I said the honourable member was a liar it is true and I am sorry for it. The honourable member may place the punctuation where he pleases.

12 January 2006

Edited to add my opinion at the end of the post

Mary O’Rourke is a Fianna Fáil politician in her 70’s. She has served as Minister for Education in the past and is currently the leader of the Seanad(Senate). Recently she received the party nomination to run in the next election, this after losing her seat last time around.

When she won this right she made a comment that has gotten her in a bit of trouble, so I’ve decided to ask my international readers what they make of it. Obviously I’m not stopping any Irish people from commenting, I’m just curious is all.

In praising her team that help her win the FF nomination to run she complimented them by saying “They were there for me, and they worked like blacks.”


When I first heard what she had said I couldn’t help but laugh that anyone would make such a mistake. It doesn’t matter what you feel about the phrase yourself, you don’t say it where it will be played over and over again on the radio/mentioned constantly on the telly. Not if you want your public relations spin-doctor-type to be happy with you.

And obviously, it goes without saying that racism is not a good thing. But, I’m not so sure if this phrase is racist. For it to be classified as a racist statement it should have some sort of superiority/inferiority aspect. It should make race an Other. This statement does not do that. All O’Rourke meant was they were working hard. It is the origins of the phrase that are racist; working as hard as a black slave, it implies black people are slaves. But do the origins of a word or phrase matter?

Is it the origin or the meaning that makes you use a phrase? When I say When the cat is away, the mice will play you all know I’m not really talking about cats and mice. Or at least I hope you do. The meaning is not the literal one So I would not see the phrase as inherently racist. It is a phrase, no more no less.

However, that doesn’t mean it still isn’t offensive. Language is funny like that. Just like a few years back saying Paddy was pretty much an insult to an Irish person. Now I don’t think it bothers us, unless it is an English person saying it of course, in that case it translates to “Oliver Cromwell didn’t kill off enough of you Irish bastards.” ;)

In essence, I wouldn’t use the phrase “working like blacks”, wouldn’t particularly like to hear it, but I don’t think that the use of it identifies a person a racist.

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5 Responses

  1. anne says:

    We have the same kind of phrase in French, so I'm not making anything of it, it's a phrase, period. But it is rather unfortunate for a politician to use this sort of imagery, no?

  2. neil h. says:

    That's pretty offensive, with the phrase originally referring to black slaves. Would she have said that 'they worked like Navvies' or 'Paddys'? Probably not …

  3. NineMoons says:

    I feel kind of sorry for her – it was an off the cuff remark using an outdated expression. It's not all that bad, really. I think of it more as a PC issue than a racism issue. Language changes but outdated expressions hang around long after they should have been quietly forgotton.

  4. Alan says:

    Having lived in Ireland I can't say I'm surprised. Let's be honest here, you are the first generation of Irish that has ever had to deal with imigration. The older generations, well lets just say that if you want to instill some political correctness in them, I suggest you don't stand on one leg while you're waiting.

  5. banzai cat says:

    Hmmm, sounds like a slip of the tongue. Kinda like, she immediately thought after making that statement, "Oh shit. Did I just say that?"

    Though am usually more forgiving of other people's assholery anyway.