Well it’s been a whirlwind few weeks in the world of conversations about race hasn’t it? Meghan and Harry’s Netflix docuseries has sparked many a water-cooler chat. You all know my thoughts on Meghan, someone I admire for refusing to be bullied into silence. I chatted to BBC Radio Nottingham’s Sarah Julian on her breakfast show the day after the Netflix release. And I’m pleased to hear from people who have started to see how powerful and prejudiced the British media have been in Meghan’s story thanks to the programme.
Jeremy Clarkson’s recent diatribe in The Sun proves the point. And I am so proud of the 17,000 individuals who complained to IPSO and the 31,000 who complained to Ofcom about his inflammatory words. (The original column has now been removed.)
My mind has been whirring with it all and has got me thinking about the power of language. You know I love to chat. And this blog is all about inspiring positive change through conversations. But equally, from prejudiced mouths, words have a frightening power to harm.
Clarkson, as a cis, straight, white, male can afford to be flippant about prejudice, sexual violence and public shaming. Undoubtedly, the reason so many individuals took action to complain about his words, was because many of us don’t have this luxury. For women, violence is not humorous. For ethnic minorities, hate crime is not something to take lightly. At a time when domestic abuse is sadly increasing (the recent football season, the cost of living crisis, Christmas and the alcohol it often includes….), this is a topical issue. Add to that the heavy weight of the domestic abuse charity, Sistah Space, being forced to close due to the abuse it received when founder, Ngozi Fulani, stood up for herself in the face of racist othering by Lady Hussey. Women aren’t prepared to accept this most recent assault.
Words inspire action. They shape opinions. Give permission to views that would otherwise be challenged. And the publication of them by mainstream press gives credibility to dangerous people.
Brookings explains the phenomenon in its article about Trump’s Islamaphobic rhetoric in 2016, which resulted in a 32% increase in hate crimes against Muslims in America. The UN states in its definition of hate speech that it “incites violence”.
The Law is less clear. There is legislation to protecting freedom of speech. There are also laws against hate speech. How do you tell the difference between the two? By definition, hate speech damages human dignity and poses a risk to public order. To me its pretty clear where Clarkson’s vile words sit.
So I come circling back to the power of conversation. And do you know what? I think it’s time to move my ethos on – conversation is not just about learning – it’s about standing up for what’s right too. It’s not a passive act, it’s an active one, with purpose. By being brave enough to talk about difficult issues, we can also develop the bravery to challenge unacceptable language, “jokes” and narratives. There are certain groups who need to protect themselves from this danger, and who value allies who’ll support them in doing so too.
If you’d like to add your voice to those of us who want to put on record that Clarkson’s words are not acceptable, register your views here:
Independent Press Standards Organisation
And if you have been inspired to support domestic abuse charities at this difficult time, here are some that I recommend.
As always – thanks for reading. Let’s keep talking.