Written by Josh Hamilton
Have you ever cringed to such an extent that laughter erupts from the sides of your mouth? Usually accompanied by a short, rapid inhalation and deep, brooding exhalation, it’s an uncomfortable feeling, but often a cathartic one. It’s the reaction I had when watching This Morning on Thursday, 21st June. Phil and Holly were joined by Dawn Butler, MP, and Lizzie Cundy – a friend of Lord Alan Sugar. His controversial tweet was the centre of attention.
You know the one I’m thinking of.
I’ve branded it controversial, rather than purely abhorrent, for good reason. There has been a lot of debate over the repercussions that Sugar should face. Butler, for one, branded him a racist, and wanted to use his iconic catchphrase against him:
‘You’re fired, Alan’.
In a tweet, she made one thing very clear: ‘racism has no place in Parliament or society’. She’s right, you know. It’s the 21st Century, and we have made so many steps toward a society in which equality can not only exist, but flourish. Black people are finally being given the opportunities that they were denied for centuries. Let us not get ahead of ourselves; there is still a long way to go, no doubt, but we are, thankfully, far removed from the de jure segregation of Jim Crow. Understandably, a privileged, older white man making derogatory comments concerning race is archaic and offensive. Racism has no place in these modern times.
Sugar has, however, denied racism. He called critics ‘OTT’, labelling his comment ‘a bloody joke’. He even claimed to have nothing to apologise for. I fully believe that Sugar tweeted what he genuinely thought to be funny. I can picture his face, lined with a smirk, chuckling as he hit send – sharing the joke with his 5.47 million followers.
That is a ridiculous reach. Sugar is an influencer, and must realise the effect that his words could have on his followers. It’s an enormous responsibility; he could be shaping the views of thousands of children. There’s not a chance he posted that tweet to intentionally cause offence.
Why, then, has the tweet been branded as racist? Butler made an excellent point through Cundy’s lack of response, when she was asked to explain what made the tweet so funny. Cundy claimed that it wasn’t. The truth is, had she taken the wrong approach to explain her friend’s joke on live TV, she’d have been branded a racist, too.
At the risk of man-splaining (a problematic word itself, which I hope to write about one day), I will take on the task of explaining the joke, so that we might understand Sugar’s twisted sense of humour.
First: Marbella. It’s a lovely place; I’d recommend a visit. But be aware that there are dozens of dark-skinned individuals, most likely of African descent (Africa straddles Spain, making immigration relatively easy), selling their wears on beaches and in towns. This ranges from counterfeit sunglasses – usually Ray-Berries instead of Ray-Bans – to umbrellas and jewellery.
Sugar’s tweet suggested that, when the Senegal Football Team weren’t winning matches, they were selling these items in Marbella. The joke implies that all African people look the same, an inherently racist view.
That begs the question: how on Earth did Cundy go about defending her friend? She used his status as a post-war baby boomer to claim that his upbringing was responsible for those views. He simply did not know any better, and cannot be reprimanded. She wants the public to look at Sugar as you would an elderly grandparent. They may well be racist, but it’s excusable because – bless them – they’re old.
Should behaviour be excusable based on age? Absolutely not. That kind of joke was probably more than welcome in the 1950s, but it’s not the mid-20th Century any more. Society has progressed, and people need to progress along with it, too. You cannot defend anyone based on their age. People change.
I, for one, have changed a lot. When I think back to the language most people used in Primary School, I am left aghast. Think about the way you first used the word ‘gay’. I don’t know if we used the word ‘gay’ to insult people for the stupid things they did because of the effects it would have on one’s masculinity, but it nonetheless became an incredibly popular means of voicing disgust at things you mightn’t like.
‘Mate, this pasta is gay’.
‘Oh my God, you’re so gay’.
‘Ha ha, don’t be so gay, mate!’
The same could be said for so many other words. ‘Retard’, in particular, was a favourite of my school’s students. If we didn’t like something, then it was ‘gay’ or ‘retarded’. Was this okay at the time? Of course: we didn’t know any better!
But we were young, and people change. As individuals, we develop; we realise what is and isn’t okay. You don’t call people ‘gay’ because they’re stupid; they identify as gay because they’re attracted to the same sex. Likewise, a ‘retard’ isn’t a way to describe your friend who’s messing around, it’s an outdated way to refer to the mentally disabled. It doesn’t take a genius, or a millionaire, or a Lord, to realise what is and is not appropriate. It only takes somebody who isn’t still at Primary School, and can think for themselves. Better yet, it takes a little empathy and a little bit of life experience.
Unfortunately, it doesn’t appear that Sugar can change. Earlier this year, he tweeted a photo comparing Jeremy Corbyn, Labour Leader, to a member of the Nazis, amidst the anti-Semitism scandal within the party. I’d argue that this was far more offensive than his more recent one, because it targeted a specific individual – rather than a group. Regardless, Sugar’s history of abusive content indicates that his full apology might only be half-hearted.
But should he face the sack from The Apprentice? To determine this, we must separate the tweet from the intention.
Was the tweet racist? Absolutely. Was Sugar intentionally racist? I don’t think so; just naïve. Will he post more controversial abuse? Probably.
There’s little to make us believe that he’s learned his lesson, but he categorically should not lose his job. He may never stop posting filth, but to him, none of that was filth. Sugar truly thought, with all his heart, that the tweet was a mere joke. His intention was not to cause offence. Rather, he simply wanted to share something that he found amusing. If I held a high position at the BBC (we can all dream, can’t we?), I’d sit Sugar down, explain why his tweet was inappropriate, conduct some sort of disciplinary action, and explain that further offences could cost him the job. If he understands that the tweet was a mistake, then there is no reason for him to lose his job. I would like to think that I would be given the opportunity to learn from my mistakes, if I were in the same position.
It is far wiser that the situation should be handled in this way, rather than punishing the culprit with little remorse. A prison would teach reform, rather than punishment – and that mantra should be reflected in the ways we approach issues as pertinent as racism. Change the individual, change their views. Don’t punish them, or they may reoffend. In Sugar’s case, if he were stripped of his position, he might see little need to change his ways. Force Sugar to understand why his actions were wrong, threaten his job security, and we might just turn him into a better person. Isn’t that so much better than the alternative?
Should Lord Alan Sugar be fired from The Apprentice? No, but certainly disciplined. He has apologised, and we can only hope that he will not make the same mistake again. If he does, then appropriate further action must be taken to discourage such an archaic way of thinking.
Do you disagree with my argument? Let’s open a debate in the comments below. Have your say.