Cancel Jeremy Clarkson, cancel Top Gear and cancel British jingoism

Like Musa Okwonga, I was not going to write about Jeremy Clarkson mumbling the n-word and feigning indignation at the slap on the wrist he received from the BBC over it. Much like the time he proudly announced he’d named his black Scottish terrier Didier Drogba, or any of the numerous other racist, sexist, homophobic, ableist, anti-worker, anti-immigrant, Islamophobic bullshit that’s dribbled out whenever he’s opened his mouth, the whole incident is following a predictable script.

We’re now in scene one of act two. Clarkson, sent to the naughty corner, has resorted to recrimination and is squealing that moral panic has made him the inevitable victim of an impossible standard of behavior, as though normalizing the racist, sexist, homophobic, anti-worker, anti-immigrant, Islamophobic status quo as he does were somehow brave and those outraged by his actions and long history of escaping accountability are an overly sensitive, pitchfork-wielding mob.

“I’ve been told by the BBC that if I make one more offensive remark, anywhere, at any time, I will be sacked,” he wrote in his weekly Sun column.

“And even the angel Gabriel would struggle to survive with that hanging over his head. It’s inevitable that one day, someone, somewhere will say that I’ve offended them, and that will be that.”

[The sounds of a weeping violin fills the silence as a sympathetic group of mostly white straight cisgender men gather around Clarkson. And scene!]

I’ve lost the appetite for these predictable performances. I’d rather focus on writing about the historical and structural elements to prejudice and ways of perceiving and defeating them through a solidarity of the oppressed, as they are often socially invisible to those who they do not affect directly. And, anyway, my ambivalence about Top Gear (and the kind of car culture Clarkson promotes), which I’d mostly enjoyed watching, made me feel a bit of hypocrite.

However, over the last dozen seasons, the show has frequently left me reeling and I haven’t found the words to express why until the more recent reactions to Clarkson’s offensiveness.

In the season 21 finale, for example, a two-part special set in Burma, the Clarkson remark that rightly caused a public backlash was another cleverly disguised racial slur. But it was telling that there was hardly a fuss made about the episode’s trumpeting of British imperialism as a civilizing force the world over while, at the same, the hosts guffawed disbelievingly at the brutality of Burma’s post-colonial rulers. The show’s producers and hosts had subtly infused much of the episode with this dichotomy of civilizing Britons and unselfgovernable natives, without cognisance of the strong causal links between Britain’s actions in Burma (the divide and rule tactics that embedded a fractious potency into ethnic and racial differences in Burmese society, for example) and the actions of the country’s post-colonial leaders.

This kind of jingoism is a frequent feature on the show, especially in special episodes set in former colonies. I used to read a pathetic and laughable irony into it, like when hearing impotent old men reminisce about their glory days, when they sowed their idiomatic wild oats—code for the often one-sided (or at best disproportionate) pleasure they derived from their sexual conquest of women’s bodies.

But I’ve either become less able to tolerate this kind of militarised industrial-grade irony, for I’ve begun to see how destructive it is, or the show has become distinctly less ironic and more genuinely and unabashedly celebratory of Britain’s imperialist actions. Probably a bit of column A; a bit of column B.

More nauseating than the celebration of Britain’s imperial conquests is how such is socially accepted.

Presently, Britain regards its brutal imperialist actions as so benign that the national broadcaster screened, without compunction, a skit in the Burma special where the punchline was what appears to be an urban legend of a “jam boy”, a young brown man (the “jam boy”) who British gentry in colonial India apparently smeared with jam and used as a decoy to keep insects away while they played golf. In the segment in question, Clarkson—lazying about while the Thai workers he hired (and likely didn’t pay a decent wage) built a bridge the hosts had appointed themselves to bring into existence—made his own “jam bear” using a teddy bear.

Responding to co-host Richard Hammond’s remark that the “jam boy” practice didn’t seem fair, Clarkson said: “Oh, it was [fair]. It was! Because at the end of the day, he [the jam boy] got to keep the [insect-laden] jam.”

The racist imagery and infantilizing (because man vs boy vs teddy bear) needed to make the gag work and level of casual indifference exhibited by the producers and the BBC to repugnant colonialist practices, real or mythical, in this instance is staggering. Entering its 22nd season, the show’s current iteration is littered with many other similar w-t-f moments. That Clarkson and Top Gear are able to romanticize and diminish the crimes of the British empire in this way, with neither adverse reactions nor repercussion, is a mind-blowing illustrative example of how cultural products (like TV shows, books, music, plays, etc) deploy humor and irony to dissimulate and efface the brutality and prejudice of the powerful. These cultural products were once hailed as a boon to plurality, and humor and irony were supposed to be ways to lay bare the contradictions of power.

