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What did you think when you saw this headline?

“White middle-aged men are ‘bottom of everything’ says bank worker sacked over N word”

I thought it meant that the bank worker had either called someone the N-word or had referred to them by that term. I was wrong. The man in question is called Carl Borg-Neal, and you can hear him tell his own story on this video. Mr Borg-Neal was sacked from Lloyds bank, where he had worked for more than a quarter of a century, simply for saying the word out loud as part of a well-intentioned question during a training session on “Race Education for Line Managers” – a training session which had been billed to attendees as a space where they could speak freely.

I am going to quote the Free Speech Union’s own account of the case at length. Much as I admire the FSU’s work (I am a member), I would have preferred to quote just one or two paragraphs and then provide a link to the rest. Unfortunately the FSU’s article on Mr Borg-Neal’s case is to be found under the general URL for the whole organisation, https://freespeechunion.org/, which means that the link will soon point to whatever their next bulletin is about, rather than to Mr Neal-Borg’s case in particular. It would be better if the FSU had a unique URL for each article. I digress. Here’s the article:

The Free Speech Union has won its biggest ever legal victory at the Employment Tribunal, securing damages likely to exceed £800,000 for Carl Borg-Neal, a dyslexic Lloyds bank manager who was sacked following a workplace free speech row.

This is a fantastic result and it’s worth pointing out that Carl’s final compensation package – which includes damages for past loss of earnings, future loss of earnings, a pensions award, compensation for discrimination, aggravated damages and compensation for personal injury – is well in excess of the amount typically awarded to Claimants at the Employment Tribunal.

In July 2021, Mr Borg-Neal was one of around 100 senior Lloyds managers to participate in an online training session entitled ‘Race Education for Line Managers’. Provided by an external organisation, the training formed part of the bank’s ‘Race Action Plan’, launched in the wake of George Floyd’s death the previous year.

Carl had worked for Lloyds for 27 years without incident, was popular among colleagues and had risen to a managerial role at head office. Far from being indifferent to racial equality, he had recently joined a new scheme mentoring young colleagues from ethnic minority backgrounds and was working with three mentees, one of African descent, one of Asian descent and one of European (non-UK) descent.

At the start of the session, the trainer read out a script that established the parameters for what was to follow. “When we talk about race, people often worry about saying the wrong thing,” she said. “Please understand that today is your opportunity to practice, learn and be clumsy… The goal is to start talking, so please speak freely, and forgive yourself and others when being clumsy today.”

Carl was relieved to hear that since his dyslexia can occasionally cause him to ‘be clumsy’ when speaking ‘freely’. During a subsequent discussion on ‘intent vs effect’, he decided to take the trainer’s statement at face-value. Thinking partly about rap music, he asked how as a line manager he should handle a situation where he heard someone from an ethnic minority background use a word that might be considered offensive if used by a white person. Met with a puzzled look from the trainer, he added, “The most common example being use of the word n***** in the black community.”

Carl didn’t receive a response to his ‘clumsy’ question. In fact, he was angrily berated by the trainer. He tried to apologise for any offence, but was told if he spoke again he would be thrown off the course.

Other managers on the course complained that Carl’s question never received an answer – indeed, anonymous feedback collated after the session suggests the trainer’s behaviour was not well-received. “I was shocked by the manner and tone used by one presenter to a colleague,” said a respondent. “After saying at the beginning this would be a safe environment and [acknowledging] we may make mistakes, she launched into a vitriolic attack… I believe [Mr Borg-Neal] was trying to ask a valid question to aid understanding.”

After the course, the trainer claimed she was so offended by use of the n-word that she was too sick to work and took five days off – at which point the provider then complained to Lloyds Bank.

It was the fact that the trainer needed to take time off that triggered an investigation, with the bank subsequently accusing Carl of racism and launching a disciplinary process that led to his dismissal for gross misconduct.

Click on the link to https://freespeechunion.org/ while you still can to read the rest.

I would like to return to the Telegraph article on the case to which I linked earlier. One of the most highly recommended comments is by Andrew Kevill and said,

There surely cannot be a single word or phrase which has ever been coined which may not be used in a conversation about the word or phrase. There is an absolute distinction between quoting and using with intent. If that were not the case, how would academics ever discuss languages?

