Tom Hampson and the Fabian Society should be praised for kickstarting a dialogue which has been sorely missing from the UK over the past few years, and condemning the widespread use of the word ‘chav’. As Ste Forshaw argued in Dissident Warwick earlier this year, it has become a collective noun to describe and denounce the poor and working class, to portray them as deservedly worthless. It’s usage has spread to the point where it may be used against any collection of white working-class youths. The website http://www.chavtowns.co.uk is a good example of the way in which the term is most plainly a means to convey hatred of certain groups, but as Hampson notes,
“it is worse than other forms of snobbery because it so clearly links poverty and being working class to criminality and fecklessness”
Zoe Williams applauds this analysis, but argues that we should not therefore ‘ban’ the word – that such action would be counterproductive. She gives some semi-plausible reasons for this, but I think she misses the point. Hampson doesn’t say that there should be censorship in the traditional sense, and rightly so. What he says is that those who support the weak and disadvantaged should try to convince others that denigrating these groups is unacceptable. Thanks to these people, moaning about niggers and poofs is fast becoming a thing of the past. The notion of political correctness is carefully distorted by those who seek to blame the ills of society on anyone but the rich and powerful. Extreme examples, such as the mythical outlawing of Christmas, obscure the laudible project which seeks to bring about a society where the derision of the unfortunate and weak is not acceptable. There’s a great line in Peep Show where Mark says “I hate political correctness gone mad more than anything”. No-one seriously thinks the ‘gone mad’ examples are positive projects (really, most are a symptom of an increasingly litigious society), but neither does anyone think it’s acceptable to moan about the ‘darkies’ or ‘wogs’ any more. This is surely a positive step. The real moves forward have been achieved not through censoring books and locking people up, but through the increasing insistence that such attitudes are not compatible with a fair and just society.
Those who moan about the ‘PC brigade’ (you always know to ignore a Daily Mail article when it includes the word ‘brigade’ in the headline) are furious that arrogant and snobbish people tell them not to insult and look down on the powerless. It’s very easy to say this when you’re not in any of these groups, and we shouldn’t expect anything else. Those who do support the weak, however, should continue to argue that such terms of scorn cannot be part of a progressive society. Racist and homophobic language is on its way out; the lexicon of class hatred should be next.