Is mocking the horrific deaths and tragedy of non white nations British tolerance?

Mexicans are “lazy” according to the presenters of Top Gear, 64 percent of Guardian news readers in a poll said that the term “sooty” is not racist but affectionate and Stephen Fry and his guests caused great upset in Japan when they thought it was acceptable to make light of the atomic bombs dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki; so why do British people believe that this warped sense of racial tolerance is actually tolerant?

Listen to David Cameron’s statement about multiculturalism and you would think that Britain and British people are one of the most tolerant countries and people in the world, but ask the average black or ethnic minority person in Britain and you will get a different picture of British society. One that is far from tolerant and embracing of different cultures.

British society has such a warped sense and understanding of tolerance that they believe racist stereotypes and language is actually acceptable.

Take Richard Hammond, one of the presenters of Top Gear who felt it was alright to make the following statement, “Mexican cars are just going to be a lazy, feckless, flatulent, oaf with a moustache leaning against a fence asleep looking at a cactus with a blanket with a hole in the middle on as a coat.” (The Telegraph: Sunday, 6 February 2011) Racist banter like this on British television is actually perceived as acceptable to the point that the BBC responded to the outrage by the Mexican ambassador with a statement suggesting that it was part of British humour to refer to national stereotypes. A justification in other words.

Credit to comedian Steve Coogan who wrote in the Observer that the Top Gear presenters were guilty of  “casual racism” and that the BBC’s response was effectively a tolerance of casual racism. (Belfast Telegraph: Sunday, 6 February 2011)

Yet the casual racism Coogan speaks of has been a part of British society for a long time. In January 2008 a disturbing 64 percent of Guardian readers in a poll said that the term “sooty” was not racist in reference to a race row over Prince Charles referring to an Asian friend of his in this way. Guardian readers said that the term was not offensive and was in fact an affectionate term to use for someone from an ethnic background. (Gray: Sunday Herald, 2008)

Readers of the Guardian are supposed to be liberal, intelligent individuals and this poll casts a disturbing outlook on modern race relations in Britain.

A more disturbing news story involved Stephen Fry, who on his BBC show QI caused anger amongst Japanese people after making light hearted comments of the atomic bombs dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki. The lawyers representing the Mexican woman who brought a racism case against the BBC because of the Top Gear remarks, feel that the BBC had allowed these racist stereotypes to boost audience ratings, but this is beside the point. Stephen Fry would not make light of the Jewish Holocaust because he knows that he would be most likely out of a job.

The Top Gear presenters would not dare mention derogatory stereotypes about Jews, nor would the BBC have defended these stereotypes claiming it to be part of British national humour. Would 64 percent of Guardian readers think it was alright to refer to a Jew as a degrading term, and call it affectionate? I doubt it.

It is is this acceptance of racist language within British society which is why Britain and British people cannot refer to themselves as tolerant.

It is this acceptance of racist language why it was stated in a report published in 2009 that schools listed 40,000 incidents of racism involving children as young as five. (Read 40,000 racist incidents a year involving children as young as five says report)

Britain and British people are so intolerant that when a town or city’s non white population grows they move to a white neighbourhood, a term known as ‘white flight’. Alasdair Palmer and Karyn Miller said in reference to the white middle classes leaving areas with large non white populations, “…the middle classes are, despite the rhetoric of inclusiveness, no more welcoming or inclusive than some of their working-class compatriots…”. (‘White flight’ plus immigration always add up to segregation: Daily Telegraph: 8 October 2006)

This is the reality of Britain and it is not a picture of tolerance at all. It is in fact racism which has been tolerated by black and minority ethnic communities on a daily level for decades which could explain why British people believe that they are tolerant.

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9 thought on “Britain’s warped sense of racial tolerance”
  1. The point you made about Stephen fry and the Holocaust was cruel. Stephen lost several of his relatives to the Nazi concentration camps.

    In terms of the Qi question about mr Tsutomu Yamaguchi the man who survived both Atom bomb blasts, I did not in anyway find it racist or disrespectful to the people who died. However the show did not realize (which it should have done) how much Tsutomu Yamaguchi meant to the Japanese people, and it was the lighthearted manner in which they spoke of his amazing survival that caused offense.

