UK councillor apologises to NRI colleague for 'coconut' jibe | india | Hindustan Times
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UK councillor apologises to NRI colleague for 'coconut' jibe

A British councillor in the port city of Bristol has tendered an apology after calling his NRI colleague a "coconut" during a heated debate in the city council. The term with racist connotation was used by Liberal Democrat councillor Shirley Brown to criticise her Conservative colleague Jay Jethwa, who arrived in Britain in the mid-1980s, and is now a councillor from Stockwood.

india Updated: Mar 03, 2009 08:19 IST

A British councillor of Afro-Caribbean origin in the western port city of Bristol has tendered an apology after calling his NRI colleague a "coconut" during a heated debate in the city council.

The term with racist connotation was used by Liberal Democrat councillor Shirley Brown to criticise her Conservative colleague Jay Jethwa, who arrived in Britain in the mid-1980s, and is now a councillor from Stockwood.

'Coconut' refers to people of Asian origin who are 'brown on the outside and white inside', which amounts to criticising people who try to turn their backs on their own culture and adopt the outlook and trappings of the majority white community in Britain.

Brown, 47, directed the slur at Jethwa after the latter proposed funding cuts for an equality group's plans to spend 750,000 pounds on teaching the history of slave trade.

Jethwa, 41, said it was a waste of taxpayers' money to spend money on such a project, which infuriated Brown.

"I have never come across such a personal and upsetting racial comment directed at me. All I was doing was exercising my democratic right to speak and express my opinions, so to have those kind of words directed at me was a real shock and very upsetting. It's a huge insult to me," Jethwa said.

"I knew exactly what it meant as soon as I heard it. It means someone who is black on the outside and white on the inside and definitely racially related. She was obviously offended that I, as an Indian, spoke out on an issue which she perceived to be white," Jethwa said.

"For this to have come from a black person, who uses this term specifically for people who come from my background, is just unacceptable and uncalled for."

Brown said during the heated debate, "In our culture we have a word for you and before I go into what I want to say and my statement, is that we have a word for you and, which any in this city would understand, is a coconut."

Following outrage over the comments, Brown tendered an apology to Jethwa, but added, "How can I be a racist when I'm black? If everyone was so offended why did no one say anything at the time? I have, however, since sent a letter of apology to Mrs Jethwa."

Conservative councillor John Goulandris was so offended by the comment he has written a letter of complaint to the council's head of legal services.

Goulandris said, "Everyone should be offended by Shirley Brown's use of this profoundly unpleasant racist remark. Ironically, this ugly utterance has come from someone who proclaims herself something of an expert at recognising racism in others."