Manvi Dixit is a third year English Literature student with a desire to work in investigative journalism. She is very passionate about achieving accurate and just representation for POC within mainstream media. She serves as BAME Politics & Representation Current Events Reporter for The Clandestine.
[Featured Image: A screenshot of the headline of an article brought by the BBC on August 4th, 2020 reading: BBC defends use of racial slur in news report]
A news outlet as huge as the BBC, whose influence is not only national but worldwide, broadcasted (not once but twice in a week) a white reporter using the N-Word. BBC’s horrific blunder did not go unnoticed especially at a time of debates, public outcry and rightful demands regarding the safety of our Black population. Over 18,600 complaints have been made to the BBC about this institutional failure in describing a racially aggravated attack. Making this the second most complained about incident ever. The N-Word has been a bone of contention for Black people for generations due to its roots. The power behind the word is reflective of more than just slavery but it captures a history of institutionalised, racial discrimination against Black people that has not yet been eliminated from society. There is no derogatory word like this that exists for white people.
Time and time again we see white influencers and celebrities using this word and being ‘cancelled’ then forgiven by other white people. Seeming to incorrectly believe they have the right to police this word’s employment. Following the backlash, the BBC gave a delayed, arguably nonchalant response in an article called ‘defending the use of a racial slur.’ They emphasised the importance of context. Of course context should not be forgotten as their objective was to spread awareness about racially targeted attacks. And the inclusion of the N-word within the report was intended to paint a realistic portrayal of how racism manifests into hate crimes. Nevertheless, it still struck as offensive because the BBC did not understand the trauma attached to the N-word. The BBC failed to consider how triggering it was for Black people across the country to hear the word on a national broadcast. In their article, the BBC only acknowledged the offensiveness but did not apologise for the discomfort and shock caused. The article states they ‘accept and understand’ why it ‘upset people.’ Vague language utilised here can only be seen as a method to brush this incident off to the side. Their words are absent in exploring WHY people found it offensive and recognizing WHY is the most important part for their so-called intention to educate people. The outrage on social media, with the hashtag ‘BBC + N-word’ trending on Twitter for a number of days, has not quietened down since the release of the statement.
Black activists and the Black Lives Matter movement have been encouraging people to educate themselves on these issues. It is not the responsibility of Black people to explain what is considered racist and why. Collective responsibility within the community is crucial. Today’s social and political climate does its best to highlight this truth. When a platform as powerful as the BBC cannot be bothered to take proper accountability, apologise or even condemn the use of such a racial slur- it has an incredibly negative effect on the progress others are trying to create.
Audre Lorde’s retelling of a personal experience involving prejudice comments that were not corrected reflects how white ignorance breeds a society where racial abuse is normalised even when not intended. Lorde writes:
‘A little white girl riding past in her mother’s cart calls out excitedly, ‘Oh look, mommy, a baby maid!’ And your mother shushes you but she does not correct you. And so fifteen years later…you can still find that story humorous. But I hear your laughter is full of terror and disease.’
It reminded me of the manner in which the BBC remained absent in discussing the real reason behind people’s anger and the fact they did not correct themselves. ‘Terror and disease’ stems from racist actions that remain unrecognised for what they truly are.
Ironically, over the last few days, the BBC has been posting educational videos on racism including topics such as white privilege and every day microaggressions. I would like to raise the question: how effective are these videos if the BBC refuses to acknowledge the harmful impact of the N-word? It sends out a very hypocritical message. Radio BBC 1Xtra Presenter Sidemen has quit and voices their defence of the use of a racial slur is ‘a slap in the face to our community.’
Lucy Worsely, the second white presenter to say the N-word on BBC last week during a history programme, has apologised on Twitter. Viewers were disappointed this apology was in no way as public as the platform she openly quoted the racial slur on. White privilege is epitomised by the BBC’s management regarding the reporters that are white versus POC. Lucy Worsely faced no threat from the BBC in terms of her career despite the 417 complaints made. Very troubling since her apology suggests it was her choice to say the word. On the other hand, Naga Munchetty, a half Mauritian and half Indian presenter, called Trump out for racist comments in September 2019 and the incident was ruled a breach of BBC guidelines to remain impartial. The BBC’s seemingly outdated guidelines were favoured rather than their own reporter’s opinion on a subject which she equated to her personal experiences as a woman of colour. What I find more alarming here is that the BBC’s executive complaints unit (ECU) investigation did not focus on Munchetty’s co-host Dan Walker despite his presence and agreement with Munchetty’s Trump comments. Why is a reporter of colour immediately held responsible for her words? In Spite of her opinion being one that is commonly held. Why is there a jury waiting to judge her ‘mistake’ and an investigation on the brink? But in the recent case; the topic of this article, the BBC chooses to take no action against Worsley, the script writers or the broadcasters. Although the BBC retracted the breach over Naga’s career – why was the course of persecution immediate for her but delayed when addressing 18,600 complaints?
The incident has compromised the BBC’s integrity as their values claim to ‘put audiences at the heart of everything’ and ‘respect each other and our diversity.’ The BBC diminished it’s Black audience through their use of the N-word and even after the harrowing amount of critique: chose not to apologise thus disrespecting their viewership to an even larger extent. The BBC’s double standards for holding white people accountable versus people of colour serves as a microcosm for society’s racial prejudice. Institutions tend to be more willing to analyse the intent of white people’s errors and punish people of colour. This incident highlights regardless of context and regardless of intent: the N-word is absolutely unacceptable and dehumanising regarding the white people and non-Black POC using it.
BBC News. 2020. BBC Receives 18,600 Complaints Over Racial Slur. [online] Available at: <https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/entertainment-arts-53676557> [Accessed 7 August 2020].
BBC News. 2020. BBC Defends Use Of Racial Slur In News Report. [online] Available at: <https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-53657013> [Accessed 7 August 2020].
BBC News. 2020. Sideman Quits Radio 1Xtra Over BBC’s Use Of Slur. [online] Available at: <https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-53708991> [Accessed 8 August 2020].
En.wikipedia.org. 2020. Naga Munchetty. [online] Available at: <https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Naga_Munchetty> [Accessed 7 August 2020].
Hirsch, A., Henry, L., Lester, A. and Guru-Murthy, K., 2020. You Can’T Be ‘Impartial’ About Racism – An Open Letter To The BBC On The Naga Munchetty Ruling | Afua Hirsch, Lenny Henry, Adrian Lester, Krishnan Guru-Murthy And Others. [online] the Guardian. Available at: <https://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2019/sep/27/racism-no-such-thing-as-impartiality-open-letter-bbc> [Accessed 7 August 2020].
Lorde, A., 2017. Your Silence Will Not Protect You. 1st ed. UK: Silver Press, pp.109-111.
The Daily Tar Heel. 2020. Explained: Why You Can’t Say The N-Word If You’re Not Black. [online] Available at: <https://www.dailytarheel.com/article/2019/09/why-you-cant-say-the-N-word-if-youre-not-Black> [Accessed 8 August 2020].