The Racism Problem

It is a thankless task to be the BBC. You provide people with a myriad of television, radio and website goodness and all they can do is complain about the price of the licence fee and offer statistics regarding how many repeats you show.

I, for one, love the BBC. If the BBC were in renal failure, I would happily offer them my kidney. Television is an expensive medium and I am happy for auntie to show endless repeats at unsociable and daytime hours rather than creating something original for eleven o’clock on a Wednesday morning when I’m not watching the telly.
It is all very well for people to draw up numbers and claim that however much of the output are repeats; I spend less than 15% of my week in front of the telly – less than 5% actually watching something properly. The Beeb could announce a suspension of programming between the hours of eleven pm and seven pm the following day and I probably wouldn’t even notice. If you feel the need to complain that a third of the programs shown across the four channels are repeats, maybe you should address whatever issue it is which keeps you in front of your television for 66% of your week instead.

The main trouble the BBC has is that because it is paid for by the public, they tend to like input on the BBC decision making process.
Many complain about the yearly £142 compulsory fee. It may sound rather steep but when it is considered what the BBC provides for this amount, it is very reasonable. In Ireland the fee is €160 (about £150) and for that we receive 2 channels (both with adverts), three radio stations (one of which is in Gaelic, another of which I prefer to refer to as Dorsexburyshire FM) and a rubbish website. The only things they show on the telly are films made in the last 10 years and CSI. When I first moved over here, Judging Amy was the prime time offering. They still roll out Father Ted repeats every few months and the star of that has been dead a decade. I only had RTE for a fortnight and it was the closest to brain death I have ever been.

Over the last week, the main complaint has been double standards over a racist comment made by Anton Du Beke. He is a professional ballroom dancer and partner to one of the celebrities on the current series of Strictly Come Dancing (known in America as Dancing with the Stars, it basically takes people you’ve vaguely heard of and requires them to do ballroom dancing before getting praised/insulted by people who know about that sort of thing). You see, earlier in the year, the BBC sacked Carol “Daughter of Margaret” Thatcher for referring to a tennis player as looking like a golliwog. People are wondering why Du Beke is allowed to stay after telling his dancing partner, Laila Rouass, she looked like a “Paki” following a spray tan. Ms Rouass is of Indian and Moroccan descent. Both incidents happened off camera.

The trouble with racism is that sometimes we don’t realise we are being racist. I remember golliwogs from my childhood; you collected the tokens on the side of the jam pot and you could send off for a badge. It was only when I was older that I learned the cultural origins of the figure. It’s not a connection that ever occurs to me.
However, Ms Thatcher referring to somebody as a golliwog was intended. She was aware of the term and, having had it pointed out to her, defended her use of it claiming that she didn’t mean any harm by it.
Mr Du Beke, by contrast, has apologised to anybody who stands still long enough to listen. He appreciates that it is not okay to use such terms and you don’t get the feeling he is complaining behind closed doors about the outcry. Ms Rouass fully accepted his apology and is happy to continue working with him. At best, it was an unfunny joke which should never have been made.

I think we need to begin thinking more about the language we use. It’s easy to decry political correctness gone mad but sometimes, we do need think about how we use a language and what we say with it.
I’m sure nobody here would make bad taste jokes about Pakistanis, Indians, Black people or whoever. I’m also sure that the world is filled with people who are not racist people but who would think nothing of leaving me a message to the effect of “You can’t help that you’re Welsh,” yet some have. Would that sentence still be okay if you inserted the word “Paki” into it?

As it happens, I don’t mind people saying such things to me. They are free to do so, just as I am free to consider them knobheads. I can’t help but find it a little objectionable that if I were to point out their racist attitude to them, they would fail to get my point and tell me I needed to get a sense of humour (as Bruce Forsyth told Talk Radio).
If having a sense of humour involves finding the punch lines of moronic seventies sitcoms amusing, I’d be glad not to have one. We need to remember that it doesn’t matter if there was no racist intent, it is how a comment is received that matters. We should never trivialise anybodies feelings on any matter.
Respect the people you are speaking with, whatever their race, whatever their circumstances.

So, to help people re-address their attitudes towards these things, I have helpfully designed a short exercise designed to help understand what can, and cannot be considered casually racist.

Before you speak, ask yourself this: If I said this to the Welsh Rugby team, would I get away with my kneecaps intact?


sarah said...

good post, theo

it bugs me when people speak without thinking. i mean, we all make mistakes and we cant all know everything... apart from he who knows everything, but he is special... so we are bound to make errors. BUT some people are just fecking stupid. i mean, who the heck says these kinds of things?

and good job pointing out the multi uses of the welsh rugby boys. they are awesome.