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There is a big and silly fuss today about Alan Hansen's remarks on Match of the Day in which (in the context of discussing racism in football) he said "There's a lot of coloured players in all the major teams and there's a lot of coloured players that are probably the best in the Premier League."

Some people have taken offence at the term "coloured".  Presumably they would have been happy if he had used the term "black", though in fact it is not clear that Hansen was referring only to black-skinned players – he might have been referring to players of many non-white skin colours.  When referring to those of multiple colours, the preferred term in the US these days is "people of colour".

Well, perhaps the term "people of colour" is more modern than "coloured people", but it is ridiculous to claim that "coloured people" is offensive whilst "people of colour" is not.

In truth, human skin is not transparent.  And its pigmentation varies.  Some of us (like me when I have flu) are a pasty white colour.  Others (like me after the gym, or some of my pals after a few beers) are quite bright pink.  Others (like two of my children) are a rather beautiful bronze colour.  Others (like my wife) are ebony black.  Since neither white nor black are colours, if one wants to refer to other pigmentations collectively, one will be technically correct, as a matter of chromatology, to refer to those pigmentations as "coloured" and to people whose skins have those colours as having "coloured skin".  Since no-one is actually totally black (merely very dark brown), it used to be common in English to refer to those that had non-white skin colours as "coloured" (as opposed to "white" – the non-colour).


Well, language moves on, of course, and there are more modern terms now.  But using old-fashioned terms isn't offensive.  If Hansen had said "Whither now for Man Utd", or claimed that someone's failed overhead kick were "outre" or said that players surrounding the referee to dispute a decision were engaged in a "superfluity of naughtiness" one might have criticised him as quaint or even ridiculous.  But not offensive.

The unfortunate reality of our society is that we have made ourselves subject to a set of word police, who feel it is their divine right to declare, from on high, what terms the rest of society may employ.  Unapproved terms are declared offensive, and anyone using them is subject to hounding until an apology or other votive offering, laid devoutly at the feet of the divine word police, is provided.

But we should defy them.  Language is ours, not theirs.  Offence is something given.  Taking offence where none is intended is just as bad as giving offence where none is warranted.  The word police can tell me my words offend them, and I shall tell them my words are not being used to offer offence and if they take offence then I am offended by their doing so.

Think: who is being oppressed here?  Has Alan Hansen oppressed someone by using an old-fashioned term?  Or is Alan Hansen being oppressed by being attacked and people calling for him to have the sack and (doubtless in due course) being forced to make a false apology for offence he never offered?

It seems pretty clear to me.

31 comments for: Andrew Lilico: The term “coloured” is old-fashioned, not offensive

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