    I feel you are misjudged in comparing QI to those idiots from Top gear.

  2. Hello Charles,

    If Mr Fry lost several of his relatives to the Nazi concentration camps than he of all people should have known better. My argument is if he or anyone else had mentioned anything “lighthearted” as you put it about a Nazi concentration camp survivor it would be seen as disrespectful and racist.

    I take great offence to Mr Fry making “lighthearted” comments about a Japanese survivor of the atom bomb atrocity just as you or he would find if offensive if someone made “lighhearted” comments about the Holocaust.

    We cannot have rule for one group and another one for others Charles, or it results in unequal treatment.

    Since you have informed me that Mr Fry has Jewish relatives I think that it casts him in a worse light than the “idiots from Top Gear” as you put it because he should know better.

    I think the fact that you still perceive these comments as “lighthearted” proves the point of the article that racist language and intolerance is seen as normal in Britain. The Japanese people certainly did not see the joke and nor did I. Mr Fry has no excuse, and your comment on his Jewish ancestry merely makes what he said even more unacceptable.

  3. I’ve noticed in a few of the articles on this site the reference to Jewish people being a no-go for jokes. I wonder whether this is anti-semitism, a “why do we get mocked and not this race?” stance, or; a credible point, which I honestly doubt.

    I say this coming from a background of which I have been brought up to see people as people and not the colour of skin or religion or place of origin.

    I find the deferral to Jewish people offensive, as I would if there were deferrals to any other creed of peoples.

    I understand that anti-semitism has been a factor of British history, with both positive and negative discrimination. I understand that this is wrong, and has publicised certain racisms as acceptable. But, I think you are wrong for the constant comparisons to the treatment of Jewish people, I think it comes across as whiney and makes your case unprofessional and akin to sensationalism.

  4. Hi Ben,

    It is important to discuss my constant references to Jewish people within the context of what was said. For example, in the article “Britain’s warped sense of racial tolerance:

    ( I criticised Stephen Fry who on his BBC show QI caused anger amongst Japanese people after making light hearted comments of the atomic bombs dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki. I then went on to say that Fry would not make light of the Jewish Holocaust and if any presenter was to do this on public televison they would be out of a job. Finding out that Fry himself had Jewish ancestors as one reader charles fatha (February 13) informed me only increased my level of disgust. Why would a man with such a horrific historical past make light humour at the horrific historic past of another race? So as you can see there was a context.

    There is a distinctive bias in Western society towards European Jews, and this is demonstrated by the fact that it is actually illegal to question the historical facts of the Holocaust, it is not illegal however to question the historical facts of the African slave trade. While British historian David Irving was convicted of Holocaust denial and sentenced for three years in prison (, European historians who decide to dilute or insult the history of the African Holocaust by stating that Europe civilised Africa, or that slavery was good for Africans are not arrested.

    There is clearly a pro European Jewish bias by Western society and it is from this context which I ask my readers to compare how unfairly African racism is treated by Western society as something to dismiss.

    Before I am accused of anti-semitism I suggest you read my article “Burning the Koran and the media’s lies”, where I pointed to the fact that the Jewish community Centre of Manhattan helped Muslims organise their plans for the community centre two blocks from Ground Zero where the 9/11 attacks took place. I also mentioned that thousands of protestors, including Jews, Christians, Hindus, Sikhs, Buddhists, atheists, communists, anarchists and Muslims marched near the site where the Word Trade Centre towers use to stand denouncing hatred against people of any faith and racism.

    So I disagree with your view and will continue to highlight how some groups are treated favourably in Western society compared to others.

  5. Do you really believe that it can only be people of a white race that can be racist? Take a look at the american black preacher saying that the ‘white’ people should be exterminated. Let me know what you think when you’ve had a look at it on youtube.

    Do you think that “white flight” would in fact be called ethnic cleansing in other countries.

  6. I believe that racism historically has been practised by Europeans. In my article I state specific reasons to why Europeans have a unique relationship with racism. One being their preoccupation with the birth rates of non whites, and two being their preoccupation with genetics and race to find differences in races. Of course other races can be prejudiced, history has many examples of this, however history shows that Europeans took racism to a new level, and to this very day the racist science which came out of slavery remains firmly embedded not only in Western science, but in the minds of the general public.

