Baa baa bullshit

When I was young, the press routinely made up stories about the “loony left”. Probably the most famous one is the story that nurseries were getting kids to sing “baa baa green sheep” instead of “baa baa black sheep” because the nursery rhyme was racist.

It sounds ridiculous, I know, but it was a deliberate campaign against the Labour Party and other progressives. British tabloids ran some 3,000 news stories about such “loony left” ideas between 1981 and 1987; the vast majority were either partially or wholly fabricated and were targeted against the handful of London councils under Labour control.

Very similar stories were fabricated about the European Union too, most notably by a young journalist called Boris Johnson. 

This week, the Daily Mail ran a front page story about the charity Oxfam banning the words “mother” and “father”. The Times and other right-wing papers ran with it too, and it was the topic of angry discussion online and on shows such as Good Morning Britain.

You can guess where this is going.

Oxfam hasn’t banned anything, and it hasn’t told people that they can’t say mother or father. In a piece of guidance specifically referring to the use of language when you’re talking to trans and non-binary people,  it recommends using gender neutral language if you’re unsure what terms the people you’re talking to prefer.

If you look at the document it’s very clear that that’s the case, but the version used by the newspapers has been deliberately cropped to remove the context by its source, a high profile anti-trans activist and friend of JK Rowling. In some cases, at the very end of the article in the bit most people don’t read, the newspaper reports admit that the document doesn’t say what the article’s entire premise is based upon. But they got their headline, and that’s what matters when you’re waging a war on human rights.

“Oxfam tells staff: stop saying mother and father”, The Times thunders.

It’s baa baa bullshit.



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