Danny Baker’s final apology, and what the reaction to it tells us about racism

Centrist apologists for Danny Baker
Kerry-anne Mendoza

This week, the BBC fired Danny Baker for his racist tweet about the latest royal baby. Almost immediately, the Centrist light entertainment luvvies swamped Twitter with apologia. He’s such a great guy! He’s been the victim of a politically correct Twitter hit mob! He was taken out of context! The excuses were endless. But due to the resistance of black Twitter and allies, Baker was forced to reflect further and make a fullsome apology. The whole debacle and its aftermath can teach us a lot about how racism works. If we’re prepared to listen.

The Danny Baker moment

Racist tweet depicting royal baby as a monkey

Portraying a mixed race child as a chimpanzee is racist. It’s an age-old trope that any person who’s stood in a football ground, playground, pub or changing room knows about. It played like a broken record through my childhood. You’ll find it near-impossible to find a person of colour who evaded it. But abuse is only part of the racism game. Then comes the gaslighting. And for me, this is the truly stomach-churning part.

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Let the gaslighting commence

As a person of colour encountering this kind of abuse, you face a crossroads. Swallow the bitter pill and act like nothing happened, or confront it. Either way, in a group of non-allied white people, the racist wins. If you say nothing, you both know there will be more of it to come. Confront it, and you face the wrath of the group.

There’s no way to ‘prove’ racist intent. And so those who find the abuser likeable give them the benefit of the doubt. They haven’t lived through this scenario a hundred times over in their lives, and so they (knowingly or otherwise) perpetuate the abuse by further alienating the target. It’s gross.

I once worked for a machine tools company in Brighton. It was a short term job before university, no big deal. During two separate conversations, in a single day, senior colleagues used the N word in a derogatory way without challenge from anyone.

I left work in tears. I felt desperate and alone. It wounded me to be so suddenly and forcibly reminded that I was ‘other’. I took a sick day or two to recuperate and consider what to do. And when I returned to work, I set up a meeting to discuss the issue. My bosses paused me halfway through and said:

Let me just check your understanding. You didn’t set up this meeting. We did. This is about your performance. We are letting you go.

Even though I knew full well I had arranged the meeting, I sat there in stunned silence and self-doubt. I liked these people. We’d had a great couple of months before this. We’d socialised outside of work at their invitation. They couldn’t possibly be doing this on purpose, could they? Yes. They could. And they did.

Not a single person in the office spoke to me (not a word or acknowledgement of my presence) outside of further meetings on the issue until I left. This took a month. Imagine that for a moment. A ghost in your own workplace, for a month. I was 18 years old. They were grown ups.

I made them pay. But it hurt.

Back to Danny

This is exactly where Danny Baker went next. He gave a half-hearted, bogus apology, tweeting:

Sorry my gag pic of the little fella in the posh outfit has whipped some up. Never occurred to me because, well, mind not diseased.

Soon as those good enough to point out its possible connotations got in touch, down it came. And that’s it.

First, it didn’t ‘whip some up’. This is dismissing those he abused as over-emotional. He’s not taking responsibility at all. Next, he claims he’s so not racist, he was accidentally racist. If the idea never occurred to him (and I seriously doubt that) it’s not because he’s pure of heart. It’s because of his privilege. Failing to take responsibility for that renders the ‘apology’ null and void.

But given the guy is a comedian and a Millwall fan, I’ll call bullshit on the whole thing. He knew, and he did it anyway. As ITV news anchor Charlene White put it:

ITV News anchor Charlene White on Danny Baker

Baker’s next move was to paint himself as a martyr to the permanently outraged. Humourless offense-seekers were hounding him, and that’s the real problem here! Comedian Gina Yashere gave a one tweet masterclass in the appropriate response to that gaslighting:

Poet and journalist Musa Okwonga gave an equally powerful, if less-sweary, response:

Let the whitesplaining commence

Unfortunately, Baker was able to rely on his friends to attempt to whitesplain this all away:

LBC broadcaster James O’Brien gave an ultra-sympathetic interview to Baker. The same O’Brien busy hurling accusations of antisemitism at lifelong anti-racist Jeremy Corbyn and anyone around him? Yes, same guy:

I don’t think that that [racial subtext] was even close to Danny Baker’s brain when he sent that tweet because he does loads of stuff about monkeys and apes dressed as human beings.

