• Shilpa Poppadum? Mind your Language!

    You may recall a TV sitcom called Mind Your Language which aired sometime around the late seventies/early eighties about a hapless English teacher called Mr Brown and his class of students who were newly arrived to the UK and trying to improve their English. It drew on every known stereotype of foreigners, and it caricatured their differences to elicit mirth and belly laughs. They were from all over the place – Spain, Greece, Italy, Pakistan, India and so on. “You Spanish omelette”, one would insult the other. “You Indian chapatti!” cried the next. And here is the rub of it: “You Pakistani poppadum!”.

    Couching it in humour does not take away its sting or its appalling undertones. In the context discussed this week on infamous Big Brother, and said behind the recipient’s back, it is truly horrific. We discussed this at work yesterday. My charming ethnically white colleagues sat up when they heard that this sort of thing was rife, a widespread low grade racism, prevalent at all levels. “Look at your sample” they said referring to the three girls. They thought about it some more, and after discussion concluded that actually this was happening at all levels, it was just more blatant here. It had never occurred to them that this happens all the time to the point where people just become de-sensitised to the misery it is causing them.

    The amazing thing is that we have a case study here of how poor Shilpa struggles so hard to believe she is not being targeted for her race – notice her huge smile when she thinks things are patched up. But she doesn’t know what is being said behind her back, how the stink of racism still festers beneath the cries of “I’m not a racist, I’m not”. Why else do the three girls huddle together to share their mutual distaste of “The Indian” who they have said “aggravates” them, and who at least one of them (without contradiction from the others) wishes she would “F*** off home”. She didn’t even realise she said it, which just goes to show how deep these attitudes run.

    They say “That’s not me”, but it is precisely in environments of stress like Big Brother that you see people for who they truly are. They can’t even see if for themselves. I wonder how they will react when the evidence is placed before them. I wonder how Britain is reacting when this mirror is placed before them?

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