Despite its reputation as being the “Torygraph”, the Telegraph‘s anti-Wokeness is only in relative terms. It does not surprise me that its headline was phrased in a way that did not make clear that, to use Mr Kevill’s phrasing, Mr Borg-Neal was talking about the N-word, not using it with intent to insult.

30 comments to What did you think when you saw this headline?

  • Martin

    When you think you already hate banks, but then realise you don’t hate them enough.

  • Agammamon

    If that were not the case, how would academics ever discuss languages?

    1. All academics are either POC – and thus entitled to use whatever language they want, whenever they want, or they’re not, in which case they shut the fuck up and do what they’re told.

    2. That’s it.

  • Kirk

    If you’re going to end the career of someone for saying “the word”, then by God, you’d better start going after all the rappers and others who use the word casually in conversation.

    You cannot have a two-tier situation going, where one person can use “the word” with utter impunity, and someone else is going to get publicly destroyed for it. Either it’s anathema for all, or it’s totally OK for all.

    That this situation has even been allowed to grow up is a testimony to the essential and utter corruption of the entire system surrounding race relations. You want to have it both ways, to where you can use the word whenever you like, in casual conversation and all over your media, while going after anyone else who uses it? You’re morally corrupt, and wrong.

    I’ve no problem with saying that “the word” is something that ought never be heard again, but so long as it’s going to be plastered all over “black media”? Screw that. Either you end it permanently, for everyone, or you just ignore it.

    Frankly, this is another example of what they call the “euphemistic treadmill” where words come to represent the reality of that which they refer. The root problem here isn’t “the word”, or whatever term we politely use to refer to the group of people deriving from Africa and possessing that culture, but the sad fact that their own conduct and behavior inevitably comes to color whatever terms are used to label them. I remember hearing someone say, years ago, that “the Canadians” were doing X. I was puzzled, because I didn’t have a flippin’ clue that “Canadian” was a term that a lot of people adopted to label blacks without saying anything that people would object to. That was probably around 1985-ish…? By the time I got out of the Army in the late 2000s, if you used the term “Canadian” to refer to a group, that was an racial slur that would get you in severe trouble.

    The whole thing is a sad joke, and an even sadder commentary on the entire arena of race relations.

  • Fraser Orr

    This trainer guy heard a word that he found offensive and it affected him so badly he needed to take FIVE days off work? How does that guy get out of bed in the morning? Did anyone perhaps suggest that the real problem here is that they have a freaking psycho running their training?

    If someone punched me in the face I doubt I’d take five days off work.

    Surely there must be more to it than what is in this article? Truly I suspect we are not hearing the whole story.

    BTW, if you are an employer then I’d suggest to you that all this sort of thing is a very good reason to never hire an American/Brit, always prefer to offshore anything you possibly can.

  • Kirk

    Oh, and I can about guarantee you that the trainer needing five days off? Probably spent it listening to his collection of gangsta rap where the ratio of “the word” to any other words was likely about one to one…

    I had a black guy working for me once upon a time, who was a major troublemaker. He posed a complaint against one of the Mexican-American guys for “racism”, saying that he’d heard him use “the word”. What he’d actually overheard was the other guy saying something in Spanish that only sounded vaguely like “the word”. The idiocy progressed, and it got to the point where they were talking about disciplinary action just to shut it all down, which pissed me off. At the time, we had a black NCO in the platoon who was a lay minister for his Baptist church, a deacon, and a guy who I don’t think I ever heard so much as say “damn”. The situation had been steadily pissing him off, and he finally lost it and dropped a formal complaint about all the rap music he had to put up with listening to in the company area, with the incessant use of bitches, hoes, and “the word” broadcast at loud volumes. One of the major offenders was the original complainant, and… Yeah. It did not go well for anyone but our Baptist lay minister, because he had the certainty of a righteous man going for him, and he absolutely nailed the hypocrisy of it all.

    One of the points he made was that even if the Mexican guy had said it, who could blame him? “The word” was endemic in the environment, and with people naturally mimicking everything they hear in their speech…? What could you expect?

