Editorial from the August 1996 issue of the Socialist Standard
There was once a very bad TV situation comedy entitled Mind Your Language. The basis of this so- called comedy was a well-meaning hero teaching an adult night class on the English language to a stereotype group of non-English speakers. Clichés abounded. There was the sexually-attractive French girl in a short skirt, the randy bottom-pinching Italian, the very proper but dull German, and a variety of stupid Orientals and Asians.
It was total nonsense, and it says much for the perception of the viewers that the series sank without trace. And yet the notion that whole groups of people from a particular area are genetically programmed to behave in a particular, predictable fashion is very widespread. It would be almost impossible to watch TV or read a newspaper without observing a reference to "Latin temperament” or "German thoroughness".
We are surrounded by these myths. How often in so-called learned discussion programmes on TV are we referred to the "Celtic tradition" or "Japanese efficiency”? Like fiery redheads it has become a part of received wisdom. It is, of course, complete and utter nonsense.
Depending on the country you live in, the national stereotypes are easily recognisable and often interchangeable. For years bad English comedians made a living out of depicting the Irish as stupid and the Scots as mean. But then the same jokes were told of the Polish by the Russians, and of the Hungarians by the Americans and so on.
These supposed differences are used by nationalists to divide the working class of the world. Thus you arc branded a Limey, a Mick, a Spic, a Wog. or a Polack. In fact you are a member of the human race and. if you are a reader of the Socialist Standard, almost certainly a member of the working class.
Capitalism is a divisive society, distorting the human need for community into the senseless hatreds of nationalism. It is a class-divided society and workers would do well to recognise that bus drivers in Glasgow have more in common with their counterparts in Chicago or Calcutta than they have with the Duke of Argyll or the Duchess of Sutherland.
The variety of language, dress, music, diet, or other cultural differences would be enjoyed in a socialist society. They would be the subject of admiration, wonder and delight. We will learn to dance the Saraband of Northern Spain, appreciate the wood-carving skills of the Balinese, and grow to love the shifting syncopations of African music-makers.
Diversity of cultures would be a superb celebration of the ingenuity and inventiveness of humankind, not the subject of ridicule and hatred as it is today in capitalism.