Bizarre rants and attention seeking outbursts from celebrities have long littered our timelines. It’s ever so easy to fall down the rabbit hole of celebrity beef, love or hate an outspoken ‘alpha’ (Kanye West springs to mind) or eagerly call for the cancellation of some up and coming social media star, who has misused their platform with some unforgivable blunder. In the rush to join the drama the lines are getting blurred. Latest point in case, Wiley’s highly offensive antisemtic rant.
Antisemitism is racism. Racism is not merely a blunder, nor should it be up for debate. However in this social media age of keyboard warriors, it seems racism can only fall into a firmly grey area. Instead of being purely examined for what it is, it has to ignite some kind of online culture war- frighteningly highlighting how toxic tribalism is destroying society.
I heard about Wiley’s rant after getting news notifications which revealed that the police were investigating a series of antisemitic comments posted on his Instagram and Twitter accounts. The rappers hateful tirade asserted antisemitic tropes, including Jewish people controlling the money of countries and making venomous remarks that Jewish people should be shot. Naturally, I went to Twitter to find out more, (Half of adults in the UK now use social media to keep up with the latest news, according to Ofcom’s annual news consumption report) The first opinion I came across was from British actor, writer, producer, director, ally of the Jewish community and Black Lives Matter movement Jolyon Rubinstein. The tweet, which has since been deleted, read this:
Imagine if a Jewish person with a platform of half a million followers was tweeting for 24 hours straight the N-word, using dehumanising language & nothing was being done by the platform. How is what Wiley is doing any different from that?
— Jolyon Rubinstein (@JolyonRubs) July 25, 2020
I was quick to like this tweet, completely agreeing with the sentiment, as a black person who fully understands the painful (and this really does not cover it) experience of witnessing vile racism online, towards one’s community. Not soon after I received a message from a friend who spotted that I had liked the tweet and wanted to ask me my thoughts on whether it was pitting BLM against Antisemitism. I reread the tweet and my heart literally sank. Jolyon’s point still stands; Wiley’s rant was incredibly offensive and racist. Anti racist allies should be just as quick to call out antisemitism as anti-black racism. But why does this even need to be pointed out? If we are anti-racist we are anti all types of racism and the race of the perpetrator isn’t the issue- the issue is that they are racist. Although Jolyon did not specifically mention Wiley’s ethnicity, he has framed his passion against anti-Semitism by comparing it to the plight of another oppressed group, the black community. A group which Wiley belongs to, a group which the Godfather of Grime’s fans (if he still has any) may also largely align with.
Don’t get me wrong. Wiley is no spokesperson for black people. And although Grime is firmly rooted in black British culture, this doesn’t mean that all black people are going to jump to Wiley’s defence. But why are we even speaking about this? Is what black people in particular feel about this issue the most important thing to analyse in response to Wiley’s outburst? It should be noted how quickly social media activists have jumped to put out content which expresses that black activists stand with their Jewish friends, and remind us that black Jews exist.
The echo chamber of Twitter is on fire. People want to discuss whether Jewish institutions have been disproportionately vocal about anti-Semitism from black celebrities, there are tweets asserting ‘Black Hebrew Israelites aren’t real Jews’ and #JewishPrivilege is trending. Some people feel the moderators of Twitter have been too harsh on Wiley because he is black and some people feel they have not been harsh enough-because he is black. Through this minefield of opinions I can only conclude one thing. This is all detracting from the issue at hand. Wiley is a racist, and as an avid music fan whose introduction to grime was largely through his 2012 album Evolve or Be Extinct, this greatly saddens me.
Yes, we do need to speak up about the lack of criticism towards his comments from those usually vocal on other forms of racism. But do we need to clarify that antisemitism is racism by comparing one group’s experience of racism with another’s? The woke twitter community, who were quicker than me to realise how Joylon’s tweet undermined itself, alerted the activist of why his comparison didn’t sit right. Joylon gracefully accepted the criticism, remedying his tweet with this afterthought:
In this instance it’s encouraging to see that Twitter has been able to facilitate an open discussion, and an individual of a high profile has for once demonstrated self awareness, legitimising his views and not just being an outright bigot. But this is just a tiny victory in the midst of a much larger mess. To some extent it was Wiley that made this about the black and Jewish relationship, tweeting ‘I don’t care about Hitler, I care about black people’ and comparing followers of the Jewish faith to the Ku Klux Klan. But it was not Jolyon’s job to carry on the examination of the black- Jewish relationship, which he has rightfully acknowledged, by pointing out that Wiley is responsible for his own actions. But Jolyon is not the only one, who to some extent, almost subconsciously drew the parallels. As already mentioned, the parallels ring true, but what it adds to the ‘debate’ is dangerous. When I heard what Wiley had said I thought he was a clown. But the online debate I have stumbled upon has alerted me to the fact that some people will not simply be thinking he is a clown- they will be thinking that he is a black clown. So what do we do? Maybe, as this is an issue about racism, it is naive to think the race of both sides involved won’t be scrutinised. What is very wrong with this very sentence is the fact that we can even see ‘sides’ at all?
In an ideal world, whether Wiley should be condemned, to what extent he should be condemned (he’s been rightfully dropped by his management, Facebook has banned him, his tweets removed from Twitter) should not churn up any debate. There should be no tolerance for antisemitism and we need to show solidarity with the Jewish community. But with the suggestion that Wiley is representative of BLM, an online culture war has derailed the real event. The minorities of British society remain polarised, fearing their individual movements will be diminished by the recent events, and so the side taking goes on. The hot button topic becomes less about morality and more about a struggle for dominance of values and beliefs – one which only further facilitates division and hate.
Links to useful articles/resources around antisemitism:
By Georgia Mulraine
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