Banning sombreros? As long as SUs keep picking these fights, they’ll be ridiculed

Patrick Maguire on why a Mexican hat isn’t racist


You probably don’t think about your students’ union all that much – beyond dire clubnights, cheap paninis and that mousemat they gave you. Out there in the real world – the one where parents vote Tory, uncles talk enthusiastically about nuking ISIS and everyone listens to Radio 2 – literally nobody cares. Students’ unions exist solely in the public consciousness as a journalistic shorthand for youthful idealism and the pointless, painfully well-intentioned stupidity that inevitably follows.

The latest instalment in the depressing tragicomedy of our modern student politics appeared yesterday, when – having discovered a local Mexican restaurant handing Sombrero’s out free to obliging freshers – the SU at the University of East Anglia nailed their colours to the mast in the ongoing war against hat-based oppression and banned “racist” sombreros.

“At the SU we want all members feel safe and accepted, so at all events we try to ensure that there is no behaviour, language or imagery which could be considered racist, sexist, homophobic, transphobic or ableist,” said the union’s Campaigns and Democracy officer Chris Jarvis in a late entry for the title of Most Earnest Fleece Wearer In Norwich 2015.

But you know what? Forget the context and Chris has a point. Some people are thoughtless idiots. They black up, make jokes about women being offside if they’re not in the kitchen, and wear traditional Indian dress to 21st birthday parties in the Home Counties. They say things like: “Who is going to get offended? Speedy Gonzales?” when asked for comment on their SU banning sombreros by the Independent.

Forget, for a second, just how moronic the idea that a hat – an item of non-religious headgear just like a beret or a stetson – is going to somehow light the blue touch paper on a race war between naive first year students at UEA and Norfolk’s undoubtedly humongous population of Mexican expats.

Instead, visualise just how much of a cliche you’d have to be to give a quote like that to a national newspaper. You know who I’m talking about.

They’re a white boy from somewhere in Surrey. They’re called something like Archie. They walked round the freshers’ fair twice so they could get another go on the big Nando’s wheel and still, despite being in third year, tells people the story. They’re really into the Kaiser Chiefs. They retweet Katie Hopkins and insist on bringing Caitlyn Jenner up in conversation just so they can call her Bruce. Their Facebook is a mess of club photobombs, selfies at Stamford Bridge and shares of articles about female teachers having sex with their pupils captioned with “If This Was A Man He Would Have Got Twice As Long In Prison”.

In other words: objectionable, dreary and more or less utterly wrong about everything. But not today. Because just who is going to offended by sombreros which, according to the Mexican restaurant which was handing them out, weren’t given away as props for a drug cartel snuff film flashmob, or as part of a Roy-Chubby-Brown-inspired riff on migrant workers, but were a marketing gimmick to get people to eat more burritos? Nobody.

Though it might sound unbelievable now, student unions have often been on the right side of history, and still pick fights, stick up for those most in need and champion causes when nobody else cares – much to the disappointment of people like Archie, who’d still dress up as Idi Amin or Josef Mengele and buy his Apartheid oranges from South Africa if he could.

But banning a hat isn’t a fight. It’s straight out of the dickheads’ beloved Loony Left playbook – every headline validates their derision, screaming: “Yes! Those social justice warriors are wrong about everything! Feminists hate men! There was a gay guy on my corridor in halls so I used to shower downstairs! Replace Zayn Malik with Jeremy Clarkson!” So next time you see a picture of a leprechaun in the bar, or the Francophone Society are playing Ratatouille, or the rugby team advertise a curry night – don’t shoot yourselves in the foot. Remember who wins.