ITV’s casual racism: “My goodness! They’re happy drunks, the Irish!”

Posted: June 16, 2012 in Media & Journalism, The Footie

This was how ITV’s commentator summed up 20, 000 singing Irish fans as the game against Spain drew to a close on Thursday evening (14 June). Though you will note that he didn’t even qualify his observation by saying “Irish fans” or “Ireland’s fans”; just “the Irish”.  I suspect that a lot of Irish people might dismiss this as harmless and not worth getting hot and bothered about. Sure we’re used to all these stereotypes in the British media by now, aren’t we? And aren’t we a very modern, forward-looking people who are generally viewed in very positive terms the world over? Why would we care about a minor wee slip by an ITV commentator running out of cliches?

“They’re happy drunks, the Irish!” – ITV match commentator on Irish fans as Ireland v Spain draws to a sorry end.

But wait! If we think what he said is harmless, then just replace the word Irish with, say, “blacks” or “Asians” or “Aborigines” or “English”.  Would we think that to be harmless or trivial?  Somehow I don’t think so.

Racism isn’t just about defining a whole race or ethnic group in hateful or violent terms. It is also about defining a race/ethnic group as being genetically or culturally inferior in relation to one’s own race/ethnic group.  Indeed, the fact that the stereotype of over 4 million Irish people as drunks should pass without remark is in itself an object lesson of how and why racism works on an unconscious, ideological level and why so many of us give our consent to it by default, by not challenging it when it is explicitly expressed.

I am going to make a complaint to the UK’s broadcast regulator, OfCom, about this and though I am not terribly confident of getting any satisfaction, I’m always open to a pleasant surprise. Watch this space for an update!

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