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Eyeties, Nips and Krauts

Thursday, January 12, 2017 1:43
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What’s the betting that the ‘Eastenders’ scriptwriter who allowed the archaic term ‘eyetie’ to sneak into the programme’s script is a bloke in his 50s? I’ll bet he never imagined he would draw the wrath of the racial righteous upon his head, with the term being damned as a ‘racial slur’. Well, yes and no. 


As old soldiers will know, in order to get large numbers of men ready to kill large numbers of other men without second thought, reflection, introspection or moral equivocation, it is necessary to pre-dehumanise the enemy. This is the kindest and most efficient way of doing things in the long term – you are not killing brothers but vermin. So wartime propaganda and military training invents derogatory terms and images for the enemy. 

Quite why these terms were still used in boys’ comics up until the 1970s I’m not sure. But they were. Even though the poor eyeties by then were characterised as unwilling warriors, conscripted waiters ready to fall on their knees, wring their hands in surrender and cry ‘Mamma Mia!’ at the first sight of khaki. The Japanese became bandy-legged dwarves with buck teeth and milkbottle eyeglasses. Only the Germans remained lantern-jawed giants who could absorb vast amounts of lead in battle. 

As a boy who grew up with these comics, you can no more remove these crude stereotypes from my brain than you can all the Saturday morning cinema ‘B’ reels of bare breasted African girls grinning like watermelons as they danced in formation with lots of stamping to give the cameraman maximum jiggle. Surely their donning Western clothes is cultural appropriation? Perhaps not.  

We can pretty much learn not to use now the easy terms of our youth – including a Spanish mate who was quite happy to be nicknamed Spic from primary school – but the youngsters need to know we never, ever used them as ‘racial slurs’. We just knew with absolute certainty from an early age that British people are superior to anyone else on the planet, and that we could use nicknames for other, lesser breeds with the gentle affection of an indulgent master.


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