He has done it again. Top Gear’s leading man, Jeremy Clarkson has somehow managed to out do all of his previous giant-foot-in-even-bigger-mouth offensive misdemeanors by using the word which is the proverbial symbol of racism – the “n” word – sparking a ridiculous debate over whether or not he is in fact a racist. Just to be clear, if any other person in any other circumstances uttered this disgusting atrocity in their workplace, not to mention if it somehow found its way onto video footage viewed by millions of people in the public, they would have lost their job. No questions asked. Not only that, they would have been dismissed in absolute disgrace – regardless of whatever snivelling apologies they might have had the audacity to trot out in the aftermath. Yet, for reasons that are unfortunately all too clear, the BBC has announced that Clarkson is not to face any real professional consequences or disciplinary action as a consequence of the racism row he has created, leading many to claim he has been let off far too lightly. Instead he is on his “last warning” or something similarly vague and empty. It seems superfluous to have to point out that the only reason he has managed to worm his way out of this offence is because of his prominent public profile within the media. What is more disheartening though is that there is even a debate over whether the action, or distinct lack thereof, taken by the BBC is appropriate and whether he should be fired.
The video in question was a taken from the Top Gear program Clarkson co-presents where he is trying to decide between two cars and sings the well known rhyme, “eeny, meeny, miny, mo…etc.” In the traditional version of this rhyme the word “n” word is used. However, in recent years it has been changed to various other words, all of them perfectly harmless, politically correct, inoffensive and suitable for children. So given that Clarkson must have known about these many, many alternatives, why did he feel the need to mumble, or try to cover up what he was saying? Why did he feel the need to use the traditional words where any number of others would have done? The very fact he mumbled makes it seem likely that he did mean to use a term he knew would be offensive and racist. The fact he asked the show not to use the take because he could hear that it certainly sounds like he used the word, also seems to indicate that he did in fact say it. Which then begs the question why he insisted for a period of time that he was completely innocent of the offence? The bottom line though, is that people should not be using such defamatory language in public or private – the fact Clarkson chose not to air the video is irrelevant. Anyone with an ounce of common sense would have known that the slightest hint of racism or racist behavior would be met with public outrage so he did what anyone else who did not want to risk their very successful career would do. Does that mean he should be applauded? No. Does that excuse what he said? No. It becomes increasingly frustrating when analyzing the facts surrounding this case to have sympathy with Clarkson’s position and to endorse the BBC’s decision not to at least do something more than wrap him lamely on the knuckles with a few meaningless threats.
Perhaps the most galling part of this however, is the fact that the “apology” that many are claiming excuses Clarkson’s actions, is actually nothing of the sort. Throughout the video he posted there is not one instance of the word “sorry” – the word most people tend to view as a prerequisite for a true apology. . .This is also not helped by Clarkson’s initial denials and then sudden change of mind. Most confusing however, is his constant assertions that he tried his best not to say the word but that his efforts were just not good enough. Yet saying or not saying a word is not that difficult. Deciding whether or not to use a clearly racist term is not that hard – particularly when you have three opportunities to avoid doing so. Clarkson is known for espousing controversial and offensive comments, having been in the limelight far too often for upsetting various groups or individuals including (but not limited to) the gay community, the public sector, Gordon Brown, environmental groups, lorry drivers, people with mental health issues – the list goes on…. However, this is also not the first time he has made disparaging comments relating to race and not the first time he has been let off lightly in connection with any row they have sparked. Recently the BBC were embarrassed and put under pressure to apprehend the presenter when he made a derogatory remark about a Thai man in one of their shows. He has also been the subject of many complaints regarding his commentary on India and Indian culture. There is also the small matter of Clarkson naming his small black dog, “Didier Drogba” after the well-known black professional footballer.
This is certainly not the first time the car enthusiast has been in the spotlight amid allegations of racism and it now seems it will not be the last. The BBC’s inability to address his blatant disregard for their own broadcasting guidelines reflects almost as badly on them as it does on the arrogant man himself. Their editorial instructions state that while certain people within the black community have “reclaimed” various terms, use of the same words could still be deemed offensive to members of the general public and therefore should be avoided. Yet it seems the BBC value the money Clarkson makes more than the integrity of the content they choose to broadcast. Despite calls from a wide variety of media outlets, public figures such as Jamelia, Harriet Harman and Jim Sheridan and the revulsion of the general public, the BBC is still refusing to deliver any real or tangible punishment to the Top Gear showman. Clarkson has been treated leniently in the past and has once again been let off lightly by the BBC in in another row over racism in his programs. Unfortunately, this is just one more example of people in the public eye being held to a different set of standards than the rest of the population. If the BBC are serious about maintaining their integrity then they should listen to the video, listen to the people calling for Clarkson’s removal, and listen to their own moral conscience and sack the man who has made a living out of inflammatory language and constant insults.
Commentary by Rhona Scullion