Friday, 14 December 2007
Ching, chang, WHAT?
The other Tuesday I'm doing the washing up to Radio 4's "Word of Mouth", presented by Mike Rosen, when I nearly drop the antique Woolworth's teamug I'm scraping clean.
Today's subject being schoolyard rhymes, an "expert" (white, male, natch) has just described in avuncular fashion how the kids have a jolly rhyme to accompany a game of "Paper, Scissors, Stone", that starts, "Ching, chang, wally". To him, the words sounded "a bit zen".
For most British Born Chinese those words are a potent reminder of the misery we experienced when our peers wanted to target our Chinese "otherness". Nothing that starts "Ching chang", whether it's uttered by Ricky Gervais's character in "Extras", kids in the playground, or Rosen's "expert" will be anything other to most of us than the crude and cruel belittling it was always intended to be. Mockery of those in power is a wondrous thing to behold - taking the rise out of the sound of the language of a foreign minority with little social power is not. The original goes, "Ching, chang, chinaman". These are not benign, innocent words - they are loaded with meaning.
I asked two Chinese, one black, and one Jewish person what they thought about it and each one was stunned that the item could be broadcast with no comment or challenge from the presenter.
How many Chinese kids heard the programme with dismay that one of the weapons in the fledgling racist's armoury has now been legitimised by the BBC?
They're laughing at us, Mike, not with us. I'd like to see if Rosen would present so eagerly a rhyme that went, ooh, off the top of my head, "Eeny, meeny, miney, mo, Catch a tiger by it's toe", only not with "tiger". Or some of the charming People's Poetry that zipped round the East End in the days of the skinhead about the wave of Bangladeshi immigrants, only they weren't called Bangladeshis in the poems.
I did contact the programme to explain the significance of those words which they evidently don't get. I'm still waiting for a reply.
What makes this unconscious racism very sad is that Mike Rosen is a lefty of long-standing who would never deliberately hurt a minority. I just wish he'd wake up and have the humility, as one who does the commentating, to learn from those who are doing the experiencing.
As for sounding "zen", I'm speechless. And not in a "zen" way.
STOP PRESS: Americans slate Rosie O'Donnell for "Ching, chong" comments. Click here.