Nov 112020

Debates on what is and what is not Racism abound on Facebook, recently involving a former Aberdeen councillor. Craig Gorman shares his thoughts.

Warren Ellis once wrote:

“Journalism is just a gun. It’s only got one bullet in it, but if you aim right, that’s all you need. Aim it right, and you can blow a kneecap off the world.”

Many ‘Journalists’ in our city would do well to take heed of these words.

The reaction, or rather, the lack of reaction, to former councillor Willie Young’s racist tweet, depicting a caricature of a Chinese person, wearing a rice hat, with a fortune cookie containing broken English, would suggest that we do not live in a city blessed with quality journalism. 

Rather, we do live in a city served by stenographers, happy to toe the party line and serve up soft balls to the public, neither questioning nor instigative in its approach or execution.

Gone is the robust, detailed and forensic approach of John Pilger. The anger and outrage which bled onto the work of Hunter S Thompson, has been reduced to bland and flaccid copy. White hot fury has been replaced by beige, dejected acceptance.

The Evening Express was extremely reluctant to cover the matter, when informed of the tweet, they reverted:

“With regard to the fortune cookie picture, I would urge you to report it the Standards Commission to see if they consider it worthy of investigation. If they do, that would be a story that we would cover.”

Surely the position currently and formerly held by Mr Young would render this a matter of the public interest and worthy of coverage? Did no journalist at the Evening Express feel any impulse to pen an article which would eviscerate the tweet, but not the man?

Indeed, our national broadcaster, the BBC lead with the headline:

“Labour suspends former Aberdeen councillor Willie Young over cookie tweet.”   

To be blunt:, the tweet was racist. The failure to capture and draw attention to this is a hallmark of how toothless, ineffectual and utterly insipid the standard of journalism has become in this country.

Perhaps I expect too much of our media.

However, the job of a Journalist should not be to provide a layer of faux impartiality, to offer a comfort blanket to those whose disposition they may offend. Or to unsettle those in power. 

Mr Young immediately went on the offensive

One would think that the newspapers actually represented those individuals and their interests over their readership.

Perish the thought that the public should have a critical and articulate voice.

No, the job of a Journalist should be to impartially appraise a situation, present the facts and then call it as they see it. At no stage should racism, intended or otherwise, be presented with a veneer of impartiality. Racism is a binary topic: It is or it isn’t. It is acceptable or it is not. 

Now, not for one second do I believe, or wish others to form the opinion that Willie Young is a racist. I don’t believe for a second that he is. What I do call into question is the judgment of the man. 

Once the offensive nature of his tweet had been pointed out to him, Mr Young immediately went on the offensive, belittling anyone who criticised him and further doubled down by claiming the:

“world we live in has gone mad if people think my tweet was racist in any way”

This is not an accusation of an ‘ism’ without context nor nuance. Mr Young was continuing his year-long streak of baiting and antagonising, trolling if you will, supporters of Scottish Independence on social media.

However, so petty and gleeful was his latest attack, that his already questionable judgement failed to spot the clearly racist element of his attempt at ‘humour’.

Let’s be very clear: there is nothing ‘funny’ about racism. Casual. Explicit. Accidental. It s a cancer which is growing and gnawing away at the heart of our society.

This behaviour has a cumulative impact upon society.

Our nation and our very sense of decency has been decimated by it. Our tolerance of racism has been exposed to the world writ large, and laid bare in the most vulgar and tawdry manner possible.

Individuals like Mr Young, and those who have attempted to gaslight criticism of the racist tweet, fail to appreciate the notion what by continually defending, or perpetuating the myth that those who object to racism are ‘snowflakes’, ‘the offended brigade’ or someway implying that we should casually hand wave away racist language or actions.

This behaviour has a cumulative impact upon society. It sends the message and gives the green light for others to behave in a similar manner.

This tolerance of racism, actively allows it to take a foothold, to become normalised and overtime accepted. 

As we as a people hold the door open to casual acceptance of bigotry, the further down the mire we slip of allowing racism to be the underpinning factor in our society. 

Indeed, is there anyone with an ounce of honesty going to put their head above the parapets and admit that Brexit was driven by an undercurrent of racial and xenophobic hatred?  

That the ugly and utterly repellent ghost of the United Kingdom’s colonial past still haunts the collective conscience of many in our nation, unwilling or unable to grasp the fact that people from all cultures and backgrounds form part of a modern and progressive culture.

Does anyone think that the impoverished working classes in many areas of England voted for the Tory party in such overwhelming numbers because they felt they had something in common with the odious Reece-Mogg? 