    Whole thing eventually got dropped, and our hero, the original complainant, got popped simultaneously for drug use, driving while intoxicated, wrecking his car, and then assaulting the Military Police that came to adjudicate the whole thing. Since he’d blown past the front gate, driving drunk, initiating a pursuit, and then ended it all by wrecking about four other cars in a spectacular collision in the barracks parking lot… Yeah. Whole thing became moot. As such things usually do, if only you wait long enough.

  • Alexander Tertius Harvey

    How would the ‘trainer’ react to kaffir or hottentot or munt (Rhodie slang), or Corporal Jones’s Fuzzy-Wuzzies? It might be obvious what the ‘n’ word is but it would seem that even negro is outre. I think one should at least be able to type the words for discussion (typing ‘the “h” word’ is unlikely to enlighten anyone). I wouldn’t wish to employ the words except that negro has a perfectly reasonable use in art/art history. Discuss.

  • Johnathan Pearce (London)

    This trainer guy heard a word that he found offensive and it affected him so badly he needed to take FIVE days off work? How does that guy get out of bed in the morning? Did anyone perhaps suggest that the real problem here is that they have a freaking psycho running their training?

    ^^This. What I see here is grifting and emotionalism on a heroic scale, by people who at a certain level know what they are doing is dishonest.

    Also, the inability to put distance between use of a forbidden word, and the idea that by uttering it, one endorses it, is a sign of a total failure to grasp basic logic.

  • bobby b

    I remember growing up in south LA where I was the white kid. I played with two groups – the niggers and the wetbacks. These were their own chosen labels, and I would’ve been looked at askance (pounded, actually) had I not used their own terms.

    Then we moved to lily-white Minnesota, where I got suspended and conferenced twice in my first year by aghast teachers for using those wrong words. I learned fast, though.

    Those words simply became proxies for the smug self-satisfied whites who wanted to prove their superior goodness but never got near enough to a black or brown person to help the cause IRL. The words never really bothered anyone until the white whine ladies made it clear that they were profitably weaponizable. That’s who gave that trainer her five days off for emotional pain.

  • Stonyground

    “Did anyone perhaps suggest that the real problem here is that they have a freaking psycho running their training?”

    Charlatan is the word that I would use.

  • Yet the word ‘nigger’ often features in the lyrics of widely broadcast songs circa 2024, so clearly it only becomes a magical word of power akin to speaking the unspeakable name of God requiring a rending of clothes when some people use it but not others.

  • John

    Mr Borg-Neal is probably too nice (big mistake nowadays) to have stated that it’s STRAIGHT White middle-aged men who are actually at the bottom of everything.

    An accurate addendum would be “other than the ones who wear frocks and call themselves Debbie”.

  • Snorri Godhi

    It is of interest to me that neither the Telegraph nor the Free Speech Union spell out the N-word. Nor does anybody here, except bobby.

    In a show of solidarity with him, let me tell you that one of the books that i most love to re-read (as light but sanity-preserving entertainment) is Too Many Cooks (1938) by Rex Stout.
    The action takes place in West Virginia, and the word ‘nigger’ is used liberally by one of the characters, a racist sheriff who comes across as a fool — but it is clear from the context that he does not mean it as an insult.

    –As for this quote in the OP:

    There surely cannot be a single word or phrase which has ever been coined which may not be used in a conversation about the word or phrase. There is an absolute distinction between quoting and using with intent.

    I am pleasantly surprised that so many people understand the distinction between ‘quoting and using with intent’. BTW failing to understand this sort of distinctions is not necessarily a sign of low IQ: i believe that it can be a result of autistic-spectrum disorder.

  • Snorri Godhi

    Oh, i see that Perry spelt out the N-words while i was crafting my comment (and checking the book to make sure that the racist character was indeed a sheriff).

    Incidentally, it would be of interest to know whether the “trainer” is herself Black or otherwise. Because we could all have a good giggle if a White lady claims 5 days of trauma from hearing the N-word.

  • John

    Look. I-I’d had a lovely supper, and all I said to my wife was, “That piece of halibut was good enough for Jehovah.”

