Monday, December 02, 2013
Experiment: use of the word sunshine
In 2004, moments after the Returning Officer called the result of the Bensham Manor by-election, the Tory candidate, John Tooze, went up to the Labour candidate Raj Rajendran and said, "Well done sunshine". They shook hands. This happened right in front of me. Both candidates were of similar age. Mr Rajendran, who had just won the election by a colossal margin, acknowledged the Tory candidates' words. I remember a strong feeling at the time that there was something not quite right with Mr Tooze's choice of noun, 'sunshine'.
Another example of the use of the word 'sunshine', this time causing a reaction, happened live on BBC television:
From this 2012 video one can see that Benjamin Zephaniah took great exception at being called 'sunshine'. It is important to remember that Benjamin Zephaniah is regarded by The Times newspaper as one of the top 50 postwar British writers. One assumes he knows a thing or two about the English language. Why did he take offence at being called 'sunshine'. Of the four definitions listed in Chambers Dictionary, undoubtedly it was used by the audience member in a "condescending or scolding tone."
Cut to the Development Control Committee meeting on Wedenesday November 6th 2013, where Councillor John Leach calls me 'sunshine':
I've blogged my thoughts about his use of the word 'sunshine' here.
It goes without saying there must be other examples of the use of the word 'sunshine' on the web. However, it is a term that is seldom used nowadays, at least in London. What are the common factors to these three tests above:
1) Each one was stressful situation. Less obvious is the by-election example, except John Tooze must have been rattled given he had just been thrashed by the Labour candidate
2) The person using the term is a 'white English male of senior years'
3) The person being called 'sunshine' is either black or Asian.
The definition of the word 'condescending' is: 'showing an attitude of patronizing superiority' . A person of senior years may call a youngster 'sunshine' because of a superiority in age. However, in the three examples above, neither Raj, Benjamin or I can be viewed as young. Therefore, can it be argued, that in a stressful situation, where emotions are high, the user of the word 'sunshine' is emphasising a superiority not of age, but of colour? I have talked to Dave, my cohort at the protest last month. Both of us are pretty sure, John Leach would not have called Dave 'sunshine' if he was on the table and I read the speech from the public gallery.
There are a few examples on the web of potential racist connotations in the use of the word sunshine.
The only way I can establish why I was called 'sunshine' is by asking, solicitor, Cllr John Leach - which I have done. I sent him an email three weeks ago. I still haven't received a reply.