Patrick Barclay’s Bad Day On Twitter
There will be those who will be struck by the irony of the fact that the recent comments of Patrick Barclay regarding an ill-advised tweet sent by a gambling company over the weekend should have been made at this time of the year. In a week or so’s time, a good number of us will be tolerating our elderly relatives and their badly thought out brain spurts. Indeed, getting away from these people has come to be understood as a part of the reason behind why Boxing Day fixtures are so popular. After thirty-six hours, the temptation to get away from old Uncle Paddy and his views on political correctness having gone mad in pursuit of a couple of pints of mild ale and a football match is fairly obvious.
That this should have been the hill upon which Patrick Barclay should have chosen to sacrifice part of his substantial reputation, however, is somewhat surprising. Journalists of all hues might be expected to understand the social mores surrounding anything to do with race, gender or sexual orientation these days, especially in the days of social media, when anything and everything that they say can – and frequently will – be broadcast to millions of people. One can only wonder at how swollen the ego must be for someone to decide that they don’t care about how offended and unhappy a large number of people are going to feel at what they’re going to say and plough on regardless, though.
For those amongst you have missed this story, here’s a brief recap. Over the course of the weekend, one of the smaller online gambling companies posted a picture of somebody at a darts tournament in blackface, dressed as the Labour MP Diane Abbott for the purposes of mocking her. The company eventually deleted the tweet, but Barclay decided to chime in against those who had criticised the decision of the company to post this image. Upon being called out by numerous people on the subject – including, to their credit, such luminaries as Nick Miller and Daniel Harris, who, it is worth remembering, are very much of a different generation to Barclay, not that “being of a different generation” much excludes him – rather than considering the possibility that his comments on this subject might just have been somewhat ill-judged – and we’re erring on the side of understatement there – he decided to perform the most ungraceful of manoeuvres that anyone in this position can pull, doubling down on his opinions in the face of what should surely have been a growing understanding that he had called this woefully wrong.
Let’s be completely clear on this before we go any further. There are no circumstances under which it is in any way appropriate for white people to apply make-up to their faces. Not for the purposes of mockery. Not for the purposes of impersonation. Not for any reason. We had been working to the assumption that this was a commonly understood set of values. After all, the BBC cancelled The Black & White Minstrel Show almost forty years ago, whilst in the United States of America the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) had been calling attention to such portrayals of African-Americans and campaigning to put an end to blackface performances and depictions since the 1950s. We all know the arguments that come around whenever the owners of some gift shop in the arse end of nowhere decide that they fancy a few hours in the spotlight by deciding to stock former icons of the Robinsons marmalade brand, but they don’t hold any more, and they haven’t for a long time.
There were plenty of people on hand to give Barclay a helping hand towards understanding where he had gone wrong, but the old, white man – probably unsurprisingly, considering that he’s an old, white man – didn’t seem particularly interested in learning much from what should really have been something of a chastening social media experience, adding that, “When we think of Ms Abbott we this ludicrous, not black!” and making wearyingly familiar references to the “thought police” in reference to anyone who dared to criticise him. Now, this isn’t a political website and we don’t usually dip our toes into those particularly shark-infested waters, but allow us to make the following observations: Diane Abbott may or may not have some shortcomings as a politician, but it certainly doesn’t strike us as coincidence and no more that arguably Britain’s highest profile politician of colour – and without doubt Britain’s highest profile female politician of colour – receives the level of rancid abuse that she does.
And these are dangerous and febrile political times. It’s been eighteen months since a avowed racist stabbed a serving Member of Parliament to death whilst shouting the name of an extremist group which then found itself, not much more than a year later, approvingly retweeted by the President of the United States of America. There are many who would argue that the entire vote to leave the European Union was based upon a layer of racism masquerading as “concerns about immigration”, a line willingly pedalled by some of a high profile that we don’t even expect any more to know better. Race is political, and acting in way that is easily construed as mocking someone’s race is too. It’s not harmless banter at the absolute best of times, and with some sections of the press – including Barclay’s current employers – openly calling those who disagree profoundly with their opinions “quislings” and “traitors”, these are certainly a long way from being anything like the best of times.
Furthermore, a large proportion of the more celebrated, entrenched area of Football Journalist Twitter was largely notable only for its silence on the matter. Perhaps a seat on that Sunday Supplement sofa is too big a gig to rock the boat over. It’s difficult to say. What we know for certain is no major outlet, as the twenty-four anniversary of Barclay’s shouting at clouds approaches, has touched the story yet. The names that we mentioned above were outliers in the overall football firmament. Those who we might ordinarily consider to be “Proper Football Men” have remained quiet. And this probably shouldn’t surprise us. Such opinions often only feel as though they’re a hair’s breadth from the surface, whether this manifests itself through “English jobs for English managers” guff or, at its generally seedier end, through the deliberate and systematic scapegoating of Manchester City’s Raheem Sterling over the course of a not-inconsiderable period of time.
The dog’s abuse thrown at Sterling over the last couple of years reached what some would consider to be an inevitable conclusion on Saturday morning when, upon arriving at the Etihad Campus, the Manchester City striker was reportedly kicked and racially abused by a member of the public. Greater Manchester Police later issued a statement in which they confirmed that their initial enquiries are treating this incident as a hate crime. Hate crime figures have soared over the last couple of years, and there are few who doubt that the behaviour of certain corners of the press has been in some way a contributory factor towards this.
To be clear, we are not talking about outright incitement here, rather a murkier grey area of dog-whistling, innuendo and inference. It’s an area that it’s very easy for anybody to accidentally stray into, but failure to acknowledge any form of fault, to dig their heels in and start to lecture people of colour on the subject of racism that truly marks Barclay’s comments out. At it’s most egregious end, the media has enable racists and bigots through giving them space to espouse their views for a lot of money in return for clicks that their knowingly outrageous comments will deliver. This is a different area of the same spectrum, but it is the same spectrum nevertheless.
So let’s be clear about this one more time. We’re not equating Patrick Barclay with Hitler. We’re not saying that there are some colours of skin that should be exempt from any form of criticism because of the colour of their skin. But equality doesn’t need blackface. It doesn’t need old, white football journalists trying to tell younger readers what racism really is. It doesn’t need protestations of “censorship” from individuals who have just demonstrated their free speech to one of its fullest possible extents. And it certainly doesn’t need anybody, in any way whatsoever, playing any role in defending tweet for which the company concerned has already deleted and apologised. It speaks volumes that it should be necessary to have this conversation in the twenty-first century, but that is the state of things at the moment.
Patrick Barclay could acknowledge that this was offensive to many people and seek to understand why this should have been the case. No-one is expecting self-flagellation over this, merely an acknowledgement that this If he wants the right to wear blackface and for a gambling company to make the ill-judged decision to tweet it to be the point at which which his reputation amongst a significant proportion of his audience stumbles and falls, then perhaps the safest thing for the rest of us to do would be to merely allow him to continue shout at clouds, secure at least in the knowledge that we at least know this much about him. That Boxing Day escape from the claustrophobia of the forthright, old, white male has never felt so enticing.