9 June 2007


In spite of myself, I find Channel 4's "Big Brother" both fascinating and addictive. It's like you are a fly on the wall in somebody else's house. There is no script. Watching it, you are adding to your knowledge of humanity. The concept is quite brilliant. Although the contestants are surrounded by technology, there is a sense in which their life in the house goes back years to times when people were pretty much trapped in their homes, without TV or reading material. You had to get along with others and make the most of things.

This last week nineteen year old drama student Emily Parr was officially booted out of the house for usinfg the offensive term "nigger" to Charley who is of mixed race. The word was not used in a heated row or angry outburst but in a playful dance session. Perhaps Emily thought she was somehow being cool or streetwise - using a taboo word in a rather daring but well-intentioned way.

Emily Parr (19)

This is how Channel 4 reported Emily's removal:-

"Contestant Emily Parr was removed from the Big Brother House in the early hours of this morning after using a racially offensive word to a fellow housemate. Emily was with Charley and Nicky in the garden of the Big Brother House at approximately 8.30pm last night when she was heard to say "Are you pushing it out you nigger?" to Charley.

Emily immediately made clear that she had not intended to offend and that the comment had been meant as a joke. In discussing what she had said, Charley and Nicky agreed that they were not personally offended, although both did express shock at the language she had used. In the ensuing discussion, Emily acknowledged that she should have been more careful with her words."

Charley could have said to Emily - or Emily to Charley - "You disgusting and worthless worm! I hope your reproductive organs shrivel up and that your mother gets run over by a bus while we are in this house! You whore! You bitch! You sub-human moron!" None of that would have caused removal but the word "nigger" - then the politically correct racism alarm bells start ringing like crazy and out goes Emily to live with her little mistake for the rest of her life. It will always be there.

The word "nigger" comes from the Latin word "niger" meaning "black" and its history is quite fascinating. It is a word that hasn't always had negative or insulting connotations. Personally I would never use this word mainly because I like to take people as I find them be they black, white, disabled, rich, poor, young, old or whatever. Labelling like this is usually irritating because it seeks to define and pigeonhole people before you really get to know them.

Emily's story makes us realise how much store others can place in the words that we use. Just one misplaced word can change your life... or perhaps two words if we include "I do"!


  1. I think on this occasion, Channel 4 had to be 'seen to act' after the cock-up it made of handling things during the celebrity version earlier this year.

    Of course, it could simply have been acting to boost ratings, if one wishes to look at it from a cynical point of view.

  2. Anonymous11:52 am

    I personally think things have been taken too far and, without causing offence, there are too many 'do gooders' making sure political correctness becomes a household term. We often say words which have double meanings and it seems to be getting to the point where freedom of speech is a thing of the past.

  3. I just checked out of the library a video called "The N-Word" that examines the history and deals with the social ramifications of the word. It's not just that the N-word is a "politically incorrect" term but that it is steeped in the violent hatred toward a person simply because of the color of their skin. When I hear the N-word, I think of those pictures of black people being hung in the woods, surrounded by white people who aren't even wearing cowls-- they're totally in the open (albeit at night) about their lynching partiers.

    There's a movement afoot among some African-American comedians to expunge the N-word from their speech. It's become apparent that it's not just a "take back the language" kind of word but something much more deeply rooted in the worst of humanity.

  4. I'm afraid I incline towards the cynical view.

  5. I'm afraid this story just makes me think of 'Blazing saddles'.

    I am also quite interested in your home life YP, if you think that a bunch of self-publicists slected for their psychological instability being filmed day and night doing bizarre forfeits, all commentated on by a hysterical TV presenter is close to reality. no wonder we all find this blog so interesting!

  6. Anonymous1:56 pm

    Definitely chucked out to boost the C4 ratings.
    I have sympathy for the young girl, there was no animosity involved, but if you do choose to use language like that you also choose to bear the consequence.

  7. The only reality shows I watch are the next food network star and shear genius.

  8. As you know, I live in the deep south of the USA, where racial debates are still heated and tense. While I like to *think* that I'm completely open-minded, I find, more and more, that I'm not quite as "cool" as I'd like to be. The south, in general, has to walk carefully on eggshells, when discussing race. I still hear many elderly people use the term "negro". It's not quite as acceptable as it used to be, but many elderly black men and women use the same term, loosely. It doesn't make it okay, but it does get overlooked a lot more than any other terms.

    I have to wonder, though, if the mixed race young man had used the term "cracker", would he have been banished? We live in a world of discrimination that will probably never go away. Unfortunately, though, reverse-discrimination is overlooked, way too quickly, and it's disturbing. We are ALL equals and should be treated as such. While the word "cracker" does not offend me - in fact, not much does offend me, because I'm probably similar to what any other person may call me - it is a derogatory term specifically targeted towards whites. Does that make it any less okay?

  9. You watch Big Brother???
    You have plummeted in my estimation as a decent human being ;)

  10. The fact that you are fascinated by Big Brother is not something many people would be prepared to admit to.

    You know I am!!!

    Of course, I briefly touched on this very issue, but didn't put any thought or analysis into it.

    It's just words at the end of the day.... words.... sounds.... the big issue is really that you shouldn't use words that you don't understand the history and/or cultural significance of.

    All Emily really did (despite using a word inappropriately) was to provide Charley with a broken bottle to beat herself up with (burning martyr fuelled by sensationalising man hating Nicki) and give Channel 4 a ratings boost.....

    "Silly girl" is really the tagline to the whole tale.



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