Do you want chips on your shoulder with that g…?

So I learned a new word yesterday, which may or may not be a racial slur against angry white men of a certain age who voted for Brexit.

Being a white man myself, approaching a certain age, occasionally angry about bad grammar, Brexit, Trump, Corbyn, Putin, the senseless loss of life in the middle east… – I felt I ought to know whether it is a racial slur or not. It doesn’t matter if I’m angry about different things – I needed to know whether to be offended. So I asked the source of my discovery: Twitter.

I honestly didn’t know – nobody has called me gammon so I don’t know what it feels like. So I would have gone for option 3 unlike all of the voters. But on reflection I think I am going to disagree further with this poll. The structure, at least, of a racial slur is there: a racial element, and an intended pejorative (some people may be proud to be angry Brexit supporters but that doesn’t change anything.) The point of this kind of construction is not to claim that all race X share characteristic Y, it is just to associate X with Y in people’s minds in order to encourage prejudice against X. Everybody who is X and everybody who is against racism should resist this.

Much of the twitterstorm on the other side is of the view that what goes around comes around. Where does that leave us? I do think this following tweet, from a Conservative, is instructive. And hilarious, not least because he is having a go at Labour and not us:

I’m a little wary of one thing. The tweeter, a black man, is attributing the imagined use of another kind-of racial slur, coconut, to a white canvasser for comic effect. Is that OK? I don’t know. This is really hard.

What the tweet clearly reminds us, however, is that it is fun to mock people you disagree with. And isn’t that what this is really all about?

Perhaps. Yet, we might still see anger, polarisation and othering of our neighbours as tools of the hard left and hard right, successfully deployed to bring us policies like Brexit, monsters like Trump, needless bloodshed in the middle east, oppression and economic calamity in Venezuela, … in short that they are part of the problem.

We might even seek election to represent the whole of communities we serve, obviously not agreeing with everyone, but serving them all with professionalism and respect.

* Joe Otten was the candidate for Sheffield Heeley in June 2017 and Doncaster North in December 2019 and is a councillor in Sheffield.

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This entry was posted in Op-eds.


  • It seems that, politically, “gammon” is a Dickensian idea:

    I’d also argue that whilst in the UK it refers primarily to older white men on Question Time, it is not a racial epithet – referring not to one’s ethnicity or distribution of melanin – but to the tendency towards redfaced anger at the modern world, and one’s proximity to a heart-attack from all that nationalistic zeal.

  • Isn’t part of the problem that we tend to leap into outright condemnation? We never go for the “now, come on. That’s not the right way” or “I’d rather you didn’t” and, so, we start to require something to be worthy of outright condemnation before speaking against it.

    Whether or not racist, “gammon” is an insult based on appearance. You shouldn’t insult people based on their appearance. Insulting people based on their appearance is bad, but it’s not up there with invading Poland. As only a white person can be a “gammon”, it’s a racially based insult. But, even if actually racist, it’s not up there with joining the KKK.

    I don’t think that people should use the word “gammon” but don’t think it allows me to burn someone using it at the metaphorical stake, or that I’m required me to establish that it is next-door to membership of the EDL before objecting to it.

  • Graham Martin-Royle 15th May '18 - 2:42pm

    “I needed to know whether to be offended”

    May I suggest that if you need to ask that question, then you have already answered it.

  • Neil Sandison 15th May '18 - 2:57pm

    I prefer my gammon with egg or pineapple never tried it with coconut .

  • David Raw 15th May ’18 – 3:06pm………….My dear Joe, I’d have been more impressed if you’d included a few Tories (Gove, Johnson, May et al) in your list of perfidious characters. Is it too much to ask, or would that be giving the game away ?……………

    Or, heaven forbid, one N. Clegg

  • paul barker 15th May '18 - 6:44pm

    Gammon is racist in the same way that “Redneck” is, it presupposes pale skin, it also has a good dose of Snobbery, much like “Chav” or “White Van Man.”
    No, its not as bad as invading Poland but its the sort of thinking that leads in that direction. Once you have lumped people you dont like together & established their “Otherness”; its only a short step to dehumanising them altogether.
    Gammon & Coconut are strong evidence that The Authoritarian Left arent Left at all.

  • Caron Lindsay Caron Lindsay 15th May '18 - 8:43pm

    I don’t think it’s racist, but I wouldn’t use it because it doesn’t exactly bring any good into the world or foster mutual understanding. We probably all have people who voted for Brexit in our families and circle of friends and acquaintances. It’s the quiet conversations that will change minds, not calling people names.

    Having said that, I love being called a remoaner or a saboteur. I’m quite proud of it…

  • Its too late for mutual understanding.

  • Eddie Sammon 15th May '18 - 9:20pm

    I’m not sure if it is racist or not but I wouldn’t use it. I largely agree with Caron: it doesn’t serve any good and insulting people is unlikely to convert them.

    I agree with Joe too: we need to respect the voters, whilst being ready to challenge them/ourselves.

  • The most uncomfortable part of this post for me was the use of the word coconut, which has been levied at black friends for simply daring to be friends with a white person (me).

    The most worrying part? Joe identifying as a centrist rather than a liberal. Eurgh. Centrist cooties.

  • Tony Dawson 16th May '18 - 1:11pm

    Always thought that Joe O was one of the rasher posters on this site. 😉

  • OK, here’s another way of looking at this clearly pressing issue. Can a Gammon be anything else than a white ? Can it be used to describe a female, or will it always refer to a man ? Will it invariably be used about a man of a “certain age”, or could we have a 22 year old Gammon ? And critically, is the term meant to be pejorative ?
    I think under the terms of the 2010 Equalities Act we have 3 protected characteristics here, race, gender and age. Full house !!

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