Ahmed Sule : The prevalence of racism
Very often, racially inflammatory comments are made in the British press against the Black community. Despite the outrage that often occurs after these comments are made, these racially offensive comments still persist. The prevalence of these attacks in the British media are starkly illustrated in two famous race rows; David Starkey's comment on 'the Whites are becoming Blacks' and Shilpa Shetty's race row in Celebrity Big Brother.
The fallout from these cases gives an insight in understanding the role politicians, the media, the community and economic factors play in either reinforcing or preventing the prevalence of these racially offensive comments.
Having analysed the possible reasons for these racist comments, I have outlined some of the causes, as well as highlighting some successful challenges.
The COMMUNITY: Apathy of the Black community towards race issues?
It could be said that members of the Black British community are indifferent when it comes to racial issues, especially when the Black community is portrayed in a negative light. After David Starkey made his comments on television, the BBC received nearly 900 complaints from viewers, while Ofcom received just over 100 complaints. However, during the Shilpa Shetty case, Ofcom received around 45,000 complaints, which illustrates that when the BME community becomes more vocal on racial injustice, then the media will begin to become more sensitive to BME dignity.
POLITICS: The role of the Black political class
Despite the prevalence of a number of Black politicians in the UK, they are sometimes silent on the issue of race. When David Starkey made his remark, there was hardly any response from the Black political class. In contrast, during the Shilpa Shetty race row, Labour MP, Keith Vaz played a key role in escalating the issue to the highest level. He tabled a motion in the House of Commons calling for immediate action on the race issue. He also asked Channel 4's CEO to apologise to Shetty and also called for his resignation. Vaz openly challenged Tony Blair in Parliament, about the role which broadcasters should take, not to transmit such racist material.
Lack of political will by British politicians
Like their Black counterparts, most of the British political class in general is often reluctant to speak up on race issues. During the David Starkey race row, only Ed Milliband, the Labour leader condemned Starkey's comment. Despite Milliband's call on all politicians from all political parties to condemn what he called racist comments, his call went unheeded. With the exception of Femi Solola, an independent London Mayoral candidate, none of the British politicians have responded to Baroness Flather's racists comment about Nigerian men and the silence continues in relation to the ongoing killing of Black people in Libya.
The reason for the stern response from the political class in the Shilpa Shetty case was due to economic reasons. India is one of the emerging global economic powers and is a major UK trading partner and export destination for British exports.
ECONOMICS: Black spending power
Spending power is very important to companies who are always seeking means to tap into the spending power of potential consumers. Advertisers will pay close attention when the activities of the media negatively impact its core or potential customers.
None of the advertisers put any pressure on the media houses to address the inflammatory racial comments melted on the Black community by David Starkey. On the contrary, during the Shilpa Shetty race row, Carphone Warehouse withdrew its yearly £3million sponsorship of the series and there were threats from other advertisers to pull out.
Tackling the projection of racist comments in the media will go a long way in reducing racism. This is because, if a high profile individual can go on TV or any other form of media and make racially offensive comments, without suffering the consequences of such statements, then this could motivate conscious and especially unconscious racists to become more vocal in expressing their racist views. After all, for every racially inflammatory comment made in the open in the British media, there are likely to be hundreds and if possible thousands of other unnoticed comments in classrooms, offices, bars and stadiums.
If the prevalent racist and inflammatory comments against the BME communities in the British media is to be a thing of the past, the BME community has to take the first step.
Ahmed Olayinka Sule, CFA is a financial analyst, photojournalist and social critic. The views stated in this article are personal to the writer and does not represent the views or opinions of any company or organisation with which the author is or was associated.