My outrage over ‘racist’ Reginald D Hunter

In the ridiculous storm over the comedian’s act at the PFA awards dinner, the real joke is on football’s Zero Tolerance zealots.

Mick Hume

Mick Hume

Topics Politics

Yes, I was there at the Professional Footballers’ Association dinner in London’s swanky Grosvenor Park Hotel on Sunday night, where Reginald D Hunter delivered his controversial ‘n-word’ comedy routine. And yes, we were all outraged. I mean, eight pound 45 pence for a small bottle of beer! That’s what I call f***ing outrageous.

Despite having been a journalist for some years, I did not realise that we were in the middle of a major news story that evening. It just seemed like a good night of drinking and football blather with fellow United fans down from Manchester, who had a spare seat at their table and kindly extended to me a last-minute invite to fill it, largely on the basis that I was the only bloke they knew in London with an old moth-eaten DJ (dinner jacket, not disc jockey) hiding at the back of his wardrobe.

True, our table (number 83, not in the front row) did not find Hunter’s ironic schtick about race and language particularly hilarious; if he was an ‘inappropriate’ booking by the PFA, it was only because he clearly knew little about football or footballers. But it was certainly neither outrageous nor shocking, especially coming from a black American comedian whose recent UK tours have gloried in such titles as ‘Trophy Nigga’ and ‘Pride and Prejudice… and Niggas’.

After the awards and the boring speeches were over, we had another overpriced beer and got our pictures taken with United legends past and present (you should never meet your heroes, but it’s okay to snap them on your phone), and with the manically grinning Reginald D Hunter himself. A selection of these photos with happy punters have now been posted on the comedian’s Facebook page, and reprinted in several papers, with piss-taking captions such as ‘Reginald D Hunter being chased by an angry anti-racist mob’. I appear in one of them, grinning gormlessly and looking so traumatised by his jokes that you might even think I was slightly drunk.

Mick Hume aghast at Reginald D Hunter’s routine.

Then on Monday morning, we awoke to discover that our grand night out had apparently turned into a major controversy, with a ‘race storm’ breaking over the heads of Hunter and the Professional Footballers’ Association. PFA chairman Clarke Carlisle was all over the media expressing his outrage at Reginald D’s use of the n-word, and issuing unconditional apologies to ‘everyone who was offended – and everyone who wasn’t’ (thanks Clarke, but…). Self-righteous pundits, tweeters and phone-in hosts were quick to join the multi-media wave of condemnation. Before long, the PFA was demanding its money back from Hunter, and warning that it might have to drop the comic turn from future ceremonies. (As Martin Samuel observed in the Daily Mail, ‘That’s right, comedy is the problem, rather than the febrile atmosphere in which football exists’.)

How could a black man’s ironic use of ‘nigga’ in a comedy routine possibly be branded as racially offensive? Because, as a statement from the FA’s official anti-racism lobby Kick It Out made clear, the football establishment now ‘condemns racial slurs, the use of the n-word, irrespective of context’. The words which should really grate with any thinking person here are ‘irrespective of context’.

That might sound high-minded, but in fact it is low cretinism of the worst order. Of course context matters. How can the use of the term ‘nigger’ by one black man to another be deemed the same as it being shouted by a policeman? Do the professional complainants of the Society for Black Lawyers accept that their own use of the b-word is as bad as their bête noir John Terry’s, in the famous expression ‘FBC’? Far from being irrelevant, the context in which words are used, the deliberate meaning behind them, is what matters most in deciding whether or not they are ‘discriminatory’.

However, according to the gospel of Zero Tolerance, as preached by Kick It Out, the FA, the PFA and the rest, there are words which it is a mortal sin to utter, regardless of what was meant by them. As Brendan O’Neill observes elsewhere, it is rather like Harry Potter and his chums being fearful of mentioning the name of Voldermort. Or perhaps it’s a form of mystical mumbo-jumbo echoing the Old Testament law that anybody would be damned if they dared to speak the name of God (Yahweh, if you’re interested).

Sitting in the audience as Hunter did his act on Sunday evening was Paul Elliott, the ex-Chelsea defender who, by becoming a spokesperson for Zero Tolerance, was appointed to various FA and UEFA committees and as a trustee of Kick It Out. A couple of weeks after receiving a CBE for ‘services to equality and diversity in football’ earlier this year, Elliott was forced to resign all of his posts after it was revealed that he called another black former player ‘nigger’ in angry text messages. The ‘saddened’ FA chief announced that ‘the use of discriminatory language is unacceptable regardless of its context and in effect has made Paul’s position untenable’. Thus were the zealous crusaders for Zero Tolerance brought down by their own intolerance. It would take a heart of stone not to laugh.

The institutionalised idiocy of the concept of ‘unwitting racism’ was written into UK law and every organisation’s rules following the Macpherson Report into the racist murder of Stephen Lawrence in London 20 years ago. It basically declares that people are so stupid that we can be racist without even knowing it, and that words can be racist even if the user did not mean them to be. Or, as the FA and PFA have it, ‘regardless of its context’. So one outraged liberal commentator could seriously say of Hunter that ‘a racial slur is a racial slur’ – even if the accused is not a racist, and is not slurring anybody?

This is where the phoney moral crusade against racism in football has come to. When I was a lad (well, student), campaigns against racism were about big issues of power in society – opposing police brutality in black communities such as Brixton or Moss Side, or defending Asian immigrants being burnt out of their homes in east London. Now it is a petty attempt to police the language of footballers and fans, as if words really can discriminate – at a time when the evidence of actual racism in the game has become increasingly scarce.

More traumatised attendees of the PFA dinner. (For more of Reginald D Hunter’s pisstaking pics, see the Anorak website here.)

It is clear now why Hunter caused such outrage in high places. He broke the football elite’s ultimate taboo. Every official speech from the stage that evening struck the same pious tone about ‘equality and diversity in football’, as if it were an awareness course for local-government employees rather than a celebration of sporting excellence. Reginald D Hunter might not have made us laugh too hard on the night. But in retrospect, the man from Have I Got News for You did us all a favour, by highlighting the ludicrous charade of official anti-racism around football. I do hope he did it deliberately.

Those Zero Tolerance zealots in the PFA, FA and elsewhere carrying on as if Hunter should be hanged, drawn and quartered have been, to coin a phrase, ‘hoist by their own petard’. That expression relates to a small untrustworthy bomb that was chucked about during battles of old, and often posed as big a threat to the bomber as the bombed. The dodgy explosive’s name, ‘petard’, in turn derives from the old French word for fart. So, blown up by their own farts. That more or less says it all about the official ‘anti-racists’ in football and the good their nonsense is doing today.

Mick Hume is spiked’s editor-at-large. His book There is No Such Thing as a Free Press… And We Need One More Than Ever is published by Societas and is now available in print and Kindle editions. (Order this book from Amazon(UK).) Visit his website here.

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Topics Politics


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