‘Choc ice’ jibes and the lunacy of police trawling
Twitter for so-called hate crime
PUBLISHED: 23:03, 18 July 2012 | UPDATED: 08:04, 19 July 2012
John Terry’s trial, which resulted in the Chelsea footballer’s acquittal on a charge of racism last Friday, was obviously a gigantic waste of time and money. Good for ingenious, highly paid lawyers, possibly diverting for the media, but generally speaking a piece of utter idiocy.
Mind you, I never quite understood Terry’s defence, which was that in unleashing an apparently racist tirade against the black footballer Anton Ferdinand, he was simply repeating what he thought Ferdinand had said to him. Eh?
Anyway, what was clear was that the two men exchanged words and insults such as you would not wish your young children to hear. Swearing is evidently the lingua franca of Premier League football pitches.
The Terry case was bad enough, but it has spawned an even greater lunacy that might lead to an even more futile court case. Derbyshire police are investigating allegedly racist comments branding the black footballer Ashley Cole a ‘choc ice’ after he spoke up for his team-mate John Terry during the trial.
The term ‘choc ice’, previously unknown to me in this context, is apparently used of black men who are considered dark on the outside but white on the inside — which is to say they sympathise with, or act like, whites, and are thus accused of betraying their black heritage. ‘Uncle Tom’ may be a more familiar expression which conveys the same idea.
In the Asian community the word ‘coconut’ is commonly employed to make a similar point, while in America blacks who privately identify with whites are known as ‘Oreos’ — a dark biscuit with white cream filling.
After the trial ended, an unidentified fan shared on Twitter the thought that Ashley Cole was a ‘choc ice’. This tweet was spotted by the Manchester United footballer Rio Ferdinand, brother of Anton, who sent a supportive Tweet to his three million followers — though he later deleted it, claiming he had been using sarcasm.
Whether Rio Ferdinand is in trouble with the Derbyshire police I do not know, but they are searching for the original tweeter, who reportedly operated in the county, and may clap him in irons if they find him. However, they, and very possibly the law under which they think they are acting, are tragically misguided.
It is not — or it should not be — racist to describe someone as a choc ice or a coconut or an Oreo. It may be rude, it might sometimes be nasty, but it isn’t racist. The term choc ice describes a form of behaviour or an attitude. It is not intended to be offensive to any race or creed.
As it happens, I think it was unfair to attach the words to Ashley Cole, who had merely stated in court that he didn’t think that his friend John Terry was a racist. We must suppose he was only speaking what he thought was the truth.
But I wonder whether being a choc ice or a coconut is such a bad thing if the implication is that one can overcome racial differences and make up one’s mind on the basis of what one believes is right, rather than identifying automatically with one’s race.
If we believe in assimilation and coming together as much as possible, as I certainly do, then displaying the attributes of a choc ice if you are non-white, or perhaps of a white chocolate truffle with a black inside if you are white, would seem to be the accommodating and inclusive thing to do.
What are Derbyshire police up to? It is not as though there is no crime in that county. The police are forever bellyaching about reductions in their manpower, and in Derbyshire there have been cutbacks as everywhere else.
There are murders, burglaries and robberies to solve. There are plenty of more useful things for them to do other than scour the Twitter-sphere for a possibly half-witted but not evidently racist person.
All able-bodied police officers in the county should be engaged in clearing up real crime, and not a single one of them should be deployed looking for the alleged perpetrator of a supposed race crime that isn’t a crime at all.
They presumably think they are acting in accordance with the law. The definition of a ‘racist hate crime’ as laid down by the Crown Prosecution Service is almost infinitely elastic. According to the CPS, ‘it is any criminal offence which is perceived, by the victim or any other person, to be motivated by a hostility or a prejudice based on a person’s race or perceived race’.
Under such a broad definition, almost any act could be interpreted as a ‘racist hate crime’. Derbyshire police are certainly not the first to regard the use of the words ‘choc ice’ or ‘coconut’ as racist.
Last year, a Liberal Democrat black female Bristol city councillor, who had called an Asian Tory colleague a ‘coconut’, had her conviction for racial harassment upheld. The local Tory Party, which should have known better, had lodged a formal complaint with police.
On Tuesday, a black lawyer by the name of Dilichi Onuzo described in The Guardian newspaper how he had unsuccessfully defended a black client who had called a black police officer a ‘coconut’. This may have been offensive and rude in the circumstances, but it expressed an opinion or point of view that wasn’t racist.
- Police probe ‘racist choc ice’ comment made against footballer Ashley Cole on Twitter
- ‘Choc ice’ is not a racist slur, insists Rio Ferdinand after he used term to describe England teammate Ashley Cole
- RICHARD LITTLEJOHN: The John Terry racism trial was a tawdry, demeaning spectacle with no winners – except the lawyers!
The truth is that our law-makers have become so obsessed with racial abuse that even innocuous remarks are regarded as racist and deserving of a criminal conviction. In 2010-11, the last year for which there are published figures, the CPS brought a record 12,711 cases to court in England and Wales for supposedly racially motivated offences, of which more than 80 per cent resulted in convictions.
Some of these cases involved physical assault, and it is right that prosecutions were brought. But there were an unspecified number of cases relating to verbal abuse. I strongly suspect that in some of them rudeness or coarseness of expression were interpreted as racist.
An Asian colleague tells me that in his community the word ‘coconut’ is frequently used by him and his friends in a usually light-hearted way. It may carry the imputation of criticism, but those who employ the word are nor racist or criminal. They are expressing an opinion.
More from Stephen Glover…
- The BBC claims the moral high ground. So why are so many of its stars tax avoiders?17/07/12
- Don’t jab your finger at those mutinous MPs, Dave. Try listening to them – at least they’ve got principles!11/07/12
- From chippy Jock to great Briton in one afternoon, Andy Murray proved the folly of trying to break up our kingdom09/07/12
- Jumping red lights. Putting pedestrians in peril. Why do these tartars on two wheels think they’re above the law?04/07/12
- So Labour now says it’s NOT racist to debate immigration. What sick hypocrisy22/06/12
- The useful idiots who lionised the amoral and cowardly Mr Assange have ended up looking utter twits20/06/12
- A debacle that will dog him forever: Cameron survived, but his lack of judgement will haunt his premiership14/06/12
- Cleggie has double-dealing written in his DNA, and the bone-headed rabble he leads are even worse13/06/12
- VIEW FULL ARCHIVE
If I were to write that the Welsh were innately untrustworthy or the Scots mendacious — views I happen not to hold — I might very well risk prosecution and a charge of racism.
For me, and I suspect most people, true racism involves extreme behaviour or actions calculated to intimidate or threaten someone on the basis of his race. That is very far from calling someone a choc ice or a coconut, or running down the Welsh.
Unless balance and common-sense are restored, we will soon not be permitted to express any views about one another for fear of being prosecuted for a racist, religious or homophobic offence under so-called hate crime.
As for Rio Ferdinand, he may have been rude to Ashley Cole, but it is absurd to suppose he was guilty of any sort of race crime. The same can be said of the so far unidentified tweeter.
If only the Derbyshire police would address the challenging problems of solving real crimes, and the CPS not harry people for expressing forthright or rude remarks about one another. So long as our views are not intentionally destructive, the authorities should stop preventing us from saying what we think.