Iain Lee, Tabloid Media, and What Racism Means

If you follow me on social media or on this blog,  you’ll know I’m a fan of talk radio. I found a new talk show network forming in the UK called TalkRadio, so I gave their shows a listen. One of the shows in particular caught my ear. Iain Lee hosts a show on the network that I’ve come to really enjoy listening to. I even sent him an email telling him (and have told his producer in tweets) on how much I like the show. Lee seems  to be a very honest host that really puts his heart and vulnerability into his show/art.

The last few days Lee has been under attack by British media for supposedly being racist. Lee was on a game show (for charity) and this happened:

Lee defended himself quite well on Monday’s show (May 2, 2016), saying that he thought the girls where in a corner-shop and it was nothing more than that.

On Tuesday night’s show, a caller phoned in to engage with Lee concerning what is referred to as casual racism. I found his treatment of this caller to be rude, and dismissive. He wouldn’t let the caller get his point across, and even used the dictionary argument.  Going on a radio show as a caller always puts the the caller at a disadvantage. The radio presenter always has control over the call and the conversation, and I felt Lee was harsh and refused to listen to what the caller was saying.

Casual racism isn’t always something the person engaging in it even knows they’re doing. Everyone has implicit biases, and sometimes those biases cause us to engage in behavior that we’re not even aware of. He posted after the show on Twitter that the earlier caller had made the observation that black people can’t be racist:

Actual tweets at Storify

FireShot Capture 46 - Editing 'Iain Lee Show _ - https___editor.storify.com_57294eca936b6de4593cf642

The natural response when being called out on pretty much anything in life is a reflexive denial. White people (cisgender heterosexual males) especially don’t like being called racist. Even overt racists don’t think or say they’re racist. But I wasn’t even SAYING Lee is a racist. I was critical of his treatment of someone that was trying to explain casual racism to him.  By criticizing him for his rude treatment of a caller, supporters of Lee have accused me of cyber-bullying.

FireShot Capture 47 - Editing 'Iain Lee Show _ - https___editor.storify.com_57294eca936b6de4593cf642

Even though as soon as Lee asked me to stop tweeting him, I did, I’m a bully. I do understand how difficult it is for white people to hear something they said or did might be racist. I learned this the hard way. I wrote a blog post  in which I typed out the “N” word fully. Soon after I was taken to task by people of colour. I had to listen, because as a white person myself, I’m not the arbiter of what is, or is not,  racist.

For many white people being called racist is something akin to being called a child abuser or a rapist in terms of the public shame. Casual racism isn’t using the N word or lynching someone, it’s a hell of a lot more subtle than that. My issue wasn’t with Lee’s game show performance, but his dismissal and rude treatment of someone that called him on his privilege or the possibility that he MIGHT have been casually racist. As a friend of mine said of Lee’s reaction, it’s as if someone stepped on your foot and the following conversation ensued:

Me: “Excuse me, I believe you just stepped on my foot.”
Them: “ARE YOU CALLING ME A CLUMSY MONSTER??”
Them: “ARE YOU SAYING NOBODY EVER STEPPED ON MY FOOT??”
Them: “IT’S CROWDED GET OVER IT!”
Me: “But you’re still standing on my foot.”

Regardless, I wish nothing but the best for Lee. Lee stated that he has blocked me because he’s struggling with depression. I hope he feels better soon.

 

 

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