What’s in a word..?

Peter Brill writes… (click here to read his full post)

The old phrases “sticks and stones…” and “what’s in a name?” has never been more relevant than in the current debate about the use of the “Y-Word” at football grounds.

OK, let me declare a couple of interests right up front. I’m a West Ham season ticket holder and I’m Jewish.

The two are not mutually exclusive, nor do they seem particularly connected. However, the current media and public debate about David and Ivor Baddiel’s short film – “The Y-Word” is focusing the minds of many football fans and members of the Jewish community.

Nobody in their right mind would condone the use of racist language – publically or privately – and I make no apologies for the fact that I have campaigned at various times in my life against racism and neo-nazism in the UK and beyond. As the former Chair, and still volunteer, of Salaam Shalom – a Muslim/Jewish dialogue organisation in Bristol – I am fully aware of the virulence of anti-semitism and islamophobia still evident in many parts of the UK and the work required to combat it.

At various times in my life I’ve been subject to anti-Semitic abuse. At school, at university and, very occasionally, in work or adult social context. In most cases its simply ignorance – the “oh, I didn’t mean you mate” syndrome. On some occasions it was deliberate and vehement.

Football provides the ideal opportunity for tribalism. Anyone who has been to an Old Firm game between Rangers and Celtic in Glasgow can testify to the vein bursting, eyeball-popping sectarian hatred displayed by grown men and women, where the game is often secondary to the ritual abuse.

But the Y-Word, the word Yid, a derogatory term for someone Jewish, has caused some blurring of the lines when it comes to football. West Ham’s arch rivals, Tottenham, have been dubbed “The Yids” not just by other team fans, but by their own supporters because of the historically high percentage of Jewish fans the club attracts. It’s almost become a badge of pride, a proud tribal name amongst Spurs supporters.

The FA and Premiership have, allegedly, been reluctant to take significant action until recently against the use of the word by fans as it has been deemed to be a ‘fun’ reference meant in self-jest. Sadly, this racist term has always had an underlying ‘softness’ about it which has never quite had the same ‘shock-horror’ effect of the N-word or the P-word.

Chelsea will be showing the film at Stamford Bridge before their match against Spurs later this month and arrests have been made at the ground for previous use of the term Yid during matches. However, I genuinely wonder whether how Spurs fans are going to respond to this. One comment on the You Tube page is a typical example:

“Spurs fans are proud to refer to themselves as Yids, it reminds us of the history and traditions of the club and our solidarity in the face of racist chanting from other fans. No amount of red tape will make us surrender our identity. YID ARMY.”

There were plenty more comments like this – we can say it but nobody else – not least from Jewish fans who seem to feel that their use of the word Yid is the cultural equivalent of a black person calling themselves and their mates a Nigga.

Anna Kessel’s article in the Guardian adds an unsettling dimension – if Jewish fans are so uncomfortable about the use of the word Yid, why don’t they stand up and say so. As with every experience of racism – not least the torrent of abuse David Baddiel encountered when he tried to confront an adjacent Chelsea fan – it’s never quite so cut and dried.

Still, at least Spurs won’t be chanting it in Europe any time soon…..aaw, and now I’ve gone and let my tribalism show!

Published 15th April, 2011 – click here to read his full post

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