The BBC’s Entanglement With The N-Word

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. 


Bibliography

BBC News. 2020. BBC Receives 18,600 Complaints Over Racial Slur. [online] Available at: <https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/entertainment-arts-53676557&gt; [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&gt; [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&gt; [Accessed 8 August 2020].

En.wikipedia.org. 2020. Naga Munchetty. [online] Available at: <https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Naga_Munchetty&gt; [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&gt; [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&gt; [Accessed 8 August 2020].

46 Comments Add yours

  1. J B Sharma says:

    It’s a wonderful article Manvi, an obvious pain and empathy in dealing with a very sensitive and emotional issue.
    You are so young to go to root of the problem still prevalent especially in the so called developed and humanitarian world.
    Keep it up Manvi once again . God bless you. You have miles to go and reach the pinnacle of success.

    1. Brig H K Dadhich Vsm Retd says:

      I am impressed the you have analysed the whole issue .you have in depth knowledge of the subject and brought it so clearly that it puts the world to think in an appropriate manner .
      You have a long way to go . I wish you all success on all your endeavours in future
      God bless you

    2. H C Srivastava says:

      Dear Manvi, I am your nana’s roorkee colleague since more than half century. I have gone through your marvellous article on “unjust by power on weak peoples “.I also appreciate your interest in investing journalism. Journalism is very strong pillar of Democracy. Keep it up. All blessings and best wishes for grand success in your passion of journalism.

  2. Manoj Dixit says:

    Well done Manvi. This article shows your being human nature. It’s an eye opener. You are a budding professional writer. I wish you all the best. Please keep writing.

  3. shreyadixitx says:

    This is absolutely incredible! It’s great that you are educating people on institutional racism through this appreciable article – thoughtfully written, the analysis you have done on the BBC’s entanglement with the N word was circumstantial; you portrayed a strong point and have reminded people that this is a movement not a moment! Overall excellent article Manvi.

    1. R K Kaushik says:

      Wonderful article Manvi
      God bless you beta 👍👍👍

  4. Radha Mohan Rout says:

    So wonderfully written Dear Manvi. It is Heartening to know that you are taking interest to safeguard the rights of BAME and raising your voice against racists remarks of BBC through your hard hitting columns and post. Awesomely pictured through powerful words. Wishing you a great Successful future.

  5. no3797 says:

    Dear Manvi your article is the need of the day. This is challenging work have courage to fight. Only few people speak so strongly. All the best.

    1. 5790282 says:

      An issue that has been well addressed in this article! Well done.

  6. Brij Mohan Agrawal says:

    A well descriptive article full of compassion and empathy for the people who have immensely contributed in development of the world as a whole.
    The need to remove this racial attitude had been expressed in a very sensitive manner.
    Keep it up. We see a great future in your endeavours.

  7. Arun Kumar Dixit says:

    Congratulations Manvi. Excellent article keep it up , may god bless you. Wish you all the success in your life

  8. Vikas Kaushik says:

    Dear Manvi..Wonderful article .keep it up
    👍👍👍….

  9. KPS VERMA says:

    Excellent article by this young girl on a very sensitive issue. An eye-opener for the so called developed world. Well done Manvi and keep it up. God bless you.

  10. A Good Curated slap on the faces of the racial indescriminants. Its not just about the dark crescents its also about every brown who lives in the white side of this world starting from US, UK, Australia, New Zealand, etc. Wonderfully held up the unheard sounds from news agencies like BBC.

    I respect your efforts and concern for humanitarian grounds and being a voice at such a tender age, keep it up. You will be made heard to every individual who is looking for such support and had faced any such agony.

  11. Mohit Mishra says:

    Good article, best wishes for future

  12. Indu says:

    I read this mind boggling and extremely sensitive article number of times. It’s truly an eye opener and really shameful for the racists who still in this 21st century and developed countries are involved in abusing the human being based on colour of skin. I salute to your boldness Manvi. Your humanitarian approach to such sensitive issues will take miles.
    God bless you and your cult.

  13. H.NIRMAL KUMAR says:

    Mani it is great and very courageous to take up the issue of racism. unfortunate that even in 21st century racism is there.your article on this in excellent sum up on the issue. Keep it up and keep writing .Dont hesitate to air your views

  14. Kaushal Kumar Yadav says:

    Wonderful

  15. Dr A Sharma says:

    A very thorough and thoughtfully written article.
    A young girl has the courage to take the bull by the horn.
    What BBC is offering is a mirage of respect and equality, and the top shots bask in the glory of self appreciation.

  16. Neha Dixit says:

    Very tactfully written & hard hitting article.
    They way writer has penned down the predicament of black lives is commendable and brave.
    World needs such reality checks timely.
    Kudos to the writer, way to go.

  17. Kamakshi says:

    I appreciate your clearly written and thought-provoking article. Eagerly waiting to read more articles from you in the near future. Keep up the good work Manvi 😊

  18. Dr.R.M Kaushik says:

    Great job done Maanvi!!! It is really wonderful to read an eye opening article on such a prevalent topic with such deep insights.

  19. Dr.R.M Kaushik says:

    Great job done Maanvi!!! It is really wonderful to read an eye opening article on such a prevalent topic with such deep insights.