    When a black person reacts with such hatred and violence towards whites as this black preacher you refer to has done, there is a root to that hatred. The hatred did not spring from nowhere. I ask you to consider this, that you are torn from your homeland and taken to a strange country foreign to you. You are stripped of your name, religion and culture. You are torn from your family and loved ones and put in slavery. Even upon the abolition of slavery you suffer the worse kind of brutality just because of the colour of your skin. The entire system, government, laws etc. is run by the same people who enslaved you. The land where you were born has been ravaged and the resources belong to the people that enslaved you. How would you react?

    As for ‘white flight’ this term refers to whites who do not want live in neighbourhoods with large non white populations. That is hardly ethnic cleansing.

    Blind hatred towards any race is unacceptable in my view, however I do find that many whites fail to understand or refuse to understand the anger which non whites have.

    I believe this debate is needed on all sides. Thank you for raising it.

  7. I realize this is a late comment, but I felt as though I had to. Stephan Fry’s comments have been grossly taken out of context. The fact that his picture even heads this article is disappointing, as even before reading it, it is suggesting that he himself is a racist. Its pretty deceiving. He did not mock this man in any way, shape or form. He merely expressed amazement at the unfortunate coincidence this man experienced, and the basic point is that whilst he is undoubtedly and rightfully well known in Japan, this is not the case here, hence it being brought up as a “quite interesting” fact. By even comparing this to the Holocaust, you yourself have displayed an attitude of racism, in that you have deemed one particular atrocity more extreme than another. I feel as though if such a fact about the Holocaust or any other terrible event that has happened throughout history should be presented to an un-knowing public, that QI is the perfect forum for it. I think the majority of the audience of QI would agree with his assumption that Mr Yamaguchi is one of the most unluckiest people ever. That is not racism, and do not reply by saying that this is the problem, that I do not understand racism, because that is a cheap and lazy response. Labelling Fry a casual racist for expressing amazement and shock, and then generalizing these comments by saying “making light hearted comments of the atomic bombs dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki” is extremely dangerous and troubling, and only serves to create needless hatred.

  8. Hi Nathan,

    First of all, I do not think Stephen Dry’s comments have been taken out of context and nor did the Japanese people who were angered by his insensitive comments. Fry’s picture heads this article simply because he comes from a Jewish background and yet made light hearted humour regarding atrocities committed upon the Japanese people.

    Who are you to define what is mockery of another race’s tragedies? Are you saying the Japanese people were wrong to be angry? This is the point of the article, that individuals such as yourself cannot even take a step back and realise that another group is offended by what has been said. This Nathan is arrogance otherwise labelled as racism.

    I made a pertinent point, that no way would Fry had made light hearted comments of the Jewish Holocaust, and the comparison was not even about which tragedy is worse, but rather how atrocities are valued or de-valued by society along the lines of race. Calling me a racist for stating the obvious does show your lack of knowledge on the term and its usage.

    What serves “to create needless hatred”, as you put it is not myself holding Fry and others to account for their double standards on how a race’s tragedy is dealt with, but rather you, Fry and others who continue to believe that your comments are not racist when an entire group gave already been offended by them.

    Nathan, your entire comment disregards the offended Japanese people, it actually states that you are right and they are wrong, this is the problem as the article states.

  9. Hi Nathan and Mark,

    As an avid QI viewer I have recently been re watching old episodes and having lived in both the UK and Australia the frankly shocking racism as applied to East Asians (China, Japan, Vietnam etc.) is very noticeable. In Australia on national TV we would not even think of using the word ‘Gook’ or that it was OK or even comedic to do Asian accent impersonations. I am in no way saying that Australia is a prime example of tolerance and equality but in this specific instance our proximity and immigrant population have stopped this particular form of comedic racism. Alan Davis on QI has been the worst offender. Having lived in the UK I have seen that this specific attitude is very common and shows both ignorance and the limited East Asian migration to the UK. Comments which would get presenters thrown off shows and shunned publicly in Australia pass without even a flutter in the UK. It has certainly soured my rewatching of a show which has otherwise been entertaining and promoted critical thinking in most other respects.

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