Danny Baker’s tweet depicting the baby son of the Duke and Duchess of Sussex as a chimpanzee brought on a tsunami of Twitter outrage, and crushing pressure on the BBC to dismiss him immediately. Announcing just that on Thursday, a BBC spokesperson said “this was a serious error of judgement. It goes against the values we as a station aim to embody.” Baker may now be fired but the outpouring of outrage continues – here’s why.
Baker insists he isn’t racist, and didn’t realise the connotations of his tweet. He tweeted his “sincere apologies for the stupid unthinking gag pic earlier. Was supposed to be joke about Royals vs circus animals in posh clothes but interpreted as about monkeys & race, so rightly deleted” yet actually seemed surprised by the outrage at his “unconscious ridiculous tweet”. He didn’t mean it, he said, but we’ve heard this all before.
For centuries, derogatory and racist language has compared black people to monkeys, apes, chimpanzees. Dehumanising racism has long been the lived experience of mixed race and black communities. Of course, it goes back as far as the slave trade era, but continues to exist today under the politically correct term ‘unconscious bias’. But there is no such thing as unconscious bias, period. The correct term should always be racism and discrimination.
Is it surprising that a 61-year-old white man, and any sympathetic white person to his plight, thinks the outrage against him is political correctness gone mad? No, it’s not. White privilege has long whitewashed racist and inflammatory language as just ‘unconscious bias’; perpetuated the bigotry of intolerant white people as ignorance; camouflages racist behaviour like Baker’s as just ‘error of judgment’.
White privilege benefits every white person, regardless of their background or class, allowing them inherent advantages in society simply because of the colour of their skin. In the context of racism and discrimination, it is a vicious cycle that permits white people to get away with language and actions that are atrociously inflammatory and derogatory, and consequently cause irreparable damage of mistrust and inequality in our multicultural, multiracial society. In the wrong hands, white privilege incites racial hatred; leads to unchecked brutality, unfair treatment and discrimination against ethnic minorities; and visibly rewards racist behaviour of white people, whose advancement is not impeded in the least.
Is Danny Baker’s apology enough? The first thought that pops into my mind is: ‘what apology’? Is it the apology that says only those with “diseased minds” would see it as racist, or refers to BBC’s decision to fire him as “a masterclass of pompous faux-gravity”? Baker is not sorry or apologetic in his manner – he is a privileged white man who claims his lack of intent to cause racist offence should absolve him from what is objectively racist. Those who sympathise with Danny Baker, who say he lacked the motive to incite racial hatred, and sympathise with him because in their opinion he is a good broadcaster – are they suggesting that because he is a good broadcaster, he is incapable of being racist? This standard of accountability is another product of white privilege, and one never extended to black people. We are perceived and judged by negative stereotypes, our actions and language continually scrutinised and more often than not seen to fall short of white people’s standards.
Has Danny Baker got away with it? For some, like myself, his firing is the appropriate cause of action. Any institution, particularly publicly funded ones like the BBC, have a cultural responsibility to drive positive and progressive change. The reality is however that Baker is unlikely to stay fired long. There are too many (white and privileged) people with the power to bring him back from exile. So yes, I think he will get away with it in the long-term. Look at how the BBC failed to address the racist tweet of Sir Alan Sugar about Senegal’s World Cup football team in 2018. Maybe Baker was fired simply because his tweet was about the royal baby.
Nevertheless, I refuse to be discouraged – in one sense I am heartened to see the outrage produced a clear signal of a progressive society which demands action and justice in the face of wrongdoing. The unity in those voices drowned out Baker and his sympathisers. We need to carry this unity and weight into our workforce, into our politics and our social norms, so that language and actions like Baker’s can truly be a thing of the past.
Dr Shola Mos-Shogbamimu is a lawyer, women’s rights activist and founder of Women in Leadership