Thursday, 4 April 2013

Blip: Social labels: Pick one or die!

Manchester police have now decided that attacking a goth counts as a hate crime. Notice the lack of a capital letter. That’s important because I’m not talking about the somewhat ancient East Germanic race of Goths that had a huge effect on the downfall of the early Roman Empire. No, I’m talking about the very tricky-to-define sub-culture. The one that involves chromatic inversions of popular trends (i.e. wearing black clothes and white make-up) and the free, extended use of punk iconography (metal chains, loops, skulls etc.).

Every goth will give you a different definition and will tend to denounce those they deem as unworthy. In fact, most will actually resist the term goth and prefer some other epithet, varying from the absurd to the mundane. Punks, moshers, goths, emos, vampires, even neo-pagan fools get in on the action. While goths are, in the most technical sense, difficult to define, they are very easy to spot. The general trends are similar among all the sub-sub-cultures, which is to say the colours and iconography I mentioned earlier.

The problem here isn’t that we don’t know what a goth is. It’s that Manchester police are making the distinction between a ‘goth’ and a ‘normal person’ a legal matter. There is now, thanks to the police, a court-recognised difference between goths and the rest of us and we actually follow different laws. If you attack a homosexual, you’ve committed a hate crime. If you attack someone darker than ‘soft mocha’ on the Dulux paint range when you rank paler than ‘magnolia’, you’ve committed a hate crime. If you attack someone wearing black, with all the trappings of goth-ism, you’ve committed a hate crime. The key here is that legal sentences are worse for hate crimes.

So what on earth is a hate crime? A simple, and common, definition is ‘A crime motivated by bias or prejudice, typically involving violence’. So it’s a violent crime, that much is understandable. And it’s committed against people, still makes sense. And it involves any bias or prejudice. Now my common sense alarm is chiming with a passion. What exactly is bias or prejudice? If I pick out someone to beat up because of their clothes, is that prejudiced? Yes. Is it a hate crime? Well, that depends on which clothes they were wearing. If the police say they’re a goth, it’s a hate crime but what if I pick them because they’re wearing one of those hideous plaid shirts that are popular these days, the ones that make people look like a backwards lumberjack, is that a hate crime? Nope.

Evidently the distinction lies, yet again, in the majority verdict. If your particular label has enough members, you earn police protection, if not, then a crime against you is the same as any other. How are these stupid distinctions made? I really want to know. Do the police have meetings about this rubbish? ‘Which groups deserve protection today then?’

Aside from the worrying legal distinction that this decision, and any hate crime decision, is making, the far more serious issue at hand is that the police are handing out official labels. You are officially a goth and a hate crime was committed against you, don’t argue, we say you’re a goth so you are. We don’t care if you prefer the term ‘emo’ or ‘elmo’, you’re a goth and nothing else. The same goes for the blacks and the gays. You are nothing but the label the police bestow on you. There are many labels in the police’s hands: Gay, black, Asian, goth, ginger, transsexual, woman. But oddly, not these: Man, white, straight, plumber, member of parliament, dock worker, dvd salesman, musician, stamp-collector, chav, dolphin cleaner, deep-sea diver, anemone, oak tree, giant flea, blonde, brunette, black-haired, communist, fascist, Cthulu worshipper, pork-pie eater, brown sauce designer, computer manifold painter, idiot. Now do these people not suffer from any kind of prejudice or bias? Do people not act unkindly towards any people belonging to these labels? I myself feel quite prejudiced against idiots, which may be why I have such a problem with the Manchester police but that’s a matter for another day.

If we’re going to label everyone and decide laws based on a hierarchy, then please let’s just drop this tedious pretence. Just give us all a number, that way we know where we are, we know who we’re allowed to mistreat and who we’re not. It seems the only logical conclusion to a society that’s increasingly imploding under the weight of its own hypocrisy. 


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