The massive racist history of conflation of gorillas and apes with people of colour is disgusting and I’m afraid it’s… a matter of historical record.

But I don’t think that Danny Baker did that.

Stand down people of colour! Our white, liberal saviour has given Danny Baker the Whitesplaining ‘Just Joking’ Trust Mark! Everything’s fine!

But the prize really goes to food critic (seriously, could he be less qualified to opine on this issue?) William Sitwell. He told Newsnight viewers that Baker was never going to survive the tweet. Not because of his crappy behaviour, but because:

The vultures and crows of social media fetishise the gorging on the entrails, on the corpse, of people like him and his career

We’ve heard it all before

In 2016, local Conservative official Alan Pearmain shared a tweet of a fat ape wearing lip stick, captioned “Get the Diane Abbott look”.

Pearmain refused to apologise, stating that:

Sometimes you have to stand up for your principles.

What principle is upheld by depicting a black MP as a fat ape? White privilege. The freedom to do whatever racist bullshit comes to mind without fear of consequence. As beat poet Carey Wood once put it to me:

These white guys confuse their privilege with our basic rights. When they have their privilege challenged, they react like it’s an attack on their rights. That’s how privileged they are. They don’t even understand the difference.

And did those ever-courageous centrist feminists of Twitter come to Abbot’s defense? No. Instead, many of them have courted popularity by indulging in the bullying of Abbott. As Victoria Princewell wrote in Gal Dem:

This is part of a broader cultural trend, exemplified by Jess Phillips who, according to Diane, falsely claimed she had told Diane Abbott to “fuck off”, and then went to an international newspaper to brag about doing so. Jess added that “people said to me they had always wanted to say that to her, and I don’t know why they don’t as the opportunity presents itself every other minute”. …

The only reason one could see no contradiction in bullying a woman with one hand and denouncing the bullying of women with the other is if some women are deemed less woman than others.

The final apology

Given time and pressure, Baker made a fuller apology.

He continued:

I would like once and for all to apologise to every single person who, quite naturally, took the awful connection at face value. I understand that and all of the clamour and opprobrium I have faced since. I am not feeling sorry for myself. I fucked up. Badly.

But while Baker (finally) accepted he’d earned the “opprobrium”, the reaction from (mostly) white supporters was a fairly violent: WE TOLD YOU SO!

And that’s why the gaslighting phase of these incidents is more dangerous than the act itself. Those who are tone deaf to the impact on those living with racism daily will continue the martyr myth. What they should be doing is accepting their share of the responsibility and learning from it.

How to be an ally

The first element is to pay attention to the experiences of those targeted by this abuse. Empathy is the key, really imagine being them. The next is to go to battle unconditionally in these moments. One of the most powerful acts you can make is to call out the gaslighting/whitesplaining. The abuser will seek to make the reaction of the abused the problem. This is the ultimate game of the abuser. Not only to conduct the abuse, but to become the perceived victim. They have then gained both the power, and the moral high ground. By calling bullshit on them, you kill the abuse cycle. You also draw fire from the target of abuse.

Comedian Bethany Black showed what a decent ally looks like (regardless of their political persuasion):

Twitter thread by Bethany Black on racism

Labour’s shadow education secretary Angela Rayner also exhibited the behaviour of an ally:

What makes both of these people strong allies is that they also exhibit the final element. Reliability. They do this reliably, whenever racism happens in their eye line. It’s not a gesture or virtue-signalling, or based on the consensus agreement of others. They do this because it’s who they’ve become, by learning about their privilege and consistently checking it. That’s what being an ally looks like.

