Sorry James, drink loosens the tongue, it doesn¿t write the script, says TV presenter Ben Douglas after he was called the N-word eight times
Last updated at 11:34 PM on 4th June 2011
Vocal: Ben has received plenty of support - and some criticism - after speaking out
Last week BEN DOUGLAS told how he was called the N-word eight times at the BAFTAs. Here he responds to his attacker’s ‘underwhelming’ apology
The phone call, when it eventually came, was nothing like I had expected.
Eight days after he had humiliated me at the Baftas, and 36 hours after I recounted my experience in these pages, James Brown was sobbing down the line to me.
It was an odd and somewhat uncomfortable experience, though it was gratifying to sense that at long last James had grasped the enormity of his actions. Clearly I was not the only one feeling victimised.
That he was deeply sorry I was left in no doubt. Devastated, distraught and profoundly apologetic, he accepted responsibility for his actions while maintaining he had been so drunk he couldn’t remember what had happened.
James had racially abused me, repeatedly, in the presence of a number of witnesses. Eight times I was called a nigger, in what he confessed was a hopelessly misguided attempt to appear ‘cool’.
Well, now he knows. He was neither big nor clever, but in taking responsibility for his actions he took a tremendously courageous step and his tone throughout the eight minutes or so he spoke was one of contrition and mortification.
I did not name him in my original piece – my intention was to focus on the wider issue of racist language rather than instigating a witch-hunt against one individual.
Close friends: Celebrity hairstylist James Brown and Kate Moss
But in outing himself, James demonstrated fundamental decency. So allow me to say for the record (as I did this time last week): James Brown is not inherently racist. He was stupid and insensitive but the man is not a bigot.
A week on, my anger has receded along with my doubts about speaking out in the first place. They evaporated at 8.20am on Monday when I switched on my computer.
Blinking on the screen was an email which made my blood run cold.
The first clue was in the return email address:‘ email@example.com.’
It got worse as I scrolled down to see the words: ‘Ben signed his DEATH warrant. DIE NIGGER DIE!!!!!’
Since then I have received several silent calls on my mobile phone, the line clicking dead a few seconds after I answered. They were probably entirely innocent, nothing more than a bad connection. Yet in the context of that vile email they scared me, as has the massive reaction to the piece I wrote.
The death threat is now in the hands of the police, who are confident of catching the moron who sent it.
In the event, it simply served to strengthen my resolve. It certainly put James’s tears into context, as did the comments of some people who wrote exhorting me to ‘get over it’. Try telling that to my parents, who were shocked to their core by the threat to my life.
But overall I was delighted by the widespread support for my stance. People were angry, and rightly so. The personal attacks on James were unfortunate but he was the author of his own misfortune. That is the uncomfortable reality.
In his apology, James drew attention to the fact that he had been drinking on the night. Describing his drinking as ‘way out of control’, he pledged to ‘take urgent measures to deal with it’.
I wish he hadn’t said that, and I am not alone. It was beside the point. As Pliny put it the best part of two millennia ago: ‘In vino veritas.’
Don’t misunderstand me. I hope James makes progress in tackling his issues. But I feel strongly that drawing attention to his drinking was a distraction from the real issue. Drink loosens the tongue, it does not write the script.
Some have pointed out that James will carry this with him for the rest of his life. He is not the only one.
I have a business to run, a TV documentary in production and a big charity function rapidly approaching D-Day – not that you would have known it this week. Instead, the past seven days have been a blur of television and radio appearances, with my mobile ringing the second I switch it back on.
My day job, and my passion, is my theatre school, Fusion, where I work with wonderful children here and across Asia. Trust me, it is not good PR for the business to be associated with this sort of controversy. But some things are more important and this issue most certainly qualifies.
I would not be able to live with myself or look my students in the eye if I had not spoken out.
For that reason I am quite prepared to take the flak, which has come from some surprising quarters, such as the black community. While the majority have supported me, some have sent messages stating it was about time a cosseted middle-class boy like myself experienced the sharp end of racism.
Happy childhood: Ben, centre, pictured with his foster parents and brother and sister
Perhaps it is because I was raised by white parents, or simply an issue of class. I don’t know. But if anyone thinks this is the first time I’ve been called the N-word they are mistaken. The difference is that I am in the fortunate position, as a writer, of being able to speak out publicly.
Would the insult have hurt more if I had been raised by my Bajan birth parents? Of course not.