Or are we going to be adults about this and state that the racism and prejudice found in many of these areas was the overriding factor in voting for a party which views the poor and vulnerable as nothing more than the fair and justifiable targets of an ongoing class genocide, rather than an infinity for the very policies which have killed tens of thousands of people?

we send the message to all, that it is once again acceptable to be racist

The vile and hate-filed forces which the likes of Boris Johnston and Nigel Farage have unleashed upon our society cannot be underestimated.

Indeed, a brief look at some of the posts on the AV Facebook page demonstrate that racism and intolerance are being acted upon in our country with impunity. 

No longer are baseless, moronic, outbursts against Muslims or ‘foreigners’ considered something to be ashamed of. 

Rather, the dregs of our society, inspired by the likes of Farage or Yaxley-Lennon, are more than happy to post memes featuring such figures as Enoch Powell, invoking his infamous ‘Rivers of Blood’ speech.

Stealth racism, posited in the form of critiques of organisations such as BLM, frequently find fault with one element of protests against racism, or to provide a defence of the maintenance of monuments to former slave owners.

On no, dear reader, in no way are these people in any way racist. Please, don’t think that. 

“We’re not racist – we’ve got black mates, don’t cha know, guv.” 

With this, we arrive at the crescendo, the end point.

In diminishing the impact, of Mr Young’s tweet, by failing utterly to condemn racial nature of the content, we send the message to all, that it is once again acceptable to be racist – that it is acceptable to single out an element in our society to be thought of as less than worthy of our full respect. 

We have lost the most basic empathy to understand that those who are different to us, whether it be culturally, racially or in their sexuality, are an equal and valued part of our culture and society.  

I long for the days when racism, homophobia, Islamophobia are once again through of as bad things in this country. 

Sadly, as long as we have individuals who are incapable of comprehending that such caricature portrayals of our fellow human beings are an outdated and unwelcome relic of a bygone era, I fear that we have a long way to go to fully eradicate racism from our society.

Photo by Priscilla Du Preez on Unsplash

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  6 Responses to “A Reflection On Racism”

  1. Look, I’m not fan of the Evening Express, but this feels like a bizarre criticism. It seems the author of this piece penned it because he was so appalled the EE refused to cover the story (“Did no journalist at the Evening Express feel any impulse to pen an article which would eviscerate the tweet, but not the man? …. The failure to capture and draw attention to this is a hallmark of how toothless, ineffectual and utterly insipid the standard of journalism has become in this country”).

    Given Craig’s clear passion for accurate, fair and balanced journalism, wouldn’t it be fair to tell your readers that the Evening Express DID in fact cover the story of Willie’s tweet. Repeatedly – on October 21, October 22, October 27 and October 29.

    This article would be totally fair if Craig represented the facts accurately. Instead, this just comes across as they type of woeful local journalism that he rails against.

  2. Come on chaps! You’re all about ethical, fair journalism – how come you won’t publish my response? I’m not saying you shouldn’t publish the article above, but at least add my comment for balance or to inform your readers.
    If you’re not going to, can you at least give me an explanation of why it doesn’t meet the moderator’s standards?

    • Hi Dale, Amazingly, we were on holiday and there is no staff waiting around to approve your posts. They’re approved now, hope that please you. – Suzanne PS – I personally think Craig has a definite point to make about coverage, not least as the EE’s ‘hard-hitting’ columnist Gilfeather sees nothing wrong in Young’s behaviour, calling it a crime against comedy. Glad to have the view of a white male like him on this. I’d ask how any of the EE’s non-white columnists feel about it, but I don’t exactly see very many on the roster. Calling into question the integrity of an AJL paper on issue of racism seems fair; after all, sister paper the P&J decided to lavish praise on KKK-endorsed Trump for years, even giving him a column.

  3. Hi Dale, 

    Many thanks for your considered input on my article.  Iam pleased to see that it has been read, absorbed and considered worthy of comment by yourself.

    To address your point, I would add that I had contacted the EE, expressing my concerns over not only the racist nature of the tweet, but also to highlight that, as per my article, Mr Young had been a perpetual nuisance on social media with posts designed to antagonise, belittle and at times disseminate false information on a spectrum of issues, local and national.

    The fact that a position was held by this man, a then Labour Party member, which has led to the commission of several prominent “questionable” projects Aberdeen, is of relevance, and more to the point, his tweet was yet another example where Mr Young’s judgment could be legitimately questioned. 

    Indeed, had Mr Young apologised sincerely for his tweet, there would have been little to discuss. 

    However, this did not happen and he doubled down on his position, positing that it was those who took exception to the rhetoric in the tweet who were in the wrong. 

