If we call Clarkson racist, what word do we use for Boko Haram?

If Jeremy Clarkson is to be condemned for anything, it should be his foolish obsession with cars



Of the wars we only pretend to fight, the phoniest is the one against celebrities caught off-guard evincing racism. That’s if they really are caught, and if they really are off-guard, and if they really are celebrities.

Between those appalled by the latest of Jeremy Clarkson’s affronts to people of another colour, gender or persuasion, and those who find his slips and sniggers endearing, silly, just Jeremy being Jeremy, or even Jeremy being invigoratingly if bumblingly transgressive – which is clearly how he would like to see himself: a sort of cross between Mel Gibson, Roy “Chubby” Brown and Don Quixote – lies a yawning chasm of indifference. Do I mean by that that I would wish there to be a yawning chasm of indifference, or do I know of its existence, and even its dimensions, for a fact? Reader, I leave that to you to decide. But I was brought up to believe that if you wished hard enough for something, you would get it.

It is plainly the case, anyway, that even those who are routinely voluble on either side of Clarkson are growing bored. This could be because there have been too many instances of the just Jeremys of the world being just Jeremy, or it could be because there have been too many instances of offended of Primrose Hill being offended of Primrose Hill. Call it mutual fatigue.

But there is a third possibility and that is that we are simply not convinced in our hearts that racially dubious language is sufficient in itself to make the speaker of it a racist. In matters such as this we can use up our vocabulary of disapprobation too quickly. If we are going to call Clarkson a racist, what word does that leave to describe, say, the ideology of Boko Haram? Clarkson appears to want to play around at the edges of offence – baiting the sanctimonious for the fun of it – but if such play amounts to the committing of a hate crime, what do you call the Nairobi mall massacre of infidels?

There is, I know, the continuum theory to contend with. We start by sneaking back an odious designation here, a needling joke there, and soon we are shooting our way through shopping malls. This is the argument of the eternally vigilant, and their wakefulness is to be applauded. But the continuum theory works against them as well. First of all they outlaw words that bear a history of ugly association, and further down the line they are sending round the thought police.

So what are the gradations of racism? Are we racists by virtue of having occasional malodorous thoughts about foreigners? If that’s the case, then who shall ’scape whipping? It is fair to say that we should do with such thoughts what we do with comparable invasions from the blackest parts of our souls, and suppress them. But are we not then hypocrites if we accuse others of feeling what we have sometimes felt ourselves? Or does the racism lie not in the thought but the speaking it, or not even then, but in putting the utterance into action? It would take the wisdom of Solomon to decide at which point in that slow sequence – a sequence that might see as much turning back as going forward – the thing we call racism enters.

Should we not do with racism, then, what the wisest of us do with jealousy, envy, pertinacious desire and the like, and accept we are not above any of it, however much we’d wish to be? Not acquiesce in its consequences, but not go hunting it down in others as evidence of their inextinguishable nastiness. Thus, we could say to the latest verbal offender, it is not because we’ve glimpsed the hem of your bigotries that we are incensed by you – indeed we possess identical undergarments – but because you think we love it when you tease us with the prospect of your showing more. It’s not that you’re a bit of a racist so much as that you’re a bit of a whore.

As for Clarkson, it has always seemed to me that his real crime is to be interested in cars. Not just interested in cars in the way he is, as though they are a definitive badge of masculinity, as though the idea of a man unexcited by cars is inconceivable, as though the din and roar of them must be of universal male appeal, as though driving a car up a slope – sorry, up a hill – represents the ne plus ultra of human achievement, but just interested in cars full stop.

This might come as a surprise to cyclists who can’t understand why I don’t want to be mown down by them at traffic lights, but I detest the car as much as they do. It’s just that I detest the bicycle as well. Not the object in itself, which is neutral, but the uses to which it’s put. As a general rule, I hold the world to be an even more dangerous and fatuous place than it needs to be so long as there are people in it who idealise a means of transport.

Just get on it and go where you’re going. Don’t dress for it. Don’t smooch with it. Don’t see it as an extension of you, or you as an extension of it. A man who doesn’t know where he ends and his machine begins is by definition a fool. And a fool on a main road is a menace. As witness what cyclists do when they see a red light – but there I go again.

