There is currently a petition doing the rounds on the internet supporting three Spurs supporters who are due in court, apparently accused of using the word “yid” in the terraces. The petition calls on all “true yiddos and yidettes” and indeed all true football supporters to support the right of Tottenham supporters to use variations of the word “yid”. Oh yes, and “you are also showing your support for the 3 spurs fans who are currently awaiting court for using the word yid.” It might not be intentional but the way it is worded, it appears that showing solidarity with the fans on trial is secondary to the right to use the word. My instinct is always to show solidarity with other football supporters but I will not be signing the petition. I would have if it called for the cessation of court proceedings against the fans – which in the context of a stand full of Tottenham supporters seems a bit random, arbitrary and maybe a bit of an easy nick – but I won’t be signing up to support the use of such a term. I would not want to censor anyone’s right to use any word but I would hope that at a time when players and managers are quite happy to use fascist and racist language that fans would see the danger in their words.
I believe that the power of cultural evolution and social disapproval changes the way we speak not the intervention of a state that, on the bottom line will always use fear of “the other” to maintain its power. On that basis I ask those Tottenham supporters calling themselves “The Yid Army” to voluntarily cease using the term. I agree that the decision shouldn’t be forced on you from without by people who, to be frank, are using the issue for their own ends – but I do very strongly believe that, as decent members of a multi-cultural society, it is time we ALL ensured that such language should be consigned to history. Barring a statistical anomaly of earth-shattering proportions, the majority of you are not practicing Jews, against whom the term has been (and still is) viciously used, so your argument that you are reclaiming the term is unfounded. What you are actually doing is colonising the term. Like a white person trying to gain acceptance from the black community by using the word “nigger”, it is not only mistaken but insulting, placing your flag on a word that has association with oppression and hatred as a badge for a hobby. It is just another form of oppression whereby a dominant social group show they can do what they want with another’s culture.
You cannot celebrate a culture that was never yours to begin with – even if it is pitched at challenging the cheap racist stereotypes of others. What is more, even as an opposing supporter I can see many elements of your history and culture much more worthy of celebration than the “reclamation” of an abusive term used to describe a minority of your supporters. The club clearly find it embarrassing and would rather you stopped – but in a funny way that helps me to understand why you hang on to it so tenaciously. Most premier league clubs are now much more interested in middle-class fans with disposable income, corporate entertainment and TV rights than the working class fans who made the game what it is. In holding on to a term that gentrified version of football finds offensive you cement and celebrate an outsider status that harks back to a time when all football supporters were seen that way – and the notion of us being priced out by a bunch of yuppies and far eastern TV deals would have been laughable. It is a variation of Millwall’s cry of “no-one likes us – we don’t care.” – and why not? Well, because this variation is racist.
The argument that it draws the sting from the term is flawed. Would opposing fans feel so comfortable chanting anti-semitic songs were it not for the fact that you self-identify (inappropriately) with the term? What you are doing is to some extent legitimising their claim that anti-semitism is just harmless banter. Do you seriously expect to sustain an argument that someone is wrong for using a word at one end of the ground while it’s use at the other end is deemed acceptable? Of course not! If you use it, you enable other people to use it – without any of the qualifying context that you claim to give it. In this sense you are not reclaiming the word but reviving it. In my younger years, as an opposing supporter I often chanted anti-semitic songs towards Tottenham supporters. I grew out of it when I realised the hurt it caused. I understand the reasons that Tottenham supporters use the term are genuinely more complex – but the logic is still flawed. It is time to move forward.