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News & views

Sainsbury’s bans customer for colourful language

The supermarket Sainsbury’s has banned a housebound 73-year-old with osteoporosis from using its home delivery service after she called one of its drivers a ‘coloured gentleman’ during a phone call. Marian Burke had telephoned her local store to complain about items missing from her £80 order, for what she said was the tenth consecutive week. Asked to identify the driver, she apparently said, ‘I don’t know his name, but he was a lovely coloured gentleman.’

Burke, who is looked after by a Kenyan carer, said, ‘Then all hell broke loose. The man on the other end of the phone called me a racist and said they’d never take another order from me.’

The term ‘coloured’ to refer to people who are not ‘white’ (whatever ‘white’ means) is regarded by some as offensive today. But in the 1950s, 1960s and 1970s, when Ms Burke was in her prime, it might well have been thought polite and respectful – certainly compared with the ruder epithets in common use at the time.

As this story broke, the BBC’s Today programme was busy playing Lou Reed’s best-known song Walk on the Wildside (1972) in homage to the dead performer. Reed’s refrain must have caused Sainsbury’s to cover its sensitive little ears:

‘And the colored girls go

Doo do doo, doo do doo, doo do doo.’

So that’s no more grocery deliveries for you, Mr Reed.

And no more, either, for the brothers and sisters of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, founded in 1909 and prominent in the civil-rights movement throughout the twentieth century: That name just has to be racist.


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