The definition by Oxford Languages of ‘the elephant in the room’ is: A major problem or controversial issue which is obviously present but is avoided as a subject for discussion. Nowadays, there are so many elephants in the room that we are barely able to get in the room. There are a couple that you should never discuss over a pint in the pub, politics and religion for example. There are a couple more that need to be avoided as a matter of courtesy because everybody is thoroughly pissed off with hearing about them, Brexit and Covid. But the ones that nobody wants to mention or express an opinion on are likely to cause a sharp intake of breath up the trunk from all the other elephants if you do. Racism, misogyny, anti-Semitism, the holocaust, black lives matter to name but a few. Jesus! I almost forgot to mention LGBTQ and whatever other letter you want to add to that little lot. You could go on with things like our colonial past, slavery, child poverty, paedophilia.
I don’t deny any of these issues but most of us would be uncomfortable openly discussing them. Sooner or later something ‘politically incorrect’ would be said and it would be all over ‘TwitFace’, ‘TickGram’ or whatever social media platform was in vogue at the time saying so and so is a racist, anti-Semite with paedophile tendencies.
What I want to know is who decides what is politically correct or not. Who and when was it decided that it was now okay to use the Queer word? Who decided it was anti-Semitic to criticise the state of Israel for their policies regarding Palestine? When and why did it become socially unacceptable to use the word ‘negro’? You have to use the word ‘black’ instead, but isn’t that what negro means? I firmly believe that any democracy must rely on free speech and if you take that away would it truly be a democracy? I do not think so. We must be allowed to express ourselves without fear of vilification if our opinions don’t necessarily conform to the norm. Having said all that there is always going to be the usual lunatic fringe who will take it all a few steps too far.
I know I am starting to walk and talk on very thin ice here but I do feel uncomfortable when I want to say something but cannot just because a word or phrase is no longer fashionable. How do you get to achieve a balance of being appropriately outspoken without offending those who are sensitive around us. Is it even possible? I don’t know.
There have been a few occasions since I married a lady from a foreign land when I have been on the receiving end of a racist remark. I did not realise that my Welsh brethren hated the English so much. I was naive I guess. Not that I took it personally but there have been occasions when references to English bastards was prominent in the conversation. When realising there was an Englishman in the group it was said that ‘we don’t mean you Pete, you’re an honorary Welshman’. Now, I was not offended by any of this, apart from maybe being an honorary Welshman , and I never brought it up when the same people complained about the racist remarks they received in England referencing their proclivity for sheep. Also, I openly admit I am part English and I am a bastard.
In my early days in the military every Welshman was Taff, every Scotsman was Jock, if you came from Northumberland you were Geordie. Just in the same way that if your name was Miller you were called Dusty, if your name was White you were Chalkie, Smith was Smudger (that’s me), Clark was Nobby (I never did figure that one out), Murphy was Spud and so on and so on. If I am honest I cannot remember any instance of racism just normal joshing around and I don’t believe anybody took offence. It is possible that once again, I was naive but I like to think not. So what has changed?
I have come to the conclusion that it is not what is said but the manner in which it is delivered. It is virtually impossible to detect whether the intent is derogatory, facetious or light-hearted in an email or a 140 character text like Twitter. I am very often misunderstood in my emails, partly because my brain can’t keep up with my fingers and I miss out letters and sometimes even words. But also because it is difficult sometimes to convey ones humour without facial expression. To get away with humour in writing you either have to be very good at it or the person to whom you are writing must know you well. Social media does not lend itself to true expression and basically is a very dangerous platform for voicing opinions. What I do find alarming is the latest trend for politicians to use social media to get their message across. We all believe everything they say, don’t we? That was rhetorical by the way.
Have you noticed how I have diverted my ramblings away from the very thin ice I was on? Well, let me explain that. If I may use another elephant analogy: Eat the elephant one bite at a time. Meaning, to do something one step at a time; to do something in steps rather than all at once. With all these pachyderms in the room the only way to overcome the problem is to eat one of the big buggers one small bite at a time. That way you may avoid breaking through the thin ice.
I just love jumbling up metaphors!