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Who even has a woodpile these days?

By Bridget Osborne

Who even has a woodpile these days? 17 July 2017

We spent a happy weekend promoting The Chiswick Calendar and the Club Card at the summer party at Chiswick Village on Saturday and the Party on the Pier at Corney Reach on Sunday, both lovely, fun community events (a dads’ sack race with pillow cases is always a winner). Taking down people’s names and email addresses makes you realise how fully global our London population is. It’s not just that people come from other places, their own heritage is mixed: “It’s a Moroccan name, I’ll spell it for you, but I use my maiden name Cox for my email address … or maybe I’ll give you my business address… That’s Spanish” … “It’s Swedish … Japanese … Sri Lankan.”

It just makes you all the more incredulous that an MP – a Member of Parliament – could be such a Neanderthal. When Conservative MP Anne Marie Morris casually used the phrase ‘nigger in the woodpile’ to describe a hidden problem when talking about something completely unconnected with race she used a phrase which was commonplace in my 1960s childhood, like golliwogs and “eeny, meeny, miny, mo, catch a nigger by his toe”, the standard rhyme for facilitating choice. The fact that it was considered normal then is no excuse. Most of us have moved on. Has she no Black friends? Acquaintances? Colleagues? I know she’s MP for Newton Abbot in Devon but she works in London. Has she never had that conversation with a Black person where they patiently explain why the casual racism they come across every day and particularly the N word is so offensive? I have friends in Devon who don’t come across a Black person from one week to the next but they have the emotional intelligence to understand that using a word which comes from the days of slavery, which says “I own you”, “you are less than human”, “I can do with you what I want” inspires outrage.

You’d think at very least she’d have seen Rush Hour. I love that film. Chris Tucker plays Detective James Carter, an LA cop who is stuck with babysitting Hong Kong Detective Inspector Lee (Jackie Chan) who is in town to look for the daughter of the Chinese ambassador, who’s been kidnapped. They go in to a bar so that Carter can talk to his criminally connected cousin. “Just do as I do – but stay there” he says as he walks up to the barman, says “Wassup my nigga” and is admitted to the private room behind the bar. Sometime later, tired of waiting for him, Lee thinks he’ll do the same. He goes up to the bar and with his innocent smiley face and tortured English says brightly “Wassup my nigga?” sparking one of the best bar fights on film. Watch it below.

The moral of the story being that it might be ok for Black people to play around with the vocabulary but not others. The Conservative Party has withdrawn the whip. But they should go further. A programme of re-education by Hollywood beginning with Mississippi Burning (1988 Gene Hackman and Willem Dafoe, another great film) and ending with Django Unchained and 12 Years a Slave, and of course Rush Hour. Then maybe a quiet word with Diane Abbott. Or in the words of a ditty with which she will be familiar “out you must go”.