  20. Ashok Kumar says:

    It’s very nice to read that having a good knowledge and understanding about very much serious Issue of current society. God bless you and keep it up.

    1. Diya says:

      This article was extremely insightful into the recent institutional failure of the BBC. It is equally infuriating and heartbreaking that in 2020 we are still having these discussions. Although there was an “apology” issued by the BBC the lack of sincerity was clear as day. This incident is one of many that is continuing to highlight to us that we do face racism in this country on an individual basis as well as a systemic basis whether it be overt or in the form of microaggressions etc. Thank you for this very thoughtfully written article.

  21. mohitmakin says:

    Wonderful article , keep it up & best wishes .

  22. R S Goel says:

    The arrival written shows your great courage and understanding. Congratulations Manvi

  23. R S Goel says:

    Please rad article in place of arrival. Thanks

  24. VINOD SHARMA says:

    Well done, Manvi! Your ideas and inputs on discrimination against black people prevailing worldwide, no doubt, will go a long way in addressing this issue. I am sure your contribution through this article will not go waste. I wish you the best of luck in your future endeavours. God bless you.

  25. Anuradha Pathak says:

    Wonderful article.

  26. Ghan Shyam Sharma says:

    Manavi, its heartening indeed to read a very thought provoking article so well penned by a budding, young journalist in you on a highly sensitive racial matter. The fact that you could muster courage to show mirror to a media behemoth of BBC’s stature is not only praiseworthy but commendable. May God bless you in all your future endeavors.

  27. Mahesh Sharma says:

    Very insightful read! Manvi this problem is present in every society and the only solution is to educate people for their behaviour. Without good behaviour man is just an animal. Wishing you the best!

  28. virendra Manglik says:

    A wonderfully and tactfully written article making BBC realise the horror of unfortunate words.

  29. Meera Sharma says:

    Brilliantly written Manvi! Your presence of words through out the article is exceptional . It takes courage to write on such sensitive issue and highlighting that BBC needs to realize their mistake rather than justifying it. Hope this motivates each and everyone to give a voice to the oppressed and neglected. Keep up the good work and may you ever keep progressing.

  30. Sanjay Gupta says:

    Really adorable work Manvi! I was really impressed while going through the article. Being a third year student , you have delineated it precisely with really wise choice of words. It shows your in depth knowledge and passion towards journalism .
    Wishing you all the best for your future.
    Cheers!

  31. Lt Col Sudhir Thakur, Retd. says:

    A strong and hard hitting article. Not many will have the courage to confront or point a finger directly at BBC directly. She is brave, bold and daring. Wishing her all d best in life.

  32. M L Sharma says:

    Well done Manvi, you have written marvellous article.It contains some thoughtful quotes &messages.Congratulations, keep it up& stay blessed

  33. Manju Khurana says:

    Wonderful article Manvi. Keep it up!!!Wish you good luck for your future endeavors 👍👍👍

  34. Ashir Matto says:

    Miss Sharma.
    What a dynamic piece of writing.
    Well done you Miss Sharma . Very proud of you.
    Be the voice for voiceless people and it has reflected in your ✍. It is commendable and much appreciated. Keep up the good work.

  35. Abhishek says:

    Beautiful piece of work. Kudos to author, Ms Manvi Dixit.

  36. Lt Gen B S Dhaliwal (Retd) says:

    Your article is on a complex and controversial subject, on which people have rigid thoughts.
    Despite the above,yet you have succeeded in putting it across in a language which can be comprehended by all. Our compliments on articulating your mature thoughts so passionately and comprehensively.
    That’s the signs of a good journalist
    Please accept our kudos on a job well done
    God bless

  37. Ashok Kumar Arora says:

    Great & Excellent article Manvi you have done in-depth Study of the a very sensitive issue with understanding it very Much . God bless you Congratulations Manvi brilliant keeping the legacy of yours great job by her shows maturity in journalism and passion of work 👍👏 keep it up .

  38. LALIT KUMAR SHARMA says:

    A strong and hard hitting article. Not many will have the courage to confront or point a finger directly at BBC directly. She is brave, bold and daring.She is asset to society Wishing her all d best in life.

  39. Dr. Colonel. P Nallathambi says:

    Manvi, you have taken a great initiative at such a young age to highlight such ever present social discrimination met out against the African-American community in the society. This kind of bold thought and writing will not only enhance your own confidence but also provide more courage to voice out many such important issues for protecting and promoting social justice. You should continue to write and contribute by bringing out many more social issues to the public in such a nuanced and well researched way. Let almighty give you more strength, wisdom and support in all aspects of your life. Best wishes and a hearty congratulation. – Dr. Colonel. P Nallathambi

  40. AC Patel, Advisor Works, IIT Jammu. says:

    Dear Manvi,

    You have taken a courageous step
    by selecting this article. It is very much befitting keeping in view what is happening in the world especially at USA and other Europian countries.

    Heartiest congratulations and keep it up. God bless you.

  41. S P Singh says:

    Dear Manvi,
    Yo have very correctly pointed out the racial views and discrimination of BBC. Most important, you have not only made critical comments but added your very valuable contribution. Congratulations.
    S P Singh
    Former Addl D G
    C PWD

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