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« Suicide bombers call in sick | Page One | Owens addicted to publicity »

Port boss needs to get his slurs correct

By Chris Elliott

I am appalled at Geno Marconi’s reappointment as head of Portsmouth’s Port Authority, not so much because of his highly publicized racial slurs, but rather because, according to Portsmouth Herald reportage, it seems to me that he might have invoked the wrong one.

The slurs were directed at a ship’s captain referred to as Captain A in much of the press coverage. Marconi having admitted to using the racial slur, "sand nigger," naturally I was thinking Ahab the Arab from the old Ray Stevens song. Next though, the Herald printed the captain’s name, and it was Pakistani, sort of the buffer zone of racial identifiers between the Arab world and India.

Additionally, the Herald reported that the captain was born in India. The captain’s last name was in the tradition of a group of Pakistani nomads who ended up settling in Punjab, which is among the disputed lands in Kashmir, between India and Pakistan. It sounds to me that the ship’s captain might not be a sand nigger at all. He might even be a dot-head.

Any regular readers of this column know that I am a stickler for precision in language, not necessarily in argument or rhetoric, which in my opinion are bettered by remaining fluid, but the terminology, the word-by-word tool set must be respected to an absolute, and if Marconi is calling an elephant jockey a camel jockey, I have a problem with that.

Amateur racists like Marconi have to learn that races don’t start and end with cartographic precision at the drawn border.

Those lines are usually, if not always, drawn by professional racists, who don’t know anything about the actual people who live nearby where the lines are being drawn. It’s always a drag when you’re a dirt farmer and one of those lines gets redrawn and now all of a sudden it goes through your property, because you know it means you and your family are going to die.

Other colorful terms allegedly uttered by Marconi include "towel head." If indeed Captain A were Indian or Pakistani, that might still apply, as some components of Hindu prefer a turban, though it’s interesting to note that as a rule, Indian turbans are far more kempt and artful than their Arab counterparts.

The other portion of the docket against Marconi references complaints about a "New York Jew and his Chink wife" regarding various criticisms of operations at the port. The New York Jew in question is now leveraging this negative publicity into a quid pro quo straight out of the politically correct payback gamut. I say let’s not fall for it. This is part of the knock-down-the-salt-pile-and-put-up-a-river walk-crowd that can count on a thumbs-down sandwich from this desk any day.

But more to the point of this essay, when Marconi says something as reductive and dehumanizing as the word, "Chink," how can we trust that he’s even gotten it right in light of the possible mischaracterizations of "sand nigger?" We know he’s got it all wrong in spirit, but what about fact? Is she really Chinese? Or is she Japanese, in which case he might have referenced his "nip wife," or if she were Pacific Rim his "gook wife," or if you wanted to discriminate and slur further through Cambodians, Laotians, Vietnamese and Thai, you might wander further down that path of racist rhetoric, with its unending and as such ironic diversity.

So what is the point of all this? Take it from me, your Mick/Limey correspondent; you should be careful what you wish for. Marconi is one of the few remaining vestiges of Old Portsmouth, and if you want to usher in a reign of antiseptic and invisible Dubai Port World management that contributes nothing to a local economy or local color, this is the easy, cheesy way to do it. It’s an ugly mess that Marconi should have foreseen, and now that he’s been spanked in public, you can bet that it won’t happen again, unless of course a bunch of Portsmouth wops, spics, and moulies start mouthing off about port operations.

Chris Elliott can be reached at

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Posted on September 29, 2006 8:09 AM | Permalink

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