Wednesday, August 11, 2010

Queensland judge rules the N-word not offensive

Gotta wonder what's going on up there in the Sunshine State. From the Gold Coast Bulletin:

A SOUTHPORT magistrate has found the terms 'sandnigger' and 'nigger' are not offensive to a reasonable person.
Magistrate Michael O'Driscoll made the ruling yesterday when he dismissed a case against a Gold Coast retiree charged with sending an offensive facsimile to a local politician.
A staff member working for Broadwater MP Peta-Kaye Croft complained to police after receiving the document from 62-year-old Denis Mulheron of Labrador on June 30 last year.
Christie Turner, 28, told Southport Magistrates Court she was deeply offended when she read the one-page fax which called on the Labor Party to tighten immigration laws against 'niggers' and 'sandnigger terrorists' and Muslim women with circumcised genitals. The fax also made reference to indigenous Australians as 'Abos'.
Mr Mulheron told the court he believed he was using 'everyday English' in the fax.
He said he had grown up with the slang terms for Arabs and black Africans and did not believe they were offensive.
"I'm not a member of the cafe, chardonnay and socialist set ... to me that is everyday language," he said. He argued in court the slang terms were no different to calling a New Zealander a 'Kiwi' or an American a 'Yank'. Barrister Chris Rosser said his client had been raised in a different time when the words were not as frowned upon.
Ms Turner said to her, as a young woman, Mr Mulheron's words were both offensive and disturbing.
"There are appropriate ways to express opinions about immigration policies and this was not one of them," she said.
Mr Mulheron was charged with using a carriage service, namely a fax machine, to menace, harass or offend -- a offence which carries a maximum penalty of three years jail.
After lengthy consideration, Mr O'Driscoll ruled that Mr Mulheron's words were not enough to invoke criminal sanctions. "The words used were crude, unattractive and direct but were not offensive to a reasonable person," he said. But he made it clear the court in no way condoned Mr Mulheron's comments.
He invited Mr Mulheron to seek legal advice before using the terms in a public forum again.
The court was told that over the years Mr Mulheron had sent repeated faxes to Ms Croft's office complaining about the Labor Party, immigration and land taxes. He pleaded guilty in 2006 to sending a personally abusive fax to Ms Croft.

Queensland Premier Anna Bligh has come out and condemned Judge O'Driscoll's comments, describing such views as "last century" and saying that perhaps the state's racial vilification legislation needed looking at.

So... what was this judge thinking?

He said, "The words used were crude, unattractive and direct but were not offensive to a reasonable person."

Umm... define "reasonable person". And what colour is this reasonable person? And has this reasonable person somehow missed a century's worth of changing racial attitudes?

Here is a good way to test out whether indeed those words are not offensive: walk up to a group of black or brown people and call them all "niggers". Then repeat the same with a group of Middle Eastern people and use the term "sand-nigger". What do you expect the reaction would be? If those people got offended, would that mean they were not "reasonable" people?

Now I'm not saying Denis Mulheron (pictured here) should have been facing jail time for his comments. But for anyone to seriously argue that those words are not offensive indicates they are either pulling a fast one, or just completely stupid. Or both.

No one who has ever heard those words would seriously be under the impression that they are acceptable "everyday language". And I would go so far as to say that it is insulting to the average working-class person to infer that only a "member of the cafe, chardonnay and socialist set" would find those words offensive.

But surely Denis Mulheron is just one bitter and twisted old bloke, right? It's not like his repugnant views are shared by the rest of the community, right?

On second thought, maybe they are. These are some of the reader comments attached to the article on the website:

I'm a redhead and since a kid have been subject to a brand of racism ie 'Ranga, ginger nuts, blood nut' etc. So where do I stand? Mr Mulheron is just using language that was acceptable until political correctness arrived. But apparently it is still permissable to call me any of the names I listed.
Posted by: David of Tweed 8:26am Tuesday
Comment 64 of 64

