with his result.

Long ago I was at school with a bloke called Nigel. His particular skill was leaving pieces of the Bren in the exercise area, somewhere. He later blew himself up with his own hand-grenade, which has to say something, and the thirty-year rule has expired now. The point being that we called him ‘Niggy’. This was short for ‘Nigel’, which he didn’t like, and in no way referred to his swarthiness or melanin content (he was in fact pale, freckled and stout, with fair, curly hair).

Notwithstanding that, would we still be allowed to call him this now?