Jade and the tyranny of ‘anti-racism’
Everyone remembers the tabloid witch-hunting of Jade Goody. But the broadsheet witch hunt was far more terrifying.
All of the obituaries for Jade Goody have reminded us of the time she was witch-hunted by the tabloid newspapers during her first stint on Big Brother. In 2002, as she stripped off, said silly things and went mental when she got a veruca in the BB house, the Sun and others labelled her a ‘pig’, ‘thick’ and ‘vile’ and encouraged the public to boot her out. But there was an anti-tabloid backlash, the obits remind us, and much of the public actually took to the gobby wannabe from Bermondsey: she came fourth in BB and later became the ultimate reality TV winner, carving a successful career as celebrity author, celebrity TV personality, celebrity perfume creator.
But wait – just one witch hunt? The obits have airbrushed from history the second and far more terrifying witch-hunting of Jade Goody. What has been referred to in obit-land as the ‘race incident’ in Goody’s life – the time she got into a blazing public row with Indian actress Shilpa Shetty on Celebrity Big Brother – was in fact a salutary reminder of what an elite, educated lynch mob, those with real clout, can do to one woman. Where the tabloid’s witch-hunt quite quickly subsided, and eventually worked to Goody’s benefit, the ‘anti-racist’ witch hunt tore Goody’s family apart, forced her into hiding, led to death threats and even made Goody contemplate suicide. If Goody’s life ‘tells us’ anything, then at least one of those things ought to be that those at the top of society are still most adept at unleashing witch hunts.
In January 2007, Goody clashed with Shetty, a Bollywood actress, on Celebrity Big Brother. A bizarre row over Oxo cubes descended into a shouting match and a stand-off, during which Goody said some stupid things: she referred to Shetty as ‘Shilpa Poppadom’ and ‘Shilpa Fuckawallah’ and suggested she should spend a few days in the slums of India to see what real life is like. This childish argument was blown out of all proportion by sections of the liberal commentariat, race quangos and even politicians, who turned Goody (and two other celebrities who sided with her against Shetty) into a representative of ‘ugly thick white Britain’ (1). She was, we were told, the ‘high priestess of the slagocracy’, that collection of ‘beastly slags’ who make up ‘underclass Britain’ (2).
Where in 2002, Goody was subjected to a tabloid witch hunt, in 2007 she was on the receiving end of a broadsheet one. The Guardian said that if Goody had spent some of her £8million fortune on ‘remedial education rather than boob jobs and liposuction’, then she wouldn’t have such ‘hideous’ racist views. The liberal broadsheet even resuscitated the tabloids’ earlier denigration of Goody as a pig, this time referring to her boyfriend Jack Tweed – who was also in the Celebrity Big Brother house – as ‘piggy-eyed’, who together with his ‘Bermondsey bawler’ of a girlfriend captured the absence of ‘civility, articulacy and reserve [in] ugly thick white Britain’ (3). Meanwhile, on BBC TV’s Question Time, a must-watch for the British political class, former Tory minister Edwina Currie was cheered when she called Goody and her celebrity mates ‘slags’; Andrew Neil, owner of the Spectator and other media outlets, described them as a ‘bunch of Vicky Pollards’ (4).
Others amongst the great and the good used Goody and Co.’s unguarded outbursts to demonise whole swathes of Britain, imagining that Goody was only the tip of an iceberg of thick, thoughtless racism in those unknowable, unmonitored, unattractive parts of the country. One newspaper columnist said ‘the stupid hatred of these white women for a brown one’ only revealed what happens in ‘pubs and clubs most nights’: ‘Quiet racists saying things to friends…’ (5) Germaine Greer imagined the TV-watching hordes cheering Goody on: ‘To the vast majority of couch potatoes out there, Shilpa is a “Paki bird”’, she asserted (6). Goody was described as an ‘escapee from the underclass’, that section of Britain that is ‘shallow, stupid, ignorant and inherently racist’ (7).
The Second Witch-Hunting of Jade Goody reached its nadir with a joint venture between a tabloid newspaper and a leading member of Britain’s elite caste of race-relations managers. The News of the World decided to turn Goody into an object of ‘national fury’ – its words – and invited Trevor Phillips of the then Commission for Racial Equality, now the Commission for Equalities and Human Rights, to write a full-page editorial on Goody’s ‘vicious racial bigotry’ and ‘hate-filled abuse’. Next to a picture of Goody crying over the scandal provoked by her row with Shilpa Shetty, Phillips wrote: ‘Crocodile tears won’t wash away her guilt.’ No, instead she needed anger management therapy and some re-education in the values of multicultural Britain, he argued (8).
