Rod Liddle

Is it really racist to want an English-speaking cab driver?

Rod Liddle says that the outrage directed at a taxi firm for advertising ‘English spoken here’ serves only to strengthen white working-class resentment — and the BNP

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Rod Liddle says that the outrage directed at a taxi firm for advertising ‘English spoken here’ serves only to strengthen white working-class resentment — and the BNP

‘Rraaaaaaaacissst!’ — that Pavlovian whine of complaint, almost always from a white person, an idle and meaningless howl of outrage where once, when uttered by a black or Asian person who had suffered discrimination, it had a point and a potency. ‘Raaacisst’ — a new definition; a word which, as soon as it is uttered, can cause debate to cease, people to be punished, argument to be subverted, the Old Bill to get involved. ‘Raaaaacccissst!’ — a lie, a mischief, the last redoubt of the metro liberal imbecile who has no other guns in his (or her, obviously) armoury.

A minicab firm in Southampton has been described as raaaacissst because some of its cars carry stickers advising that the drivers actually speak English. The signs say: ‘English spoken here’. Immediately there is a furore: how dare they say such a thing? Trade unions, city councillors and local ‘anti-raaacccisssm’ activists have demanded that the minicab drivers remove them from their cabs, on pain of having their licences revoked. There is no logic to follow here, nothing to grasp hold of unless you accept that minicab drivers who speak no English whatsoever will be every bit as attractive to the average customer as those who speak it fluently. Which is obviously not the case. You need to tell your driver where he has to go, and to hear him respond in a manner which you can understand. You need to be able to tell him ‘No, turn right here!’ or ‘Please slow down, you deranged Slavic bastard’, and know that he will understand. When you say you want to go to Havant, you do not expect to end up in the Levant.

You might just wish to pass the time of day with your driver, finding that more pleasant than simply staring at the photo of Mullah Omar, or Lech Walesa, on the dashboard in an embarrassed silence. If you are a Bangladeshi, or a Czech, you might want that too — an ability to communicate with your driver, in the genially bastardised lingua franca of this country, English, for want of an alternative. It is not raaacisssst, or even racist, to want a taxi driver to speak in a common currency, something you can understand, any more than it is to want the same sort of service from your doctor, your dentist, your child’s English teacher and so on.

This cab firm in Southampton were not like the cab firm I used to use occasionally in Deptford, Sarf Lunnun, years back — White Cars. I thought they were called that simply because they used white cars and passed off the silver and red ones which picked me up as sort of exceptions to the rule. But they were actually called White Cars because they had only white drivers and picked up only white customers. I think that is stretching the boundary of anti-anti-racist tolerance. I think White Cars are not on. I am with the metro left, and Rosa Parks, and Martin Luther King, and Lee Jasper, on White Cars. They did a good trade, though.

The immediate losers from the Southampton thing are, quite wrongly, drivers from an ethnic minority. I do not mean that they are losers because of the signs themselves — my guess is that the overwhelming majority of drivers from non-English backgrounds speak perfectly good English and would be happy to advertise their linguistic abilities. I mean they lose as a consequence of the reaction — immediately this furore occurs, a polarity is established in the public mind between the English-speaking local cabbies and those cab drivers whom the public might, however wrongly, assume not to speak English. It is not a polarity occasioned by the signs, but by the reactions to those signs. And further to that the reaction stokes up something dark and nasty between the local white community and the blameless ethnic minority communities — a sort of incoherent resentment, an irritation, a feeling that things are not really fair, that speaking decent English is something which they should not aspire to, that speaking decent English is somehow, bizarrely, racist.

And it is a resentment which will find its outlet when the Neanderthals of the BNP next come a-calling. This is no joke, and no idly made allegation; you talk to the local white population in Dagenham or Keighley or Stoke, those areas where the BNP has made considerable inroads, and you will find that it is not an immigrant population which arouses their ire, per se; it is the simple and sometimes wrong-headed but often quite correct notion that everything is stacked against them, the white working class. That whatever they do is wrong, even speaking that awful thing called English. That even to aspire to speaking English, or to think it might be a good idea, seeing that we all live here, in England, that itself is not on really. Let everyone speak their own language and be encouraged to do so; let there be no imperialistic linguistic hegemony.

There are lots of drivers from ethnic minorities where I live — Poles, Afghans, Iraqis, Czechs. One of them, an Afghan, the other night was driving me home from the station through the moonlit, excruciatingly English countryside of the Wiltshire downs. We had talked on the way about the mujahedin, the desolation of the war, the corrupt government of Hamid Karzai, and also how Swindon Town were in a false position challenging for the playoffs in League One, how they should be down somewhere near the middle of the table.

Suddenly an animal skittered across the road in front of us, tearing from copse to copse, tawny, low-slung, nimble and determined in the headlights, like a cool and very sussed dog. The driver looked at me in wonderment as I said, ‘Muntjac’. He pulled over to the side of the road, stopped the car and said: ‘Tell me the name of the animal again.’ And I told him, muntjac, a sort of deer. A deer which came here a long time ago, turn of the 20th century, and quickly adapted. I love muntjac. He wrote the word ‘muntjac’ down in a notebook and looked up at me smiling: ‘I am still learning,’ he said, ‘and I want to learn.’ Good for you, mate, good for you. But don’t tell those people down in Southampton.