And a motorist is a cyclist but more so. I say “motorist” as opposed to driver. A driver employs his vehicle functionally. A motorist has an ideological relationship with his car. In a sane society you’d get eight years for that. But then in a sane society we’d have sent Max Clifford down for lowering the national tone long before we knew what other sins he was committing. And by the same logic, if you must get Clarkson, get him for Top Gear.

React Now

Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Guru Careers: Software Developer

£35 - 40k + Benefits: Guru Careers: We are seeking a Software Developer (JavaS...

SThree: Trainee Recruitment Consultant / Resourcer

£18000 - £23000 per annum + Commission: SThree: As a Trainee Recruitment Consu...

Ashdown Group: UI Developer - (UI, HTML, CSS, JavaScript, AngularJS)

£25000 - £40000 per annum: Ashdown Group: UI Developer - (UI, JavaScript, HTML...

Ashdown Group: Graduate UI Developer - HTML, CSS, Javascript

£25000 - £30000 per annum: Ashdown Group: Graduate UI Application Developer - ...

Day In a Page

Read Next

The 10 biggest myths about abortion

Ann Furedi
Students protest outside the University of London on 9 December 2010 against government proposals to let universities triple tuition fees  

'I’m gonna kill this lot', and other things a police officer shouldn't be saying during a protest

Hannah Dee
Is a quiet crusade to reform executive pay bearing fruit?

Is a quiet crusade to reform executive pay bearing fruit?

Dominic Rossi of Fidelity says his pressure on business to control rewards is working. But why aren’t other fund managers helping?
The King David Hotel gives precious work to Palestinians - unless peace talks are on

King David Hotel: Palestinians not included

The King David is special to Jerusalem. Nick Kochan checked in and discovered it has some special arrangements, too
More people moving from Australia to New Zealand than in the other direction for first time in 24 years

End of the Aussie brain drain

More people moving from Australia to New Zealand than in the other direction for first time in 24 years
Meditation is touted as a cure for mental instability but can it actually be bad for you?

Can meditation be bad for you?

Researching a mass murder, Dr Miguel Farias discovered that, far from bringing inner peace, meditation can leave devotees in pieces
Eurovision 2015: Australians will be cheering on their first-ever entrant this Saturday

Australia's first-ever Eurovision entrant

Australia, a nation of kitsch-worshippers, has always loved the Eurovision Song Contest. Maggie Alderson says it'll fit in fine
Letterman's final Late Show: Laughter, but no tears, as David takes his bow after 33 years

Laughter, but no tears, as Letterman takes his bow after 33 years

Veteran talkshow host steps down to plaudits from four presidents
Ivor Novello Awards 2015: Hozier wins with anti-Catholic song 'Take Me To Church' as John Whittingdale leads praise for Black Sabbath

Hozier's 'blasphemous' song takes Novello award

Singer joins Ed Sheeran and Clean Bandit in celebration of the best in British and Irish music
Tequila gold rush: The spirit has gone from a cheap shot to a multi-billion pound product

Join the tequila gold rush

The spirit has gone from a cheap shot to a multi-billion pound product
12 best statement wallpapers

12 best statement wallpapers

Make an impact and transform a room with a conversation-starting pattern
Paul Scholes column: Does David De Gea really want to leave Manchester United to fight it out for the No 1 spot at Real Madrid?

Paul Scholes column

Does David De Gea really want to leave Manchester United to fight it out for the No 1 spot at Real Madrid?
Season's finale brings the end of an era for top coaches and players across the continent

The end of an era across the continent

It's time to say farewell to Klopp, Clement, Casillas and Xavi this weekend as they move on to pastures new, reports Pete Jenson
Bin Laden documents released: Papers reveal his obsession with attacking the US and how his failure to keep up with modern jihad led to Isis

'Focus on killing American people'

Released Bin Laden documents reveal obsession with attacking United States
Life hacks: The innovations of volunteers and medical workers are helping Medécins Sans Frontières save people around the world

Medécins Sans Frontières's life hacks

The innovations of volunteers and medical workers around the world are helping the charity save people
Ireland's same-sex marriage vote: As date looms, the Irish ask - how would God vote?

Same-sex marriage

As date looms, the Irish ask - how would God vote?
The underworld is going freelance: Why The Godfather's Mafia model is no longer viable

The Mafia is going freelance

Why the underworld model depicted in The Godfather is no longer viable