On Naga Munchetty and the difficulty in calling racist people racist

BBC presenter Naga Munchetty
Support us and go ad-free

The BBC has come under fire for reprimanding presenter Naga Munchetty because she described remarks made by Donald Trump as racist. The broadcaster has said that Munchetty’s stance on Trump breached their guidelines on impartiality.

Many prominent journalists have signed an open letter condemning the BBC‘s decision. In the wake of this controversy, the BBC‘s approach to reporting on racism has come into question. BBC executives have since issued a response to say that they are “not impartial on racism”. Still, this controversy tells us a lot about how we understand and approach racism in general in the UK today.

White fragility

There has already been much discussion around impartiality at the BBC, and the irony of censoring a Woman of Colour for her views on racism. What’s noteworthy, however, is the broader context in which this debate has taken place. I want to refer to what Munchetty actually said that the BBC found worthy of reprimand:

every time I have been told as a Woman of Colour to go home, to go back to where I came from, that was embedded in racism. Now I’m not accusing anyone of anything here, but you know what certain phrases mean.

During the discussion in question, Munchetty did in fact, more than once, say she didn’t want to share her opinion on Trump himself. So why the reprimand?

Yes, at times, the BBC does seem to have clear double standards when it comes to implementing impartiality, but it goes beyond that. One of the key issues here is the general discomfort, particularly for powerful white people, evoked by the term ‘racist’. This discomfort, which can also be described as white fragility, is owed in large part to the fact that people today, in what we would like to describe as a ‘post-racial’ society, find the accusation of racism more unacceptable than racism itself.

We can repeatedly witness someone saying racist things, but the second we ascribe racism to the individual who said them, the discussion is derailed. It then stops being about racism altogether. It is no longer about the fundamental injustice of racism or how it impacts the people it affects. Instead, the discussion becomes centred around the feelings of those who insist that they are not racist.

Read on...

Support us and go ad-free
Who can we call racist?

In popular discourse today, we have developed a distinction between someone ‘doing something racist’ and describing them as ‘a racist’. This distinction isn’t limited to the media but can be witnessed in many spheres including politics, academia, schools, workplaces, etc. We see it online as well as in real life. And it explains, in part, why we are where we are today with the BBC‘s stance on Munchetty.

It explains how people like Donald Trump, Boris Johnson, or even the liberal Justin Trudeau, can repeatedly ‘do racism’ without ‘being racist’ themselves. The distinction is, of course, both absurd and pointless. It’s resulted in the label ‘a racist’ now having an impossibly high burden of proof. It’s almost as though calling someone ‘a racist’ is only justified when they flash swastikas or wear white pointy hats.

We need to realise that racism isn’t an abstract concept, but a reality that people are responsible for creating. Whether it’s one-off microaggressions, discrimination, or sustained hatred, it’s all done by people who are racist to varying degrees. But the stigma attached to the label ‘racist’ seems to have superseded all concern for racism itself, and for the pervasive, traumatising effects of racism on those who experience it. So we can talk about racism, but only as long as we don’t say someone is actually being racist. And this has become a way to shift the focus away from victims of racism and towards the feelings of its perpetrators.

Why diversity and inclusion matters

Perhaps what’s most worrying about the entire situation is the realisation that our national broadcaster has such a poor understanding of racism and how it functions. The reprimand against Munchetty must be seen within the context of the BBC consistently giving a platform to far-right views. I wonder if the BBC realises that by being so weak on challenging racism, it could be enabling racist and fascist ideas. What’s more, it has decided to discourage staff from protesting against the ruling on Munchetty.

In response to the backlash, the BBC has said: “diversity matters hugely”. However, when we talk about diversity in the media, we must acknowledge that it’s about more than representation. It’s about actually allowing marginalised groups to have a voice, and taking their concerns seriously. The BBC, along with other mainstream media in the UK, has protected the establishment for far too long. In doing so, while also airing far-right views without sufficiently challenging them, it continues to disregard the risk its reporting creates in the lives of marginalised people.

Featured image via YouTube/ news672

Support us and go ad-free

We need your help to keep speaking the truth

Every story that you have come to us with; each injustice you have asked us to investigate; every campaign we have fought; each of your unheard voices we amplified; we do this for you. We are making a difference on your behalf.

Our fight is your fight. You’ve supported our collective struggle every time you gave us a like; and every time you shared our work across social media. Now we need you to support us with a monthly donation.

We have published nearly 2,000 articles and over 50 films in 2021. And we want to do this and more in 2022 but we don’t have enough money to go on at this pace. So, if you value our work and want us to continue then please join us and be part of The Canary family.

In return, you get:

* Advert free reading experience
* Quarterly group video call with the Editor-in-Chief
* Behind the scenes monthly e-newsletter
* 20% discount in our shop

Almost all of our spending goes to the people who make The Canary’s content. So your contribution directly supports our writers and enables us to continue to do what we do: speaking truth, powered by you. We have weathered many attempts to shut us down and silence our vital opposition to an increasingly fascist government and right-wing mainstream media.

With your help we can continue:

* Holding political and state power to account
* Advocating for the people the system marginalises
* Being a media outlet that upholds the highest standards
* Campaigning on the issues others won’t
* Putting your lives central to everything we do

We are a drop of truth in an ocean of deceit. But we can’t do this without your support. So please, can you help us continue the fight?

The Canary Support us
  • Show Comments
    1. On Naga Munchetty and the difficulty in calling racist people racist
      ///
      Please! – Please!
      Can anybody fully explain to me WHAT punishment B.B.C. Bosses? gave Ms Naga?
      My points below. was she given any of the following?
      P-1 -Was she Sacked or going to be yes or no?
      P-2 -Did she have her pay stopped in any way yes or no?
      P-3 -As she been removed from the news team live permanently yes or no?
      P-4 -Will she lose any of her pension cash money yes or no?
      ///
      On reading this article it seems or could be or maybe the B.B.C. may have been trying to get shut of Ms Naga now they may or could do or possibly use this mess to do so.
      //
      Latter problem that may or could unfold now.
      Could this mess lead to programs being blocked-out?
      Or some live programs not being shown by a possible,
      strike action by over staff members B.B.C?
      FINALLY!
      I as a B.B.C. license payer would like to know the truth on the latter,
      problem in this post, that may unfold B.B..C Broad member + Managers,
      will programs be affected In time? Yes or no?

      1. B.B.C. where has our Freedom of speech gone in U.K. in your firm, as if this was a Govt member nothing would have been done to stop them talking about Trump or U.S. mess.
        This is’ why I think they is more or could be or maybe to this problem than the public are being told by B.B.C. Bosses plus Broad members
        We wish the full truth now B.B.C on this mess thankyou

    Leave a Reply

    Join the conversation

    Please read our comment moderation policy here.