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College of Policing

Barnie Choudhury: ‘I believe we all have a right to offend, but race should be left out of it’

Danny Baker   (Photo by Tim Whitby/Getty Images)
Danny Baker (Photo by Tim Whitby/Getty Images)

IT TOOK me all of one second to conclude that Danny Baker would be sacked. That’s not because I’m a paid-up member of the politically correct brigade. Look at my record, and you’ll see that I have a habit of speaking unpalatable truths. The experienced broadcaster tweeted a photograph of a couple with a chimpanzee in the middle, with the words “Royal baby leaves hospital”. It was racist. Full stop. Forget the intention. Forget stupidity. Forget momentary loss of common sense. It was racist. And the BBC’s head of Five Live, Jonathan Wall, had no option but to sack him. What made Baker’s stance worse was his defence in a follow-up tweet. Anyone thinking it was racist had a “diseased mind”, he said. To his credit, once he had taken the emotion out of his dismissal, Baker admitted on Twitter that he had “f****d up badly”. What this shows me is how, in the age of sharing our every thought on social media, we have forgotten to take a breath and think before we post. Unlike unrecorded words said in haste, cyberspace mean everything we say is there in perpetuity. You can’t take it back, no matter how young or inexperienced you were when you first said it. Hamza Choudhury (no relation), the Leicester City player, knows that. Last week, the Football Association fined him £5,000 and ordered him to attend a course for offensive – some would say homophobic and racist – tweets he posted six years ago when he 15. Look, I believe that we all have a right to offend. If we force people to say and do things in dark corners, like poisonous fungi they will thrive, infest and infect things around them. I was castigated by some Asian colleagues in the BBC for giving the then leader of the British National Party, Nick Griffin, airtime after he revealed that a Sikh group wanted to join him to fight against Muslims. But to this day, I believe you have to face racists and those with whom you have ideological differences head-on. You beat them with reasoned argument. That’s what we do in a democracy. So what I am about to say next may offend some diversity practitioners and readers. I believe the Macpherson definition of institutional racism is fundamentally flawed. He defined it as “the collective failure of an organisation to provide an appropriate and professional service to people because of their colour, culture, or ethnic origin. … which amounts to discrimination through unwitting prejudice, ignorance, thoughtlessness and racist stereotyping which disadvantage minority ethnic people.” It is flawed because of one word, ‘unwitting’, which hands racists a free get-out-of-jail-card. We need to be honest and admit to ourselves that we all have prejudices, and some cause more harm than others. If you do not like someone, act differently with or disadvantage someone because they have a different skin colour or are from a different race, then you are racist, whether you want to hide behind your ‘unwitting prejudice’. And racism is not exclusively a white problem. We Asians are just as racist as those about whom we often complain. The unpalatable and uncomfortable truth is that despite living together for more than 50 years in the UK, there are some Asian families who have disowned, and will continue to disown, their child if they marry someone from a different race, religion or caste. Further, some will hire bounty hunters to track down their errant offspring and force them into marriage. And in extreme cases, some will kill their son or daughter, brother or sister, or intended bride or groom in the name of honour. Let’s get real. We are masters at pointing the finger at others while turning a blind eye to our faults. Despite all the progress that has been made, the UK is still divided along racial lines. We have far to go to break down racial taboos, thoughts and traditions. There are UK communities which have never seen a brown face or tasted an authentic home-made curry or an English roast. So, what now for Baker who tweeted he had one of the worst days of his life? A national newspaper or independent radio station is sure to snap him up. Who says unwitting stupidity doesn’t pay?  

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