Sideman Stepped Up. But He Shouldn’t Have Had To.

Words: Danielle Dash

Being Black during a global pandemic has been like being on a rollercoaster: the highs are deliriously exhilarating, and the lows compound a grief that hums constantly in the background. While we continue to come to terms with the joys of Beyoncé’s Black Is King and the diaspora wars it reignited, the “WAP” video and all the memes it spawned, the release of Bolu Babalola’s debut novel Love In Colour, and the upcoming releases of Steve McQueen’s Small Axe and Daniel Kaluuya’s Judas & The Black Messiah, the threat of white supremacy looms ever present.

Every day, Black people remain subject to racist, gender-based and/or state violence. In the States, Breonna Taylor’s killers remain free; Megan Thee Stallion recently relayed how Tory Lanez shot her in the foot; and here in Britain, Belly Mujinga will never get justice. In the last few days, the Crown Prosecution Service has decided not to pursue charges against the man that assaulted Belly while she worked as a ticket controller at London Victoria Station. The police officers who posed for photographs with sisters Bibaa Henry and Nicole Smallman’s dead bodies, and shared them with members of the public, have not been charged. And the Metropolitan Police continue to harass Black people with impunity: officers working for the institutionally racist organisation recently stopped MP Dawn Butler, while she was driving, by “mistake”. British racial tensions feel as charged as they ever have.

Then, here comes the BBC: unprovoked and unrepentant, ready, willing and able to make everything so much worse. On July 22, a Black NHS worker, who has chosen not to release his real name, was left with serious injuries following a violent racist attack. In the BBC’s reporting of the crime, social affairs correspondent Fiona Lamdin repeated the slur that was shouted at the survivor during his ordeal. More than eighteen thousand people complained to the BBC following the airing of the segment, but the corporation remained steadfast in their decision to have a white reporter say the word nigger. “We believe we gave adequate warnings that upsetting images and language would be used and we will continue to pursue this story.” *deep sigh*

BBC Radio 1Xtra presenter Sideman, whose real name is David Whitely, took to Instagram to quit his job in protest. “With no apology, I just don’t feel comfortable being aligned with the organisation,” Sideman explained. The next day, the BBC’s Director General, Tony Hall, apologised: “The BBC now accepts that we should have taken a different approach at the time of broadcast and we are very sorry for that.” It should not have taken a Black man making a stand to get a simple apology.

I can’t imagine how challenging it must have been for Sideman to decide to quit his job during a pandemic, but also an unprecedented economic downturn. He is a popular and well-respected personality who will no doubt secure the bag elsewhere, but I wish that in this fight for equity, respect and protection, Black people didn’t have to so often sacrifice so much. I wish that white people didn’t have to be encouraged and infantilised into doing the right thing. It has never been acceptable for non-Black people to say nigger. In any circumstance. Especially not on the national news. But like children, knowing they shouldn’t do it, white people often can’t help themselves. And it’s boring but more dangerously, it’s distracting.

“Oh, come on, Dani! They’ve apologised, what more do you want?” I want this to stop happening. A Black man was nearly killed by white racists and for weeks, Black people and their allies had to fight to get the BBC to acknowledge that Fiona Lampin saying nigger was unacceptable. We had to do that work instead of focusing on and uplifting the survivor of a racist attack. The BBC consciously centred their desire and some imagined entitlement to broadcast a white reporter repeating a racist slur above and before this important news story thus pulling attention away from what should have been of the utmost importance: the survivor.

The BBC is supposed to be the broadcaster marginalised people can rely on not to further denigrate us at the very least. In the process of dismantling white supremacist strongholds, it is vital that Black people and others disenfranchised by its strongholds do not have to continually retread old ground. We are never going to get to the promised land if we have to keep turning back in 2020 to remind white people, especially the ones who are supposed to be our allies, not to say words that we can say but they shouldn’t even want to. This isn’t the real fight. Sideman would still have his job had the BBC been as committed to their “values of respect and inclusion” as they claim to be.

Posted on August 21, 2020