LETTER : The art of telling a good racial joke

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From Mr Peter Gregory

Sir: If the Attorney General declines to prosecute Bernard Manning and the organisers of the Greater Manchester Police function featured on World In Action for incitement to racial hatred ("Action ruled out over Manning's racist cabaret", 25 April), I hope that there will be an outpouring of public incredulity and disgust which cannot easily be ignored.

Racial humour is almost universal, and those who take pleasure in its better manifestations have no reason to feel uneasy with themselves for doing so. When devised and interpreted in good faith, it serves a purpose in that it celebrates differences in a playful and non-malicious way.

The perceptive Irish joke, far from suggesting that Irish people are stupid, highlights a fey approach to logic which contrasts colourfully with dour English rationalism. Fawlty Towers is an extended and devastatingly accurate riff on the many sins of Englishness.

Black comedians such as Felix Dexter are equally funny exploring the differences between Africans and Caribbeans as they are in poking well- intended jibes at white people. This kind of humour is a million miles from the warped emotions that drive stunted, frightened young men to fire- bomb Bangladeshis in their homes.

If it's gentle and well-observed, it can be hilarious, and it can prod us, for a moment, into seeing ourselves through the eyes of others. Who cannot benefit from that?

On the evidence of World In Action, however, Bernard Manning and his audience are lazy, ignorant and vicious. One could understand, if not forgive, a little more if there had actually been jokes.

There were no jokes, just a stream of vulgar abuse. The officers - and there must be many - who were privately sickened by it all but judged it prudent to keep their feelings to themselves have a responsibility to stand up and be counted, now.

Yours sincerely,



26 April