Has The ‘Cancel Wiley’ Party Gone Too Far?

Editor’s Note: I am not here to excuse Wiley’s recent behaviours — I am simply here to state what I, as a black man living in England, think about the situation. I pitched this same article idea to three of the UK’s top newspapers: two of them reached briefing stage, but was then pulled at the last minute after their “higher-ups” felt it wasn’t “the right time”. The reason I founded TRENCH was to give a platform to other writers, young black writers especially, so I have rarely written for the site myself. But I’m glad that I have the platform and the freedom to share this today.

Wiley is the godfather of grime and that will never change. Take away his MBE, and he is still one of the most creative minds to grace British music. He’s the reason why a great deal of black British rappers, grime MCs and music industry professionals are even working today. To put it simply: without grime, the genre he created two decades ago in East London, many of us would not be here so we can only be thankful for his genius, in that respect.

But when the Bow E3 star jumped on Twitter last month to air his views on the Jewish community, off the back of an argument he had with his Jewish manager John Woolf, it was off-key even for Wiley — who has been known to speak his mind at random. It’s always been a conscious thing for me that Jewish and black people have faced similar plights, that we should never go at one another because of those painful histories, so for Wiley to put Jews and the KKK in the same sentence, and claim they move “snakey” to gain control in the world of business, it’s not something that should have been taken lightly. I agree that there should have been repercussions... But up to a point.

Wiley’s Twitter account quickly caught heat, and he was labelled anti-semitic and a racist. He was just as quick to refute these claims, saying: “Kmt. Anti-Semitic. I’m not falling for that stupidness.” But the damage was already done. Jewish people in their thousands were right to be up in arms, and demanding an apology seemed more than fair. Days after Wiley made these comments, he went on Sky News to talk it out. “I just want to apologise for generalising and going outside of the people who I was talking to within the workspace and workplace I work in,” he said, adding: “I want to apologise for comments that were looked at as anti-semitic.” I, myself, work closely with Jewish people, and after speaking with them about this “apology”, they told me that it wasn’t as direct as it could have been and that Wiley must do more to show that he regrets what he said. Again: more than fair.

Within 48 hours, Wiley had already been banned from Twitter, Instagram and Facebook for life, and had the Metropolitan police launch an investigation. So while some felt that he shouldn’t have had a platform like Sky News to speak on, despite his poor delivery in the segment, where else would he have been given the chance to? Much of my issue is that the same energy, from the wider general public, was not kept when anti-Islamist Tommy Robinson, unemployed far-right troll Katie Hopkins and Brexiteer Nick Farage spouted/still spout their hateful comments online. Black people had requested for a number of years for all of them, Hopkins especially, to be removed from Twitter, but no: we waited, and waited, and waited. But when it is Wiley, a black man (which is important to note here), it’s dealt with almost on the spot. How quick are the police to act when black people get racially abused online or otherwise? These are serious questions we need to ask ourselves.

So if it is ‘cancel Wiley season’, let it be cancel season for every person that’s ever said anything hateful online across the board. Why is Hopkins still active on Instagram? Why are her very clearly racist videos still up on YouTube? When I contacted YouTube about the removal of Wiley’s music videos from his channel, they told me they had ‘struck’ two of his recent uploads for violating their policies around hate speech. (That I, someone who’s been following the situation closely, never saw these uploads goes to show that they were hawkeying his every move). They said that this ban was set at seven days, but then Wiley uploaded content to a new channel which then led to them wiping his original channel. They also made it clear that they have a responsibility to “protect” their community of creators, viewers, and advertisers from any form of hate speech. Make of that what you will.

Son Raw is a Jewish man, a music journalist and a huge fan of grime. He tells me that he was “disappointed with Wiley’s comments. While he’s been known to court controversy, the invective he spewed towards Jewish people felt out of the blue. I initially wanted to dismiss it as the words of someone led astray by racist content online, but it’s been hard to forgive and forget given the lack of closure, and his subsequent ‘cancelling’ has only left me more conflicted. I’m not at all satisfied by how this is being handled. I don’t think it’s an effective means of resolving the situation — a far better move would have been to remove the social media accounts and content that, in all likelihood, led to him espousing these views.”

The Canadian writer, who I’ve commissioned many times to write about grime and Wiley’s music, believes that the only way to fix things is for there to be some healthy dialogue. “By making Wiley a pariah, these platforms are absolving themselves of any responsibility,” says Son Raw, “all while making him a martyr in the eyes of a portion of his fanbase who might now be more likely to adopt his views. Rather than ‘cancelling’ Wiley, I’d like him to meet with some of his Jewish fans or even the wider Jewish community, as I believe he’d see how wrong the stereotypes he promoted are. Cancel culture is ineffective and arbitrary and I think that when possible, education and dialogue are far more likely to lead to positive results in the fight against hatred and bigotry than sweeping the problem under the rug. Public shaming may feel good, but it ultimately doesn’t lead to a greater mutual understanding and cooperation among different groups of people, and that’s what we should be striving for as a society.”

Most of the scene that Wiley birthed agrees that his comments were abhorrent and misguided, but those that know him well also know that he’s an outspoken character who rarely thinks before he speaks. He needs to do more to make sure the community he offended is satisfied, and I fully stand by that. But as a black man, I’m not comfortable with seeing another black man have his whole legacy wiped away when all it takes is for some grown conversations to be had. Like the saying goes: you live and you learn.

Posted on August 17, 2020