Niall Cooper: What’s in a name?
On problems with labels, stereotypes and location prejudice
‘Come, friendly bombs, and fall on Slough! /It isn’t fit for humans now, /There isn’t grass to graze a cow.’
It’s easy now to smile at the opening words of Betjeman’s famous poem, ‘Slough’, written 80 years ago this year. But we still fall far too easily for stereotypes and self-serving prejudices about ‘good’ and ‘bad’ places, which risk writing off whole communities.
What’s in a name? What words, phrases and images come to mind when you think of Oxford, Edinburgh or Bath? Repeat the same exercise, but this time with Saddleworth, Toxteth or Moss Side and Hulme. What comes to mind?
It’s easy, isn’t it? Oxford: dreaming spires. Edinburgh: castle. Bath: Georgian elegance. Saddleworth: Moors murderers. Toxteth: 1980s riots. Moss Side: jihadis. I’m writing this article in the aftermath of yet another piece of sloppy and sensationalist journalism in a national newspaper which managed to squeeze Moss Side, gangs, Isis and jihadis into its opening byline.
I’ve lived or worked within a mile of Moss Side for the past 30 years. I moved into the ‘notorious Crescents of Hulme’ in the mid 1980s, not many years after the ‘infamous’ Moss Side riots. In the
1990s, I was a member of Moss Side People’s Church when the area was labelled the ‘gang’ capital of ‘Gunchester’. And apparently now – according to one Guardian journalist at least – Moss Side is a ‘hotbed’ of jihadi extremism.
It makes me feel for the poor citizens of Sodom and Gomorrah. They certainly got a bad press in the Hebrew Bible …
This is an extract from the April 2017 edition of Reform