Sunday, July 13, 2008

Politically-correct Follies, UK-style

The British government has launched an effort to stamp out racism and prejudice at the earliest possible age, including infancy. One heretofore-unnoticed sign of nascent racism? Disliking spicy foreign food:
The National Children's Bureau, which receives £12 million a year, mainly from Government funded organisations, has issued guidance to play leaders and nursery teachers advising them to be alert for racist incidents among youngsters in their care.

This could include a child of as young as three who says "yuk" in response to being served unfamiliar foreign food.

The guidance by the NCB is designed to draw attention to potentially-racist attitudes in youngsters from a young age.

It alerts playgroup leaders that even babies can not be ignored in the drive to root out prejudice as they can "recognise different people in their lives".

The 366-page guide for staff in charge of pre-school children, called Young Children and Racial Justice, warns: "Racist incidents among children in early years settings tend to be around name-calling, casual thoughtless comments and peer group relationships."

It advises nursery teachers to be on the alert for childish abuse such as: "blackie", "Pakis", "those people" or "they smell".

The guide goes on to warn that children might also "react negatively to a culinary tradition other than their own by saying 'yuk'".

Staff are told: "No racist incident should be ignored. When there is a clear racist incident, it is necessary to be specific in condemning the action."

Warning that failing to pick children up on their racist attitudes could instil prejudice, the NCB adds that if children "reveal negative attitudes, the lack of censure may indicate to the child that there is nothing unacceptable about such attitudes".

Nurseries are encouraged to report as many incidents as possible to their local council. The guide added: "Some people think that if a large number of racist incidents are reported, this will reflect badly on the institution. In fact, the opposite is the case."
I have no idea what sort of power these "local councils" have in the UK, but it certainly sounds ominous. I can hardly fault a program to discourage youngsters from using actual racist epithets, but I have to wonder how it could have taken 366 pages to address this issue. Allow me to list my first few reactions:

1. WTF????
2. If school teachers discourage something, don't they run the risk of kids thinking it's cool? Racism may become the new Sex Pistols for young Britons.
3. Compared to standard British fare, nearly all foreign food is spicy, and is likely to be a shock to the palate of anyone raised on fish & chips. Don't fault little Nigel for reeling at a flavor explosion.
4. A lot of foreign food is just plain gross if you didn't grow up with it--e.g. kim chee (fermented cabbage, Korea) and hákarl (rotten shark meat, Iceland).
5. Hopefully they will include "limey" in the list of slurs to be discouraged--mostly just because we need something to ruffle the feathers of ordinary pasty Brits. Oh, and because sensitivity to racism is a mutli-directional street.

At the very least, I'm sure we can all agree that the British government seems to have too much time on its hands.

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