Nowadays this sentence, with possible variations, represents a shortcut to a charge of hate crime. It could always have been construed as offensive, but now it can well be criminally offensive.
In the film Anger Management, the Adam Sandler character gets into an argument with the stewards on his flight. Finally, he cries out in exasperation: “What’s the matter with you people?”
It so happened that the steward immediately in front of him was black. He took the question as a racial slur, and Adam got into all sorts of trouble.
“You people” is a locution that violates several inviolable rules of woke etiquette. First, it lumps a large group of people into a generalised category, which is already bad, if not yet criminal. You see, we are all supposed to be unique individuals defying any group identity, except one we explicitly and proudly claim for ourselves.
Yet this phrase isn’t just any old generalisation. Its implications are almost always pejorative. The person on the receiving end is rebuked not just for his own failings, if any, but for carrying the stigma of belonging to an objectionable category.
Since according to modern mythology no category can be deemed ipso facto objectionable, except perhaps Tory voters, a faux pas has been committed. For that to reach the level of criminality, however, the maligned category has to be protected by the new-fangled code.
If it’s defined by gender, any sexual proclivity formerly regarded as perverse, race or ethnicity, then belonging to it can’t on pain of censure be regarded as anything other than a badge of honour. Since these days a hate crime is anything perceived as offensive by the person presumably hated, the transgressor may well have his collar felt.
But even barring that possibility, whoever uses that awful phrase is at least an insensitive boor, even if the existing law provides a loophole through which he can sneak to avoid criminal charges. Yet there is one target group that isn’t off limits for derogatory generalisation. Can you guess which one?
If you live in Britain, you’ll have no trouble identifying that defenceless group. These are people commonly known as ‘posh’, those who occupy one of the top rungs on the social ladder and don’t try to disguise that contemptible fact by adopting demotic accents and attitudes.
Such an attempt goes a long way towards exoneration even for such innately ‘posh’ people as Prince Harry. If his brother has taken his accent a notch down from his father’s (and the latter a notch down from his own mother’s), Harry has pushed his even further towards the bottom. He gets top marks for trying to overcome his unfortunate accident of birth, especially since his generally vulgar personality reinforces his phonetic persona.
Yet someone like Boris Johnson is unapologetically ‘posh’. He still enunciates his vowels the way one was supposed to at Eton and Oxford, his two educational smithies. That automatically puts him into the only group unprotected by woke aversion to generalisation.
I was reminded of that the other day, when catching about two minutes of a Sky chat show. The chat involved two editors, one of Politico, an on-line Leftie magazine, the other of Sky News itself, a Leftie TV channel.
The two gentlemen were discussing the upcoming legal inquiry into Boris Johnson’s handling of the Covid lockdowns. The inquest will be conducted by a barrister who bears the stigma of having gone to the same school and university as his mark. That gave the two journalists cause to sneer, in their own accents that fall into the lower reaches of the middle-class range.
“All those people know each other,” one of them said, with a dismissive wave of the hand. All of which people, exactly? The barrister involved is neither a journalist nor a politician, Mr Johnson’s two known occupations. He, on the other hand, has no legal background.
Hence “all those people” was a statement of class hatred or at least contempt or possibly envy. However, since the target class in question is rather high, the two chaps risked no opprobrium for openly mocking a whole category of people. Quite the opposite: they established their own credentials as card-carrying members of the downtrodden classes, those drawing six-figure salaries at woke media.
Now imagine Boris Johnson saying something similar about his detractors. What if he said publicly “All those people talk funny” or “All those people have no table manners” or, for that matter, “All those people” anything, provided the people in question weren’t ‘posh’?
He’d be kicked from pillar to post for being a snob, a toffee-nosed elitist, a Hooray Henry, or some such. If Johnson still harbours hopes of a political comeback, these would be nipped in the bud. A British politician can just about get away with sounding like him, but not with looking down on the phonetically disadvantaged.
Our stand-up comedians know that all they have to do to get a laugh is to put on a caricature version of an educated accent. Sounding the way BBC announcers sounded a generation ago makes one a figure of fun at best, a target for derision usually.
The British were first force-fed the concept of class war, then were armed and trained to make sure the wrong people won it. By wrong people I don’t mean those who speak with regional or lower-class accents. In fact, two of the most brilliant people I know carry a distinct geographic imprint on their pronunciation.
Of course, it helps if people from the same country have no difficulty understanding one another, a condition that’s not always met in Britain. To that end, some kind of received pronunciation, the same or not drastically different for all, is useful.
But those speaking in the general middle-class range or higher understand one another perfectly well. The problem is in imposing demotic, proletarian culture on society as a stratagem of destructive political crusade.
When people speaking in cultivated accents are held to ridicule for no other reason, and by the same people who worship at the altar of diversity, something sinister is under way. I have one thing to say to such ideologues: You people are all the same.