I am a vocal supporter of inter-racial adoption but don’t kid yourself that it is easy. In fact, I would argue that the way my wonderful parents raised me – in the sure and certain belief that love, not colour, is what matters – makes it all the more painful when prejudice smashes me over the head.
And what of the core issue: the N-word? Is it fundamentally wrong? I think so. I know a growing number of black people, especially musicians, believe strongly in reclaiming the word. I’m uncomfortable with that because stupid people will miss the point and think it is acceptable.
How, I wonder, would Snoop Dogg have reacted to James screaming the N-word in his face eight times? And isn’t it racist for black people to say only they are allowed to use the N-word? I’m not sure, but it certainly muddies the waters.
Busy man: Ben with Nancy Dell 'Ollio lead the dancing at the launch of his Fusion Academy ballroom
I am not holding myself up as a role model. I don’t speak for every black person, neither do I want to be regarded as a figurehead in this debate, but that is the role which has been thrust upon me.
Of course I have regrets. It was never my intention to drag Bafta into the sorry mess. Then, when it was revealed that Boots was considering dropping James’s haircare products from its stores, I felt that would have been a step too far given his apology. I believe in forgiveness. I hope both James and I can move forward now, having learnt a great deal in the process. And yet . . .
As I write these words I have taken delivery of a handwritten letter from James. It was a long time coming (arriving four days after my article was published) and, frankly, rather underwhelming. It is three sentences long and appears to have taken as many minutes for him to scrawl on a piece of headed notepaper. My gut feeling is one of disappointment, but what more can I do?
On Monday I offered to meet James. My intention was to help him. He declined the offer.
Neither did it escape my notice that his reaction came only after he had hired a PR man, Stuart Higgins (who also represents James’s friend Kate Moss) to advise him. I, in contrast, spoke only to trusted friends.
Moving on isn’t easy in these circumstances but that is precisely what I must do, one way or another.
There is the small matter of a police investigation to be carried out first and I have been advised to be on my guard. It seems there are fanatics out there and I have unwittingly turned myself into a target.
So be it. Nobody made me do it, and I am prepared to face the consequences of my own actions.
As for James, I wish him well in doing precisely the same thing.
*Editor’s note: The racist word used here is not one that we would normally spell out in full. However Ben Douglas, who wrote this piece for the Mail On Sunday newspaper, is adamant that he wants readers to appreciate the full ugliness of the word and we have bowed to his author’s prerogative.
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"And isn’t it racist for black people to say only they are allowed to use the N-word? I’m not sure, but it certainly muddies the waters." ------ Weak cop out. Yes, it's racist for black people to say only they are allowed to use a word. Yes, if the n word is offensive, it's offensive no matter who uses it. If it's not offensive if certain people use it in certain situations, then it's not offensive when a bad hairdresser uses it to because he thinks he's cool and it was a bit of a joke, in exactly the same way as black friends of mine will call me "white trash". It is obvious that this Brown guy is not racist, he is just not very bright and was just very drunk so he thought using a word that black people use would be ironic and amusing. He obviously didn't realise that the man he said it to wouldn't get it and would create his own PR campaign from it going on for weeks now...
- Laura, London, 05/6/2011 08:31
This is now old news. Offensive as it was, I think there is a danger of over reaction. Use of the N word dispays the bigotted mind of the user, but the person being abused only happens to be of a certain colour. It is much worse, but rarely published, if someone with an actual physical or mental problem is called names relating to their incapacity, for example 'dwarf' or 'cripple' or 'moron'. So come on Ben, the problem is not actually with you, you really should be big enough to be over it.
- john singleton, biggleswade uk, 05/6/2011 08:30
i dont see the point of this second article - the first was to the point and made a clear point about the ugliness of racism. This one is just him babbling on with several badly masked insults to James Brown and with no conclusion. He merely draws attention to his own work he is doing - is it too cynical to say he is milking this situation?
- Rosie.M, London, 05/6/2011 08:25
Oh let it go. Mountain out of a molehill comes to mind.
- Rich S, middlesbrough, 05/6/2011 08:21
Well done Ben...... you are supported in your maturity and actions.
- Liz, Muscat Oman, 05/6/2011 08:17
I think you were very brave to write the article in the first place to show how unacceptable some people's behaviour is. Brown blamed his actions on too much to drink which just shows how out of control he is. People like Brown who come from very humble beginnings do not know how to behave once they get "in the money."
- cupcake, Cambs, 05/6/2011 08:07
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