By Ben Pensant
From Jeremy Corbyn to Ian Dunt, the modern left has a long tradition of admitting when it’s wrong. No, really. This may surprise New European readers who think Brexit happened because uneducated xenophobes were duped by Nigel Farage’s big red bus. It might come as a shock to those who blame Donald Trump’s rise on racism, stupidity and the President’s penchant for drinking hooker-piss. And it will certainly bemuse anyone waiting for Owen Jones to admit his admiration for the socialist utopia of Venezuela was an act of folly on par with supporting the bedsit militants who’ve turned the Labour Party into a Chumbawamba tribute act.
But if contemporary liberals are are renowned for one thing – other than sneering at the working-class and making excuses for murderers – it’s our unswerving ability to own up to a mistake and do our damnedest to rectify it. Take the two titans mentioned above, brave leftists who risked ruin by backtracking on their anti-EU beliefs in the name of peace, prosperity and bare-faced opportunism. In Dunt’s case it was his lightning-quick transformation from a man who ‘despised’ the EU and passionately believed we should leave it into someone who tweeted the morning after the referendum: ‘You fools. What have you done?’; for JC it involved bravely abandoning his long-held opposition to the EU to campaign for Remain with all the passion and enthusiasm of John Travolta on his wedding night.
Both giants have been on my mind since Wednesday afternoon when I took a break from researching a paper on second wave feminism, logged onto Twitter and realised something awful had happened. Because while I was skim-reading The Female Eunuch in a fruitless search for tits and fannies, a foul act of terror was taking place, destined to reverberate for generations to come. At the time of writing the list of victims remains in single figures but this could sadly rise as the week progresses. And when it does I’ll be the first to offer my condolences. After all, it was me who sent the tweet that caused all the damage in the first place.
Yes, as you’ve probably guessed, Wednesday was the day I found out I’d inadvertently insulted the Native American population of the USA. And by ‘Native American population’ I mean ‘three censorious loons on Twitter’. Two of whom weren’t Native American. But as we learnt from the recent survey which found the majority of Indians couldn’t give two shits what the Washington Redskins call themselves, as long as someone, somewhere is offended the majority can go fuck themselves.
It began when I tweeted a link to my celebration of Jack Monroe’s libel victory over evil Nazi Katie Hopkins, a libel victory coincidentally denied to David Cameron after Jack accused the then PM of ‘using stories about his dead son as misty-eyed rhetoric to legitimise selling the NHS off to his friends’. As you can imagine, few of the compassionate liberals ecstatic with last week’s judgement were calling for Jack to be taken to court back in 2014. And fewer still reacted by penning smug articles warning left-wing trolls that this is what happens when you tell lies about people. Which was quite right, because the last thing the modern left is interested in is holding everyone to the same standard. No, as anyone familiar with the politics of identity knows, making untrue allegations about an Eton-educated Prime Minister isn’t remotely as heinous as getting one transgender columnist mixed up with another. And the fact that said transgender columnist is seemingly incapable of opening their gob or penning a recipe for Quail’s Arse soup without mentioning their own son in no way opens them up to accusations of rank hypocrisy. If anything, it just shows how virtuously virtuous they is, because it takes strong liberal principles to attack someone for doing something they theirself have done. And even stronger ones to fleece them of 24 grand while you’re at it.
Thankfully, Tory cowards like Cameron are far less likely to drag someone to court than professional victims like Jack, which comes in handy if you’re one of those tolerant lefties who likes to emphasise their anti-austerity point by exhuming a disabled child who never lived to see his seventh birthday. And Cameron’s wife and remaining kids could be eaten by a polar bear tomorrow and they still wouldn’t know true pain, the kind that only comes after a shit-stirring harridan mixes you up with someone else and doesn’t say ‘sorry’ for it. Compared to that a dead child’s a walk in the park.
As is being a straight white male. Which brings me back to my horrendous error, an error so horrendous I’ve only managed to come to terms with it through hours of therapy, self-reflection and trying to think of someone else to blame for me using a phrase roughly 0.0000000001 % of the world’s population find offensive.
Meanwhile the media gets itself into a fascist froth over a handful of white people being mildly inconvenienced by a peaceful Muslim running them over with a 4X4. And Tory trolls push the narrative that a terror attack which claimed five lives is more important than a few millennials being triggered by a word they don’t like. Which is easy to say when you’re not the one being triggered. And it sums up our right-wing media’s thirst for vengeance when the peaceful Muslim attacker was needlessly shot by police and they still aren’t happy. We’ve already lost one terrorist this week. How about some compassion?
But Martin McGuinness and tragic Khalid Masood had something the Camerons and Littlejohns of this world will never understand: grievance. Which in the right hands – ie left-wing ones – can excuse everything from censorship to murder. But what it categorically does not excuse is racism. Unless that racism comes from someone who isn’t white. Which is why my shameful indiscretion demands to be exposed. Though I warn you: it isn’t pretty.
