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Artillery Row

Saying racists are racist is better than more silence

Twitter bans and self-denying ordinances won’t erase anti-semitism

The hard right turn that some black celebrities have taken the Black Lives Matters movement on is something to behold. There was NFL star Deshaun Jackson posting a fake Hitler quote about ‘white Jews’ having a ‘plan for world domination’ because they ‘know that the negroes are the real children of Israel.’ Jackson apologised, saying he didn’t mean to offend anyone, raising the question of how he thought quoting Hitler would go down.

Wiley soared from the eccentric into the unspeakable last week when he launched into a series of anti-Semitic rants on social media

There was the American comedian and vocalist Nick Cannon calling white people and Jews ‘savages.’ (He apologised, but only to Jewish people.) There was NWA rapper Ice Cube posting a picture of a group of Jewish people with hook noses playing monopoly on the backs of black people. There was veteran rapper Diddy posting a stream of Louis Farrakhan clips on Instagram.

Now, in Britain, there is Wiley.

Wiley, who is known as the “godfather of grime”, received an MBE from Prince William in 2018 – an event which doubtless embarrassed both of them. An eccentric with a history of baffling feuds, career sabotage (he once leaked two hundred of his own songs) and close brushes with violent death, his lyrics can veer from incomprehensible bragging (‘My style’s after izzle’) to sage financial advice (‘Try not to spend until you’ve made it/Just live within your means innit’) in the space of a song.

Wiley soared from the eccentric into the unspeakable last week when he launched into a series of anti-Semitic rants on social media. It began with some Black Israelite pseudo-history in which the rapper posted:

“Listen to me Jewish community Israel is not your country I’m sorry … The Star of David that’s our ting … Some people have gotten too comfortable on lands that don’t belong to them.”

Soon, the rapper was spiralling into tirades about how Jewish people, ‘he real enemy…use us to make money.’ ‘Black people,’ he posted, ‘This is a war sadly…Sorry.’ A fellow grime star, P Money, gamely advised Wiley not to ‘paint all Jewish people with the same brush,’ prompting an outraged Wiley to cut a promo on Instagram about how he would paint people with the same brush whenever he damn well liked.

In the most noteworthy of his many, many tweets, Wiley posted, ‘Hold some corn Jewish community you deserve it.’ In grime circles, “corn” means bullets, so this has been interpreted as a threat, though others have suggested that “holding corn” is more equivalent to “taking an L” – or, for the sane among you, something one says to demean an object of scorn. This is not, evidently, a powerful defence of the man’s character.

Commentators and politicians up to the level of the Home Secretary, Priti Patel, have been outraged that Twitter and Instagram have not banned Wiley from their platforms. The actress Tracy-Ann Olbermann has organised a “Twitter walkout” in protest. Limiting your own ability to criticise speech you deplore is a strange tactic, I think – and achieved nothing when Caitlin Moran organised a day-long Twitter boycott in 2013 to protest against the toleration of abusive posts – but one can understand the concern given that Wiley has almost half a million followers and that people with a similar understanding of Jews as “the real enemy” have attacked them in the streets of cities like New York. Even if, as I suspect, the “holding corn” tweet was not a threat – making a mooted police prosecution difficult to justify except under the most dangerously expansive definitions of hate crimes – it is hard to maintain that someone should be able to post ‘Jewish people you make me sick’ to their hundreds of thousands of followers on a website that bans people for using the wrong pronouns.

Yet I cannot help but feel that we are dancing round a point that these black nationalists have unwittingly exposed. If mainstream commentators and politicians reduce the average wealth and socio-cultural representation of white people to “privilege”, and mine history for sinners among them, it is hardly surprising if people describe other ethnicities in a similar fashion. If academics and politicians are tolerated as they call “whiteness” a “psychosis” and say ‘white people love playing divide and rule’ it is hardly surprising if some people feel emboldened to be derisive about other ethnic groups. Of course, the tradition of anti-Semitism that runs through the Nation of Islam and the Black Hebrew Israelites exists independently of these trends but it is enabled by the hostile racialism of mainstream discourse.

At this point, censorship also feels a bit like closing the barn door once the horse has galloped off into the distance. The So Solid Crew collective, or whoever runs their social media, have endorsed Wiley for speaking ‘the truth.’ Another rapper, Jay Electronica, whose critics politely tiptoed around the fact that his debut album kept referencing the ‘Synagogue of Satan,’ has taken to Twitter to insist ‘WE are INDEED THE TRUE Children of Israel’ and that the Jews are liars. The president of the Philadelphia chapter of the NAACP has taken to Facebook to post a photo of Desean Jackson, Nick Cannon and Ice Cube, along with the caption:

“To learn who rules over you, simply find out who you are not allowed to criticize.”

This is of course immensely foolish, as if posting Hitler quotes constitutes “criticism” and as if calling black people or Asian people “savages” would not provoke a similar response. Yet at this point censorship alone runs the risk of affirming this impression.

This kind of Farrakhanite thinking – a fully-fledged ideology, in which white and Jewish people were the Frankenstein’s monster of a mad scientist named Yakub (and, no, I’m not making that up) –  has bubbled underneath the surface of a culture where black people are considered almost entirely in relation to white people. Dealing critically with such hateful beliefs depends on dealing critically with the hubris and resentment that underpins them, and not just quietly pretending that they don’t exist. Litres of ink were spilled over the Alt-Right influence on events like the Tree of Life synagogue shooting. The inkwell was dry when two black anti-Semites shot up a kosher deli in Jersey City in December.

Boycott twitter by all means, but when you start earnestly posting again, be sure to speak up about the things that caused the problems you so rightly disapprove of. It was the silence in the first place that allowed them to fester and grow.

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