The magistrate is correct, a reasonable person would not be offended by direct language. The thought police were properly put back into their little box. Everyone has a right to express an opinion without the fear of criminal sanction just because someone else is 'offended'. I grew up in an era when we used the terms 'wog', 'Reffo', 'coon', 'boong' and far worse. Many of us still use these terms and will continue to do so despite the purveyors of political correctness.
Posted by: Richard of NSW 12:27pm Tuesday
Comment 43 of 64

Political correctness has gone way to far in Australia - it's about time Australia allowed more freedom of speech . Denis is just saying what many Australians think however do not have the courage to verbalise their thoughts.
Posted by: Nathan of Melbourne 12:38pm Tuesday
Comment 38 of 64

These are some comments on the article at the Courier-Mail website:

Jim Posted at 3:24 PM August 10, 2010
Can somebody please explain to me how the term "Abo" is a racial slur? What is the difference between it and; Kiwi, Pom, Aussie, Scott etc??
Comment 3 of 63
Billy B of brisbane Posted at 3:27 PM August 10, 2010
I find bein g called white or anglo saxon highly offensive. is Anna gonna take my side of the argument for that issue or is she just chasing the votes of PC tree hugling layabouts again?
Comment 4 of 63
raspberry Posted at 3:30 PM August 10, 2010
oh everyone is offended by everything these days .... it seems to be becoming our national pastime ... lets all act like poor wounded puppies so we can litigate ... give me a break ...
Comment 5 of 63
Scotty of QLD Posted at 5:05 PM August 10, 2010
So the next time a dark skinned indigenous Australian calls me a creamy, can I sue them for racial vilification? Or would that be racist...
Comment 35 of 63
Johno of Everton Park Posted at 5:06 PM August 10, 2010
This is again political correctness gone mad, it is good to see the magistate treated the issue with common sense.When I arrived from england many years ago, I was called jokingly a Pommy B and in other instances by people who meant it, I simply laughed it off and have blended into aussie society very well, up until the 70`s it was considered offensive to refer to dark skinned people as black or blacks, we had to refer to them as coloured I never could work out why.
Comment 36 of 63
Princess Vespa of Spaceball City Posted at 5:46 PM August 10, 2010
Every person who takes offence to WORDS should seriously look at their own personal issues and deal with them, not the ones throwing names. "sticks and stones may break my bones but names will never hurt me". That was written over 200 years ago, think about it.
Comment 39 of 63
English teacher Posted at 6:52 PM August 10, 2010
The only thing offensive to average Queenslanders is the incompetent Bligh government. Call a spade a spade and get on with it. Anna will do anything to get some sort of psudo positive PR. The reality is the term used by Mr Mulheron is in common use and forms part of the Aussie urban venacular. In this case the magistraite has got it right.
Comment 48 of 63

s of b Posted at 8:12 PM August 10, 2010
Oh please. Nigger is only considered to be an offensive word in America - in other cultures, it is just a normal word. Anna Bligh's suggestion that we should follow in America's footsteps is highly offensive to me.
Comment 55 of 63

See, I figured people like Denis Mulheron were out of touch. Yet judging from some of the readers of Queensland's newspapers, so many people seem to think "nigger" is a completely acceptable word that maybe it's me who is out of touch. And of course, black people tend not to appreciate being called niggers, but that must be because they are out of touch. And unreasonable.

(As an aside, see if you can count the spelling mistakes in the comment by "English teacher".)

What you can see clearly from the comments above is the extent to which many people of a traditionally privileged segment of society have just no idea of historical context. They raise complaints that arise amongst white people frequently when the issue of racism comes up.

"I'm red-haired and I get called names all the time..."

"I'm from England/New Zealand/America/Australia and get called a Pom/Kiwi/Yank/Skip all the time, maybe I should sue for racism..."

And so on. Of course, I can't quite remember any instances of people being oppressed for being English, for example. And while red-haired people do get their fair share of teasing, anyone who thinks a term like "ginger-nut" or "ranga" is comparable to "nigger" needs to gain a sense of perspective.

1 comment:

  1. It aint what you say, it's the way that you say it. Black Americans can refer to themselves as "nigger." I live/work in Indonesia and often refer to myself as "bule" (albino, but you know that). However when a car load of youths from the local Pemuda Pancasila group drives by and screams "Hey Bule!!!" at me I know it's not being done for fun.