Featured image via LBC/ Wikimedia Commons/ Wikimedia Commons

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      1. You obviously don’t read very much. Stephen Pollard smeared Corbyn with anti semitism for criticising the banks’s role in the financial crash. He suggested that ‘banker’ meant ‘Jew’. If he’s right, then you cannot criticise banks ever again, unless you’re prepared to be called out as an anti semite. You can view the clip, and Pollard’s response to it, here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=X9US9v0ndus

        Now that is an abuse of the charge of racism, and truly absurd; a lot more absurd than finding fault with the depiction of the first mixed race royal as a chimpanzee.

      2. Best article I’ve read on Canary to date. Clearly succinctly and trenchantly elucidates how some people’s privilege blinds them to abuse inflicted by racism, even if subsequently ‘excused’ as ‘unintentional’ or ‘accidental’. I learned a lot. No absurdity. Just sense.

      1. You might like to ask him just what he did mean because anyone having their new born baby depicted as a chimp would be highly offended whatever their race. Whatever his intention the result was highly offensive and if he had half a brain cell he would know that.

      2. Obviously this article went straight over your head. Whether he’s a racist or not, he used his public platform to post one of the most infamous racist tropes ever devised. Not being aware of it as such is firstly unbelievable, and secondly, no excuse for someone in his position: “Not realising something is racist is part of why racism is a system not something you actively do; people on the receiving end never get to forget what is and isn’t racist”. You need to read that again and try to understand what it means. Like so many apologists for racism, your post is all about Danny Baker, who, in your eyes, presumably, is the victim, because “at the end of the day” you don’t think he’s a racist. Millions of people will have thought that portraying the first mixed race UK royal as a chimp was intended as a racial slur, and many will have approved, but your post doesn’t spare a though for the real victims of this abuse: those on the receiving end, intentional or not – and I suggest that, as the tweeter commented, you have to be deaf dumb and blind to get away with it being unintentional.

    1. How can you read this article where Kerry-anne very clearly explains the impact of these sorts of comments and then continue with the gaslighting in the comments section?
      Did you learn nothing from this?

    2. What about insults to chimps with our relentless anthropomorphism of animals? What about the chimp being compared to stupid homo sapiens? Chimpophobia, Chimpism or what?

    3. Where has the racism come from and what is it’s purpose. Racism is a psychological weapon deployed by an oppressor; which is not actually “Danny Baker” in this situation. The concept of Danny Baker oppressing a baby born into the British Royal Family is patently absurd. His alleged insensitivity is part of the weaponisation of the concept of race. If he truly didn’t think that the image would cause offence due to racist overtones, it is down to his white privilege, a form of privilege extended to the essentially unprivileged via the dissemination of prejudice. As a straight white man, even as woke as I consider myself, I rarely think about my white privilege, or my male privilege, or my straight privilege – as to do so actually involves realising the amount of painful injustice that is commonplace in a relatively civilised country that I somehow am just about able to believe is populated by people who are ‘mostly decent’. To speak from this position of unearned privilege, while still feeling not particularly like a person of privilege, is uncomfortable. I freely confess that I affectionately call my own kids “little monkey’s”, but I am aware that it is inappropriate to use that phrase if they have a black friend over, and realising that is realising my privilege. Even posting a response to this article attempting to articulate what I want to say gives me tremendous fear that I am ‘whitesplaining’. The intent behind what Baker posted may genuinely not have been racist, and all the white people who find it uncomfortable to acknowledge their privilege are arguing from that position, but the content was racist – which is to say it was offensive in that manner to an audience who have been persecuted using a particular weaponised prejudice. The royal baby has no membership of this audience group, whether the mother may have in the past or no, the baby is a member of the genuinely privileged. The racism that has encouraged people to think the baby is in someway like them because her skin has a higher melanin content, or her heritage traces less distantly to Africa is still a part of an attempt to manipulate people via identity politics. The baby is as much of an alien lizard person as any other member of the Royal Family. None of this excuses Baker’s tweet from the racism, but FUCK THOSE LIZARD PEOPLE NO MATTER WHAT THEIR BABIES LOOK LIKE.

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