Friday : Coconut- is an insult.
Narinder Kaur, an actress and media personality, was on a GB news show yesterday and in a discussion with Dan Wootton referred to Prime Minister Rishi Sunak as a coconut.
For those who don’t know, here is an extract I wrote some years ago in a longer article about the use of the term ‘Paki’ :
“But ignorance and trashy name-calling isn’t confined to one group. ‘Coconut’ is a term used (including within Asian circles) to insult and denigrate. It is a derogatory term used to denigrate a person, usually of South Asian origin, who is brown on the outside, white on the inside. Someone who is secretly ashamed to be Asian. Someone who can be made fun of. It’s similar to black Americans dismissing someone as an ‘uncle Tom.’
Unlike Paki, coconut is still deemed a subject fit for comedy. Goodness Gracious Me a ground breaking BBC programme in the 1990s, featuring four Asian comedians, which became hugely successful, even had recurring characters called the ‘Coopers’.
The Coopers were desperate to erase their origins. They were a parody of an aspirational family, with their tennis club membership and elocution lesson English accents.
The joke, of-course was always on them because everyone around them just saw them as, well, Pakis.
So what can get you labelled a coconut by your Asian brovs?
Speaking accentless English for a start. Having white friends and romantic partners. Not liking your curry too hot. Not liking Bollywood films. Not being able to do bhangra.
The list is endless. If you don’t openly, endlessly and breathlessly ‘celebrate’ your ‘roots’ and ‘culture’ and ‘your own’ you can be branded a coconut.”
Last September, a woman, of Pakistani origin, told me that the term had been bandied around by some of her white colleagues at work, mocking Asian colleagues upset at the death of Queen Elizabeth ll.
Already upset by the news, the woman was doubly hurt that her colleagues/friends used the term because they had certain political views about the monarchy and that they saw nothing wrong in using it.
So, for brown Brits, even mourning a death must be evaluated through the prism of their ethnicity?
Is that the argument?
Asians who were saddened by the death of the only Head of State they had known in their lifetimes were sellouts……because only white people were entitled to be sad for a white Queen? Is that the argument? Are Asians not ‘really’ British?
Isn’t that headache inducing racism?
The point is, coconut is not meant as a compliment. It is not an affectionate term. It is a put down. Narinder Kaur argued, repeatedly and less convincingly, imo, each time, that if was used by a brown person against another brown person, it was okay.
No, when it is used by a brown person against another brown person, it is a way to say that the second person is less than the first. That person two is a ‘traitor’ to his/her heritage. That they are, somehow, ashamed of their ethnic background.
It is also usually Tory politicians who are sneeringly called coconuts. The implication behind the name calling is that they are ‘sellouts’. There is political bias behind it, which I don’t want to get into but if we deplore horrible name calling (see my article about the term ‘Paki’) then this insult is also unacceptable.
I challenge anyone to send me an example of a positive way to call someone a coconut.
I met Narinder Kaur once. I forget now where it was but it was after she had been on the TV show Big Brother. She was fun, likeable and intelligent. She made no secret of her desire to be a media personality and I appreciated her honesty. I’m a big fan of people who have ambition and are honest about it, rather than hiding behind false modesty. I haven’t met her since and I doubt that she even remembers me. But I’m pleased for her that she is working in the media as she wanted.
However, on this issue I disagree with her.
If the buzzword mantra of these hypocritical times is ‘Be kind’ then ‘coconut’ is an unkind term.
As that great fictional lawyer Atticus Finch might have said, “Don’t say coconut, Scout. It’s common. Just one of those terms that ignorant, trashy people use when they want an ugly term to label somebody.”