While the press coverage of the Duke and Duchess of Sussex has generated rather more heat than light, one question invariably enters: how has so much racism been allowed to enter the public discourse? Calling the Duchess “difficult” and indeed “exotic”, the latter defended with customary boorishness by Piers Morgan earlier this week, are the kinds of dog-whistles that should set alarm bells ringing. But someone is not hearing it.
Why that should be can be deduced from one exchange during yesterday evening’s edition of the BBC’s Question Time. Here, when an audience member had a significant difference of opinion with actor Laurence Fox, the majority of those in that audience who applauded did so in support of Fox dismissing the idea that the Duchess was the victim of racism. The display of ignorance should worry all of us. But it probably doesn’t.
The audience member could not have put it more directly: “The problem we’ve got with this is that Meghan has agreed to be Harry’s wife, and then the press have torn her to pieces. Let’s be really clear about what this is, and call it by its name, it’s racism. A black woman, and she has been torn to pieces”. Fox claimed it wasn’t. “It absolutely is” she countered.
“We’re the most tolerant, lovely country in Europe” Fox responded, adding that he considered the talk of racism was getting “boring”. But the audience member was not finished, and it was here that she had it right and many of her fellow audience members just didn’t get it. Addressing Fox personally, she asserted “You are a white privileged male”. There were groans. But Fox is a White Privileged Male.
“I can’t help what I am”, he protested. “I was born like this. It’s an immutable characteristic, so to call be a white privileged male is to be racist [it isn’t. It really isn’t] You’re being racist”. This produced a significant amount of audience applause.
Fox had more to say on the R-Word - a brave move, sitting next to Shami Chakrabarti - telling “We need to be careful. We need to call out racism when it’s seen, when it’s obvious and when it’s there [who is making that judgment, though?] and we should stand together to condemn it. [But] We should be careful, and use racism when it’s there, and it’s obvious, and not call someone racist just cos they don’t agree with you”.
What if Fox, and those applauding him, do not hear the dog-whistle? The presence known as Otto English was not impressed with this representative of the Fox dynasty: “I'm not an actorist, some of my best friends are actors ... but boy is this Laurence Fox character stupid”. White people telling BAME people what racism is? Er, no.
And the very white complexion of so many in that audience prompted Shahmir Sanni to say what many are now thinking. “Honestly, when i say the BBC is an institution built to reinforce white supremacy, this is what I mean. They deliberately put on people that take back the work POC have been doing for decades. The producers, planners & staff are racism’s best friends”. Why is it always Question Time where this happens?
While white people get to say what racism is, and other white people dabble in low-level and gratuitous racism against POC, “tolerant and lovely” is not what this country is.
The BBC may entertain. But the educate and inform parts seem to have gone missing.
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