My crime was to tweet out the aforementioned Jack Monroe piece with what I thought was a harmless phrase that – unbeknown to me – would be a dagger to the hearts of everyone from Will Rogers to the big bloke out of One Flew Over The Robin’s Nest. Here it is. Brace yourself:
‘How Jack Monroe claimed the latest scalp in the fight against free speech’.
(I’ll give you a few seconds to pick up your jaw and channel that outrage. Deep breaths. Easy does it. Cool.)
As you can see, it wasn’t the fact that someone was fighting against free speech that triggered an army of three people to castigate me. No, it was my cack-handed use of the phrase ‘claimed the latest scalp’ that got their micro-aggressive goats, a phrase I have now learnt is hugely offensive to all Native Americans, particularly the ones who still go around scalping people. Because prior to last week, like a typical privileged Westerner I assumed the custom of scalping had somewhat fizzled out and mistakenly believed that the well-worn phrase ‘to claim a scalp’ was no more offensive than comparing a shifty, chaotic administration run by an ageing playboy to a brutal totalitarian regime that murdered millions and started a world war. However that all changed when I read the following responses and my blood ran cold:
‘Claimed the latest scalp. In 2017. For fuck’s sake’
‘Claimed the latest scalp? That’s so racist and inappropriate I won’t even give you a click’
‘Maybe because you’re in the UK you don’t know this but that’s incredibly offensive to use as a turn of phrase. In the US recently (and in the past) Native Americans are being denied land and assaulted on the regular’.
While the pain of knowing I didn’t receive a ‘click’ from that particular frothing correspondent will haunt me ’til my dying days, it’s nothing compared to the hurt I heaped upon all those Native Americans who still like to scalp people but would rather not talk about it. So to every offended Navajo or Comanche incensed by my bigotry I apologise profusely. And to all those assaulted on the regular – recently or in the past – I offer this invitation: should anyone so offended by my use of the word ‘scalp’ like to come around and scalp me I will have no complaints. My white male error needs punishing, frankly, and if that means proving how offensive the word ‘scalp’ is by scalping me then so be it.
So if you’re an angry Native American who’s never scalped anyone then this could be a perfect opportunity to, well, claim your first scalp. Though if you’d rather pretend I’m Kevin Costner and christen me Triggers With S-Words I’m just as cool with that.
In fact, as a white European whose ancestors probably did their fair share of scalping I’m pretty triggered by the word ‘scalp’ too. Not enough to scalp myself of course, and I wouldn’t dream of depriving a Native American of the pleasure, as that would be both cultural appropriation and taking a job away from someone more qualified than me. But offended I am and believe me, you ain’t seen nothing yet.
Because so far I’ve only apologised for offending those doing the scalping – I haven’t even started on the scalpees. How do you think they felt when they read my foul tweet? Indians, Europeans, Asians, Africans…back in the day they were all at it – scalping or being scalped with gay abandon. With all these groups queuing up to be offended by the phrase ‘claimed its first scalp’ you’d be forgiven for thinking the passage of time has rendered it meaningless. But it hasn’t. And so I hereby offer those three outraged cupcakes my unreserved apologies, and an assurance that however much they hate me it can’t be half as much as I hate myself.
See how easy that was, Hopkins?
Happily, thanks to social media, privileged white males such as myself can always rely on complete strangers to pull them up when they lapse into micro-aggressive gutter-speak. Indeed, only last month I was delighted to be the recipient of a DM from a delightful moderate Muslim who misinterpreted a comment I made about Sharia-supporting feminist Linda Sarsour: ‘If u keep trolling Linda imma troll u back’ and ‘ur shitty logic belongs in the trash with ur shitty blog’ were just two of the 8 messages he sent in the space of three minutes, messages I am honoured to have received and will forever cherish for their wit, candour and colourful grasp of English.
As with my knuckle-headed ‘scalp’ tweet, should any further retribution be visited upon myself for the offence I caused I will welcome it with open arms. I’ll even provide the knife. Because like Dunt and Corbyn, if we leftists can’t admit when we’re catastrophically wrong then we might as well just give up and vote Tory.
In the meantime I’ll carry on apologising and appeasing until I’m told otherwise. And rest assured, my forthcoming Martin McGuiness tribute will steer clear of any words and phrases which could cause offence to serving IRA members, such as ‘bomb’, ‘baseball bat’, ‘funeral’ or ‘fingernails’. Similarly, when I eventually discuss the Westminster attack I will take great care to avoid triggering any passing Islamists by pretending Masood was a Mormon and only mentioning his actual religion to point out it had nothing to do with anything.
As Chief Brendan would no doubt have said if he knew how to talk: it’s what they would have wanted.
You can say that again, big guy.