Tuesday, 13 August 2013

IS 'BONGO BONGO LAND' ACTUALLY RACIST?



The media hyperbole surrounding comments made over five weeks ago by a senior member of the UK Independence Party is somewhat startling.  After all, what is the actual story?

Godfrey Bloom thinks sending foreign aid to 'Bongo Bongo Land' is mad - well, it's also mad sending foreign aid to Banana Republics
Godfrey Bloom MEP said that Britain should stop sending money in the form of foreign aid to ‘Bongo Bongo Land’, provoking many Left Wing commentators to faint over their glasses of wine and their plates of fine cuisine.  Before long, the ‘Guardian Newspaper’ was pioneering a great attack on Bloom, and the BBC wasn’t too far behind. 

But is this imaginary country actually as offensive as people think?  At any rate, the ‘Guardian’ did not unearth any dirt on UKIP.  The meeting was recorded by UKIPers themselves, and had been on YouTube for the best part of a month. 

We know that Mr. Bloom doesn’t ‘do political correctness’, and is sometimes a bit outlandish as far as political discourse is concerned, but surely old-fashioned humour (of this sort, at least) cannot amount to anything more than just that.  He has insisted that Bongo Bongo Land is ‘a figment of people’s imagination’ and should therefore be no more offensive than other abstract concepts, like ‘Ruritania or the Third World.’  He has also made the case that Bongo Bongo land is in fact the land of the antelope.

Whatever the fictional country is, there is one word that Bloom, at least to my knowledge, has not brought up.  I am talking about the ‘Banana Republic’, a country with a cardboard political system and an economy that relies heavily on the export of a single product, such as bananas.  If you wanted to be difficult, you could make a flimsy case about how such a term is unacceptable now because it may be used as a derogatory term towards developing countries – there is something quite uncivil about bananas, especially bananas that prop up a newly formed republic. 

But such an argument would be so flimsy that it’d be . . . well . . . a Banana Republic.

Could Bongo Bongo Land be such a place?  Could it refer to an underdeveloped country that has no sense of stability?  Some say that ‘Bongo’ gives the impression of beating drums.  Well, if it does to you then I can see why you might think the term slightly racist, but the problem lies in the word’s *impression*, i.e. it is ambiguous; we don’t know what meaning Mr. Bloom actually gave to the word when he spoke it.  He might have been thinking about drums, or might have been thinking about the antelopes, or he might have been reminiscing on Ruritania and felt like creating a fake world of his own, or he might have simply thought it sounded amusing.  Whatever his personal motives, we can never know because we cannot enter his head.  Because of this, we cannot immediately conclude that it is ‘racist’.  There was nothing explicatively racist about his speech.  What the media are actually doing is clutching at straws.  They are (as usual) trying to create something out of nothing. 

I’m not defending or condemning the use of ‘Bongo Bongo Land’.  Personally, I find the term itself to be quite funny, there’s something about the word ‘Bongo’ that makes the British Government’s commitment to foreign aid budget protection appear all the more bizarre.  It’s a jolly term, perhaps a bit rosy cheeked, perhaps a bit Old English.

Or perhaps it’s a sinister message, brilliantly encoded.  Perhaps Bloom is declaring the superiority of the United Kingdom above all other nations.  Perhaps the ‘Bongo’ is the sound of the drum, being banged by the primitive savage, or, come to think of it, being banged by British soldiers as they march throughout the world (supposing UKIP wins in 2015, of course) declaring British dominion over the earth. 

You can take your pick – oh, sorry, it’s an ambiguous term so you can’t.  In which case, let’s get back to real news, please.  

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