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The 0.08% and other groups

Published: 
Wednesday, August 9, 2017

Ethnic slurs are most effective when directed at small, marginalised groups partly because you are most likely to get away with using such language. In some instances, they flavour what some consider to be good humour, form part of after-dinner chit-chat and eventually become part of the folkloric record.

Ask anyone of mixed heritage (not easily recognised as such) and we can tell you the stories. Because some people are somewhat clear about “what” you are, they feel free to employ language they would not have otherwise used had they known that among your credentials, as a human being, are traces of more than one continental forebear.

We know the full range of longstanding and more contemporary ethnic euphemisms or, depending on how you look at them, ethnic dysphemisms.

We already know the ones used to describe the two main groups. The “N”s and the “C”s. They are not usually used by someone of one group when either “N”s or “C”s are around, except in collusion with a cuss word, but can be used among members of the respective groups when either describing themselves or saying bad things about the others.

It’s different in other places, but no less intrinsically harmless. I remember playing football in Jamaica and being called by a teammate across the field who wanted me to pass the ball to him. “C…bwoy! C…bwoy!” He never got the ball and also did not accept that I could have responded by saying “No ball fuh you, N…bwoy.” We nevertheless laughed and walked away.

There are, as well, always debates about the use of these words by people to describe others of the same background. Thankfully, unlike the rap musicians, we do not have such a discussion among calypsonians who have mostly shunned such open usage—except when referring to the small, marginalised groups I referred to at the start.

It’s not only the calypsonians. One former chief justice during a live radio interview was heard telling the host of the show (whom he considered to be better acquainted with the accent because of his surname) that “cheap teeng no goot.”

It reminded me of a friend who lived in London and whose nickname was “Spot”—evidently because he was easy to pick out in his group of friends and neighbours. I was flabbergasted that he had begun responding to that name when called.

It’s the kind of self-effacing conditioning that comes like the creeping corrosion of a cancer. Look how easily “Laventille” and “Caroni” and “Westmoorings” have come to be established politically-employed ethnic euphemisms.

Politicians have been mastering the art over the years. All of us know what happens “south of the Caroni (river).” We also know what happens to a neighbourhood when “people from Laventille” move in while someone from “Westmoorings”, (not unlike a reverse “Spot”) is easy to point out in a crowd.

Today, here come “The One Percent.” Like all ethnic slurs, the expression emerges out of a massive dose of ignorance and fearmongering and can have the impact of inciting the kind of hatred countries in severe conflict around the globe now find par for the course.

We are playing with fire.

In recent years, especially since “de chinee and dem” have always been easy prey, we have witnessed how fears surrounding the perceived imperialist designs of China, via its form of state capitalism, has been converted into open hostility and even violence against Chinese people (and others who look like them).

Some Jamaicans railed a few days ago against the use of Chinese fireworks in celebration of the country’s recent independence celebrations, but toasted with French wine and welcomed a huge US coffee chain in the land that gives us some of the best coffee in the world.

Today, back home, the distinction is made between the people we called “panyol” and “Spanish” who used to come from Lopinot and Maracas St Joseph, and those who now come from Pedernales and Tucupita.

Now, getting back to “The One Percent” who, actually, are more like “the 0.08%”, according to the Demographic Report of the 2011 Population and Housing Census.

Maybe in time, we will be doing like humourist, Michael Harriot, who writes a blog entitled ‘NegusWhoRead’ and uses the made-up word “Wypipo” to describe a particular sub-set of a majority group in the United States.

Should I propose “Dewonposent” and people of Dewonposent origin? That would go nicely with some of the more established ethnic slurs such as “Madinga”, “Dougla”, “Chinee” and “Reds” and others that would only lead to the drawing of swords and pooyas should I name them here.

All of this to point to the absurd, illiterate, and racist campaign that will stimulate only more fear and hatred in this small place. Trade unionists, politicians, and public commentators, you know better than that.

Oh, you want to know if I have any Dewonposent and that is why I vex? No, but I have plenty “N” and “C” and Chinee and long, long time ago there were Wypipo involved.

Today, here come “The One Percent.” Like all ethnic slurs, the expression emerges out of a massive dose of ignorance and fearmongering and can have the impact of inciting the kind of hatred countries in severe conflict around the globe now find par for the course.

We are playing with fire.