  • John

    Snorri

    I suspect black as a white trainer would be guilty of cultural appropriation. Only black folk are allowed to be so upset by a word they use on a daily basis.

    P.s. although you mitigated the offence by capitalising the w in white why did you feel the need to follow the herd with your capital b for another colour?

  • Snorri Godhi

    John: I capitalize White because my skin color is not white, as confirmed by placing my hand on a blank sheet of paper.

    I capitalize Black because Black people are not black like black cats, black panthers, etc.

    I wrote this a couple of times on Samizdata, but you are forgiven for not having taken notice 🙂

  • I sneeze in threes

    I think Monty Python highlight this absurdity.

    “ MATTHIAS: Look. I don’t think it ought to be blasphemy, just saying ‘Jehovah’.

    CROWD: Oooh! He said it again! Oooh!…

    OFFICIAL: You’re only making it worse for yourself!

    MATTHIAS: Making it worse?! How could it be worse?! Jehovah! Jehovah! Jehovah!

    CROWD: Oooooh!…

    OFFICIAL: I’m warning you. If you say Jehovah once more…

    MRS. A. stones OFFICIAL

    Right. Who threw that?

    MATTHIAS: laughing

    silence

    OFFICIAL: Come on. Who threw that?

    CROWD: She did! It was her! He! He. Him. Him. Him. Him. Him. Him.

    OFFICIAL: Was it you?

    MRS. A.: Yes.

    OFFICIAL: Right!

    MRS. A.: Well, you did say ‘Jehovah’.”

  • John

    Thank you Snorri.

    I had hoped my days of not paying attention were in the distant past. Alas not the case!

  • Steven R

    I truly hate calling it “the N-word” like we’re children in Kindergarten and it’s a swear word. It’ just a word, a collection of sounds. It’s an ugly word with ugly connotations and shouldn’t be in anyone’s lexicon but hiding it just gives it more power.

    And the trainer needing to take a week off because the stress of being exposed to the word is just someone shamming.

  • Ed Snider

    This kind of idiocy is nothing new.In the 1990s, when I lived in Washington, D. C., a white, gay. left wing member of the city council, angry at his mostly black colleagues for vetoing a budget request, called them niggardly, and was forced to resign because of his lack of “sensitivity.”

  • Lee Moore

    I am still puzzled as to why the D word is used freely even by wokies and never causes offence, real or pretended.

    (denigrate)

  • Fraser Orr

    @ed snider
    I think the idea that the n word is like some magic word that can’t be said because if it is said it means all black people will end back in chains is utterly foolish. And to Snorri’s point I certainly understand the fact that one has to say “the n word” is utterly oppressive. But the reason I do it is because using the actual word has the potential to have very serious real world consequences. And that is a lot to ask in a recreational discussion forum.

    However, wrt Ed’s point, I’m a bit dubious. Using “niggardly” is obviously poking the bear. I fully understand that it has a completely different etymology, but why did he choose that word — which is extremely rare in normal conversation even before it became taboo — as opposed to the many, many synonyms he could have used? It seems fair to think it was deliberate. Of course I wasn’t there, but it sounds a bit of a “sorry not sorry” moment to me.

    And @Lee, I wasn’t aware of the etymology of that word, and I just looked it up. Great point, but you might want to keep it quiet in case another useful word ends in the memory hole too.

    A quick question from anyone who is a native Spanish speaker, especially a USA Spanish speaker. Since the Spanish word for the color black is “negro” and there are a whole host of related words of similar form. Is there any such taboo or social pressure on Spanish speakers to avoid these sorts of words? Are there “politically correct” synonyms that are being pushed by the woke agenda?

  • Colli

    Fraser,

    I know some very progressive native Spanish speakers. They don’t make any attempt to avoid the word “negro” nor do they seem to associate any sort of negativity with it. If they don’t, I can’t imagine who does.

  • bobby b

    But they do avoid prieto, I bet. That’s their version of what everyone here avoids.