For Jade Goody, rechristened ‘Jade Baddie’ during the ‘anti-racist’ witch-hunting, the consequences of being turned into a hate figure and an object of ‘national fury were dire. After she left the Celebrity Big Brother house, returning to a world where politicians, hacks and quango bosses had turned her into a figure of international ridicule, Goody could not return to her home because her windows had been smashed by unknown yobs and she had received death threats by both phone and letter (9). She moved from one hotel to another, becoming separated from her two young children in the process, since, in her words, ‘It’s not fair to make them stay in a cramped [hotel] room … I need to find somewhere more permanent so I can get their toys.’ (10) Goody’s mother, Jackiey Budden, who had also been in the Celebrity Big Brother house, also went into hiding. Under police advice, Goody was provided with a 24/7 security guard, and was not allowed to answer the phone or even to order her own food (11).
In an interview with a celebrity magazine, during which she reportedly ‘sobbed uncontrollably’, Goody claimed to have had suicidal thoughts: ‘I thought maybe I should just disappear. That it would be better for everyone if I just wasn’t here.’ (12) In the appraisals over the weekend of Goody’s life as a celebrity mum, celebrity personality and celebrity sufferer, this episode – as a celebrity fugitive from the PC elite – has been overlooked. It turns out that Goody didn’t quite have to commit suicide; instead she could ‘wash away her guilt’, as Trevor Phillips put it, by submitting herself to re-education in appropriate language and behaviour. Goody revealed that she had been strongly advised to take ‘anger management courses’ so that ‘my children don’t grow up to be like me’ (13).
The Second Witch-Hunting of Jade Goody exposed the poisonous nature of official ‘anti-racism’. Top-down ‘anti-racism’ has nothing whatsoever to do with ensuring equality of opportunity for all (if it did, then it might focus on doing something meaningful, like overhauling the government’s all-powerful immigration controls, rather than witch-hunting a powerless woman from the wrong side of the tracks); rather it is about policing people’s behaviour and etiquette, especially amongst the lower classes. The witch hunt showed how the meaning of the word ‘racist’ has mutated in recent years. Accusations of ‘racism’ are no longer about indicting someone for their views on ethnic minorities but rather have become a snobbish judgment on their lack of breeding. ‘Racist’ has largely become code for ‘underclass’: uneducated, uncouth, thick, fat, ‘not one of us’. Racism is no longer seen as something that springs from the unequal structures of society, but rather as a dark, unwitting thing, a sort of virus, which lurks in the minds of the poor, the piggy-eyed, the pathetic.
Thus, the impact of official ‘anti-racism’ is not to make society more free and equal, but more authoritarian and censorious. In the elite witch-hunting of Jade Goody – in the unabated snobbery, the demands that she be re-educated, the threats of violence – we could glimpse the deeply negative impact of official ‘anti-racism’, which paralyses society and speech and makes people less certain of how to relate to one another. When she was in hiding, Goody said: ‘If I say something, I don’t know if people are going to say it’s wrong.’ She revealed that she had ordered a chicken tikka masala, but when it arrived she didn’t feel like eating it: ‘But I was too scared to leave it on my plate. [Starts sobbing.] I didn’t want anyone to think I didn’t like Indian food…’ (14) Here, in this image of a woman in hiding, faced with threats, unsure what to say, what to eat and even what to think, we see one unlearned ‘lesson’ of Goody’s life: that top-down witch hunts can be the worst of all, especially when backed up by the pernicious creed of official ‘anti-racism’.
Brendan O’Neill is editor of spiked. Visit his website here. His satire on the green movement – Can I Recycle My Granny and 39 Other Eco-Dilemmas – is published by Hodder & Stoughton. (Buy this book from Amazon(UK).)
After Jade, whose death will we watch next?, by Frank Furedi
Jade and the dangers of smear testing, by Dr Michael Fitzpatrick
Should private tragedies be for public consumption?, by Mick Hume
Modern society’s jaded view of life, by Tiffany Jenkins
Jade, Diana and the myth of public hysteria, by Brendan O’Neill
Jade Goody and her celebrity cancer, by Brendan O’Neill
Read more at spiked issue: Death and mourning.
(1) Beauty and the beastliness: a tale of declining British values, Guardian, 19 January 2007
(2) This is the REAL racism on Channel 4, Daily Mail, 19 January 2007
(3) Beauty and the beastliness: a tale of declining British values, Guardian, 19 January 2007
(4) Our Jaded attitude towards the white working class, Independent, 20 January 2007
(5) The monster you can’t see, Guardian, 19 January 2007
(6) Why does everyone hate me?, Guardian, 17 January 2007
(7) CBB: Shooting the messenger, Stumbling and Mumbling, 18 January 2007
(8) Crocodile tears won’t wash away her guilt, News of the World, 28 January 2007
(9) Interview with Jade Goody, Heat, 30 January 2007
(10) Interview with Jade Goody, Heat, 30 January 2007
(11) Interview with Jade Goody, Heat, 30 January 2007
(12) Interview with Jade Goody, Heat, 30 January 2007
(13) Interview with Jade Goody, Heat, 30 January 2007
(14) Interview with Jade Goody, Heat, 30 January 2007