Hugh Muir reflects on the Paul Elliott affair. Is the N-word acceptable when it’s used by black people? And can anyone object if Quentin Tarantino splatters it all over the script of “Django Unchained”?
Is the charge that Elliott was being racist? That’s arguable. “I cannot accept that it is racist to use it between two friends and business colleagues in a private text, when both are black, from almost identical ethnic and social backgrounds, and there has been no allegation of racism,” said his long-time friend and co-worker Piara Powar. There’s a logic to that. But it’s the sort of nuance that cuts no ice with the wider public. Elliott’s a good guy and I hope he rebuilds what he had. But if the yen of the British public is for zero tolerance of racial epithets used in anger, that’s no bad thing is it?
I remember seeing Elliott play for Luton at Goodison Park thirty years ago. He was superb, an unflappable defender who had a touch of Bobby Moore about him. Seeing their own players coming off second-best, the Everton fans hurled every vile insult they could think of. Every time he touched the ball it would start all over again. I was sitting right in the middle of them, but I don’t think they noticed me.