Racism in comedy is still racism

You’re lucky it’s just Little Britain.

The energy surrounding Black Lives Matter has not yet subsided. The pessimist in me thought that after two weeks of protesting in Britain, the mass populous would continue with their lives, like so many times before. In this case, I’m happy to be wrong. The death of George Floyd caused a ripple effect across the world, and now they call for justice for so many other lives, ended too soon, is screaming louder than ever before.

With any massive change that disrupts and attempts to overturn the norms of society, the reception is varied, and several things happen: some people oppose the change, some people embrace change, some people do the bare minimum and others completely overcorrect.

For example, last week, there was a rumour on social media that Pornhub would only be streaming ‘Ebony Videos’: this is an overcorrection. Those who said nothing when the protests started and then posted a black square on their Instagram on Blackout Tuesday, is pretty much the bare minimum a person can do, short of not caring at all.

So, what’s my point? In between the over and under correcting, the necessary happens. The removal of the Edward Colston statue, by people that I would very much love to have a drink with, a change in language and attitude towards black people and a revaluation of the way black people are perpetuated and represented in the UK media. The latter of which brings me to my point.

Yesterday, the BBC announced that the sketch show ‘Little Britain’ will be removed from BBC iPlayer, Netflix and Brit Box because of its suddenly shocking and highly offensive content, specifically their use of Black Face that may have been “acceptable” at the time, but for now, is not. I’m not going to pretend that I didn’t find Little Britain funny because twelve-year-old me would strongly disagree. It was disgusting, sure, and inappropriate, but it did have its moments. I’m not sure if I wholly agree that it’s removal was necessary because it’s not like it’s still in production, that being said, if something wouldn’t be appropriate to joke about now, it’s a pretty safe bet that it never fucking was.

Photo credit: BBC. Pictured David Walliams (Left) in black face during one the sketches from the show.

Black people are not a new discovery or evolution; we have been present since the dawn of time, and our history in Britain runs deep. Little Britain, the way it was, should never have been made and that is a simple fact, that those defending it online, comparing the censorship of comedy to Hitler’s rule and complaining about their loss of liberty, do not accept. Denying the problematic nature of the show is misguided and sports the kind of dangerous mentality that makes racism such a hard concept to fight.

The use of ‘blackface’ and calling it entertainment is triggering for black people because it’s a disgusting past time that has no place in any civilised society as the way it represents us is not funny, it’s racist.

Stemming from the Jim Crow era, from the Minstrels to Gollywog Dolls, black people had endured this mockery long before ‘Little Britain’ was made but refused to deal with it any longer. It has never been OK to impersonate a black person using blackface and that, like the fight to end racism, should not even be up for debate.

The Minstrels.

Some people have conjured the argument that Little Britain shouldn’t be classed as racist because Shawn and Marlon Wayans made White Chicks. To those people, I say you must be leading under the misapprehension that there is some form of a double standard here? Let me explain to you why this is a ridiculous comparison to be throwing around. Say an alien landed our planet and turned on the TV, what would they see? White people can be doctors, judges, comedians, news broadcasters, chav’s, detectives, game show hosts etc. If they saw a black person on TV, for the most part, they would see the gang member, the entertainer, the nurse and the occasional advert model. This is slowly changing, but since representation on British TV has been so lacking in many areas, why does anyone think it’s a good idea that the one time you want to portray a black character that it’s OK to use a white person in blackface? London Hughes made this point in an article she wrote about the return of ‘Top Boy’ in 2019.

White Chicks.

People have chimed in with, “but they took the piss out of gay people as well”, does that make it OK? Catherine Tate was able to run a successful sketch show without painting herself black once. There is no excuse.

Racism is steeped in power. Those without the power can’t be racist to the extent that those with the power can. If I was a black person was to call a white person a “cracker or honky”, it might be hurtful for sure, but mostly it means nothing to them because it will have no impact over their life. If a white person turns around and calls me the N-word, it is steeped in an awful history that continues to be the cause of my oppression in society today. It comes from an authentic place of systemic racism that impacts every aspect of my life for as long as black people are regarded as second class citizens that are prevented from succeeding because of their skin colour.

A common theme has been emerging about how comedy should be a free space, free from censorship and scrutiny. To that, I ask, how many more loopholes will you find to allow racism to continue? Why is ending racism on every level even up for debate? Comedians are not exempt from being racist. I find it amusing that British comedy is dominated by mostly cisgender white men who are the last people on earth who need any further allowances made for them. Offensive comedy can be funny, but if you can’t find anything else to mimic about a person other than the colour of their skin, then there is a disconnect where you have the advantage. This steers it away from comedy and turns it into an issue that needs addressing.

One twitter user quoted George Orwell’s 1984 that essentially says when you falsify history by the removal of statues, by rewriting books that, that history stops. Removing Little Britain from streaming services is not falsifying your history. Tearing down the Edward Colston statue is not falsifying your history either; it is that for once, it is not your history that people are interested in hearing.

And, let’s face it, no offence to Matt Lucas or David Walliams, but Little Britain is not the kind of thing they need to be remembered for. Walliams dominates the children’s book market. Lucas never stopped acting and has done great voiceover work – plus since his impersonation of Bo-Jo, I’m pretty sure he made everyone’s lockdown experience that little bit better. Let’s not pretend they are the reason you care about this dated show no longer be available to stream. The real issue is you don’t want to accept the fact that racism runs deeper than racial abuse and positive discrimination; racism in Britain is everywhere, affects every industry, the British media and the statues you picnic under in the park.

Things are going to get uncomfortable for a lot of people; this is the time to adapt, educate yourself and learn that the grievances (and that’s putting it lightly) that black people have are not going to be fixed overnight. You’re either an ally, or you’re not, but either way, we will not stop fighting for real change.

You lost Little Britain, we lost our human rights, and only one of those is worth fighting for.

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