    This man has and arguably still has influence in Aberdeen and I sought to seek assurance that the EE, as part of a free and healthy media, would cover the issue, highlighting not only the racial nature of the tweet, but also bringing to a wider light this former councillors appalling, very public, behaviour on social media.  His tweet marking a particularly low point.

    With all this in mind, the EE responded, prior to the penning of my article, essentially stating that they did not feel it was worthy of coverage and directed myself toward the another body should I wish to complain.

    The EE could have reverted to inform me that they were looking into the issue, or that they were aware of the tweet, but no.  They had no real interest. 

    As Suzanne rightly comments, they ran a “puff piece” by Frank Gilfeather which essentially swept the matter under the carpet, thereby excusing Young of any real scrutiny or critisism. 
    Further, as she also highlights, this newspaper has not been above acting as a mouthpiece for a businessman who has been vocal in his support of far right rhetoric and on a global stage, mobilised and “dog whistled” far right militia.

    In light of the EE reluctance to commit to covering the topic, running a meaningless puff pieces by an adult who should know better, failing utterly to condem the racial nature of the tweet and heaping praise on a KKK sympathiser, I wonder, is my critisism of the EE still “bizzare” in your view?

    I would argue that perhaps you have missed the point of my article, where i indicate that by failing utterly to fully and definitively condem racism, we open the door to its acceptance in our society?

    I would have thought that this was a point far more worthy of engagement, rather than criticising the article for questioning the competency of our media in failing to condem racism?

    Or perhaps you felt that Frank Gilfeather was an appropriate conduit for this newspaper to fully report, analyse and articulatley condem a racist tweet by a former City Councillor and then Labour Party member?

    Indeed, having fully explained the basis for the article above, hopefully clearing up any issues you may have had, I would welcome your comments on Young’s tweet, and extend you the opportunity to also critique it?

    Ps – screenshots of the poor response from the EE were sent to AV editorial prior to publication of my article, so the veracity of them has been determined.  In addition, due to the nature of the EE being a daily paper and the AV being weekly/bi weekly, articles submitted prior to any EE responses may appear several days after the article was written. Regardless, the EE shirked their responsibilities. 

  4. Thank you for the response.

    I’ve looked for the article that Frank Gilfeather and I think it’s a bit disingenuous to describe it as a “puff piece” – it’s just him expressing his opinion. I don’t know what he’s “puffing” (racism?) or how its publication was a way for the EE to “sweep it under the carpet” (as I’ve pointed out, they also ran a series of articles about the issue – including criticism it was racist and the subsequent apology from Willie).

    I think we just have a fundamental difference in what we believe newspapers should be allowed to print. I firmly believe Frank and the EE should be allowed to print opinions that are controversial – even if personally don’t believe in that view.

    Since when have newspaper columnists been used to “fully report, analyse and articulate” issues? That’s not their job, and it never has been (I’m speaking about opinion columnists, specifically). I don’t see how you could read Frank’s slightly snarky opinion piece and say he was speaking on behalf of the EE in general or that it was the EE’s attempt to “fully report, analyse and articulate” the issue. That seems to be a deliberate misreading of the article.

    To be clear: I don’t agree with what Frank said and I do think the original tweets could be considered offensive. But if Frank wants to disagree with that, I don’t see a problem with them printing it. And I don’t see their publishing his opinion an endorsement of that opinion. (ie if a columnist praises Nicola Sturgeon and other criticises her, how does either view ‘speak’ for the EE?)

    If the EE had expressed the same sentiment in their leader column, I would 100% agree with you. But they didn’t, and I don’t think their lack of a direct address to readers about Willie’s tweet amounts to them condoning racism. After all, I don’t expect them to write a piece to their readers to stress that the EE is against violence when they do a story about violence.

    To be clear (again): if you got that response from the EE and they did not report anything of the Willie tweets, I’d agree your article was warranted. I just think your criticism is a tad unfair given the thrust of your argument – the EE refused to report this story and therefore they are condoning racism in their silence – is untrue.

    But I appreciate you getting back to me. I think we probably agree about more than we disagree with. And maybe both of us are guilty of focusing our angst on the small things rather than the bigger, more damaging, picture.

    • Suzanne says: thanks for this perspective. It seems for the EE the matter wasn’t important enough to report on seriously – a queen’s civic rep making a racist remark. However, the EE thought it was fine for an opinion piece ignoring the racism, accusing others of losing their sense of humour. Glad to have the old, white male perspective on racism; very helpful. We’ll agree to disagree; if the EE had room for the opinion piece ridiculing those who found the comment racist, it might have found room for some reportage, even if that might have meant cutting down on the latest pretty baby contest or whatever.

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