I avoid on-screen tv guide programme descriptions. Too often, they give away the whole plot: “there, saved you the trouble of watching the show, you’re welcome.” Wednesday, I inadvertently read “Race row in the Rovers.” Huh?
In the final minutes of the show, in a dispute over a dart throw, Paul asked Steve to be fair, to “play the white man”. Lloyd overheard and took umbrage. Paul snapped back that he hadn’t meant offence, it was just a saying. Lloyd countered that neither he nor his daughter needed to hear racial slurs, especially from supposed friends, no matter how unintentional.
Everyone tried to smooth it over; Paul didn’t mean anything by it, it was a stupid thing to say, let’s just get the drinks in and forget it. The only other person to pointedly criticize Paul was Brian, as a school principal always vigilant about discrimination and bullying. Neither Lloyd nor Paul would back down.
A UK blog writer criticizes the show for seeking a “social issue” story by creating dramatic conflict unrealistically:
‘I suspect in a real working class Manchester pub the conversation would have gone something like:
Paul: “Play the white man”.
Lloyd: “What do you mean you cheeky bastard?”
Paul: “What? I wasn’t talking to you”
Lloyd: “Play the white man? As if you lot are better than us?”
Paul: “Oh shit yea, I didn’t think of it like that, sorry mate, just a turn of phrase. Fancy a pint?”
Lloyd: “Cheers yea, pint of bitter please mate. Fancy a game of darts?”’
Maybe that would be the case, at least between two friends like these. It’s not like it’s a random guy saying something offensive or taking offense, an extra brought in for the scene. This is a group of long time friends. However, both men are very stressed and neither knows about the other’s problems. Paul is being raked over the coals at work for chastising kids for making prank emergency calls. Being taken to task again for what he sees as overreactive political correctness is too much for him. Lloyd is caught in the middle of an argument between Jenna and Mandy, and is still smarting from Mandy reminding him that he had only been a father to Jenna for five minutes so why did he think he had the right to say anything. Use of an old expression, and reaction to its racist connotations, is the spark that set off the underlying anger both feel.
An interesting thing was Jason’s reaction. His father is black, his mother is white. And Paul is his mother’s boyfriend. You could see the hamster wheel turning in his head as he tried to decide if he should accept that Paul meant no ill will or if he should be offended on his own behalf. No one else seemed to think about Jason having a personal stake in this except, finally, Lloyd who tried to recruit him for his side.
Last week I watched a CNN interview with a prosecution witness in the George Zimmerman trial. She explained the difference in meaning of “cracka” versus “cracker”. “With an a” is not a racial slur; “with e-r” she didn’t know, her generation wasn’t familiar with the term. With such nuanced speech differentiation, I could imagine a lot of room for misinterpretation. So too is there with sayings so long entrenched that their meanings can be forgotten.
The use of one such saying in this storyline is an interesting premise for exploring societal sensitivities, made better by it involving a closely connected family/friend unit. By the end of the week, Paul is more upset about being seen as racist and Lloyd wants to finally take a public stand against racism so neither will take the first step to reconciliation.