  • pkudude99

    Didn’t the movie “Rush Hour” poke fun at this idea 25 years ago? The black cop character tells Jackie Chan “Just do what I do” and then goes into a bar and proceeds to greet everyone with the phrase “What’s up, my [word]!” Everyone fist bumps him. Then Jackie Chan, obeying instructions to do as the other did, says the same thing. Instantly everyone in the bar attacks him.

    Or a couple of years ago a Korean girl sang along with a rap song that featured “the word” while it was being played at an awards ceremony. She was just in the audience enjoying herself, not a featured artist up on the stage or anything (a camera pointed at the audience happened to be panning over her at the time), but “Black America” lost their goddamn minds that a 19-yr old Korean girl “should know better” than to sing along with a song being played over speakers for thousands of folks in attendance and who knows how many more watching the show.

    Utterly ridiculous.

  • llamas

    Kirk wrote:

    ‘You cannot have a two-tier situation going, where one person can use “the word” with utter impunity, and someone else is going to get publicly destroyed for it. Either it’s anathema for all, or it’s totally OK for all.’

    Er – yes, you can. That’s the exact situation that prevails in virtually all English-speaking nations right now, it’s been that way for 10 or 15 years, and it’s not changing any time soon. In truth, you know this, and no amount of protestations about how you ‘can’t’ have this doesn’t change the fact that we do. Better get used to it.

    llater,

    llamas

  • Paul Marks

    Like much of Big, Corporate, Business – Lloyds bank, most likely, have no idea that are serving Frankfurt School “Critical Theory” (“Woke”) Marxism – but that does not alter the fact that these are the doctrines they enforce, on “race” and everything else.

    As John O’Sullivan (an adviser to Margaret Thatcher – now in Hungary at the Danube Institute) has long said – every institution that is not actively fighting the left (and understanding why the left must be fought) ends up controlled by the left – by the left hand path, the broad and easy road. The right hand path being steep and difficult.

    In short – Andrew Doyle (fine person though he is) is wrong – the culture can not be apolitical, the only question is what political and cultural principles does it follow.

    Milton Friedman’s idea of a totally apolitical and culturally neutral corporation is not realistic – as every organisation is made up of human beings, and human beings follow principles (even if they do not understand what they are doing) – so the question is not “should I follow principles” but rather “WHICH principles” – one has to choose sides, try to “opt out” and you become a puppet of the Collectivists. Of, to put the matter bluntly, the forces of evil.

    You are either opposing them (understanding what they are) or you become their servant – whether you know it or not.

    And, yes, the forces of evil present themselves as good – that is why understanding is vital. Leaving things to “Social Evolution” to “human action not human design” means, in practice, that the other side gets to control everything. In the end society, culture, is based on ideas – principles-beliefs. “Opting out of the culture war” is a cop out – and it means that society will be dominated by the “Woke” Collectivists, who will destroy it.

    Thus the work of groups such as the Free Speech Union is vital – and they should be commended.

  • If the word describing some person, group, or thing has to be changed every five years, there is something terribly wrong about that person, group, or thing. I’m not sure how many synonyms for “melanin-enhanced” have gone past in my rather long life, but there have been at least four that I’ve noticed. If I’d led a more diverse life, there probably would be more.

    Somehow this is my fault. I’ve been told so by enough upholders of civic morality that I’ve begun to ignore it.

  • Ed Snider

    Every part of the English language is the English language. Each time I open my mouth I can’t be bothered to worry that some hypersensitive character with an axe to grind, or a bizarre ideology will be offended by my usage. Some 55 years ago, the black,comedian Dick,Gregory published an article in the New York City alternate weekly the East Village Other under the headline EUPHEMIZING NIGGER. I mistakenly thought that that was what he was calling himself, but he meant euphemizing as a verb, his theory being that if everyone used the word nigger in common practice it would lose its sting.Today only black,people have that privilege, which is a disastrous turn of events. When just one group of people living within the same borders has the right to use a word, then language stops being language, and is reduced to tribal jargon, or,code. In 2024, when anti-black racism is a thing of the past except in the woke mind, no one is harmed by the offending word other than the loathsome types using it as invective.

  • Ian Rons

    Natalie, your comments have been noted. There is a permalink to the article here. We’ll be migrating to a new website shortly, so this issue won’t be a problem in future.

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