This suggests that in the contestation of perspectives implicit in cultural production in a multicultural society, the counterfactual idea that Britain (and Europe) civilized as opposed to brutalized the world has prevailed. Unlike imperialism, which is by definition the oppression of one group by another, racism, sexism and such are at least still being contested in mainstream discourse when they reemerge on TV and in music, books, news and opinion, as repetitive as the performance might be.

Worse still is that societies like Britain are hailed as models of success developing nations should follow. It was Arundhati Roy who observed that with no one left to colonise, India is colonising itself; impoverishing its underclasses, destroying homes and habitats, and building gargantuan monuments to itself in the same way its colonial masters did. And, based on recent history, Ngugi wa Thiong’o expressed the fear that Kenya’s governing class “will continue to be no more than mimic men—copying their western counterparts in greed and contempt for the regular folk.”

Here in South Africa, the Marikana massacre woke many up to the reality that Steve Biko’s prediction has come to pass. Instead of a real egalitarian reorganization of our society in 1994, we had only a change in the faces those in government, which is why Black people remain poor and many aspects of our society operate in the same way they did in the centuries the country was run by the oppressors.

Highlighting how Top Gear romanticizes British imperialism (and the invisibility of this action) as I have here should not be taken as diminishing the objectionability of any of Clarkson’s racist, sexist, homophobic, ableist, anti-worker, anti-immigrant, Islamophobic remarks. If anything it gives greater cause to object, because casual bigotry and romanticized views of imperialism are symptoms of the same malaise, the postcolonial melancholia afflicting Britain today. Clarkson’s puerile sensibilities and Top Gear’s jingoism aren’t aberrations. They are the projection to a global audience of Britain’s resistance to multiculturalism and substantive global equality; a resistance made possible by a glib denial and downplaying of the inconvenient aspects of the country’s history.

AIAC’s Elliot Ross asked last year, shortly after Britain settled with the survivors of the Mau Mau massacre, what it will take to break through the jingoism that’s suffused British society so that the nation might finally face up properly to its past. I’m inclined to believe nothing will break this impasse, because few even care to acknowledge it exists. If conscious Britons somehow believe otherwise, a good place for them to start in the here and now is to use this latest incident to get Clarkson and Top Gear off our screens, and to diligently and consistently dismantle every other attempt at using humour, irony or any other rhetorical subterfuge to efface or sanctify bigotry and the history of Britain’s brutal actions.



T.O. Molefe

T.O.Molefe is an essayist based in Cape Town, South Africa. His book 'For Blacks Only and Other Ways Of Being Black' will soon come.

  1. I sometimes wonder if people like yourself spend too much time naval gazing.

    Do you ever laugh at anything? If so, what?

  2. Wilvo, you must be new to this site. Every author and article here is about how DA EVIL WHITIES are trying to oppress the beautiful people of color. People running this website are people who make a living out of being constantly offended.

    Eat your liberal shit in your Cape Town ghetto.

    1. your a disgrace to humanity mate a complete waste of any resource you consume to survive

  3. I found that episode deeply uncomfortable; thanks for showing me why. It wasn’t funny; it also felt like a big promotion for the tourist industry of Burma – and an excuse for a free trip for all concerned

  4. While some may think this analysis is over the top, as ‘target’ of some of the Top Gear teams’ prejudices, this piece struck a cord. Prejudice disguised a banter can be more insidious than anything extremists do. My nephew could quote Top Gear word for word at 4 (too young to engage critically. Probably too young to be watching so much TV, but he was car mad and we thought Top Gear was a safer option than playing in traffic) and it worries me that these ideas have already become embedded in his mind.

  5. Nope you obviously aren’t as familiar with this blog as you claim to be.

    Wilvo if critical thinking and analysis are the equivalent of naval gazing, what is posting arbitrary musing on this blog?

  6. Nope and Wilvo obviously would love to continue the hegemony of the DA / whiteys and the oppression of pregnant berks who smaak to play with grown up matchbox toys. Clarkson is not funny he just leverages his jokes at the expense of something or somebody else. Belittlement is not funny. If you think it is then you join the pregnant berk club.
    Racist jingoism is so yesterday.

  7. I am completely new to this blog – and found it from searching why there seems to be a horrifying lack of outrage of Clarkson, top gear and the lack of action taken by the BBC in the UK. 

    This post is a very depressingly perfect description of the situation.  I have never been more ashamed to be British.  I would love to say that the majority of Britain feels the same and that we, as a Nation, are outraged at the inherent racism, bigotry and jaw dropping ignorance of the dealing of this and previous Clarksongates – but alas it appears not.

    However there is a growing backlash here in the UK to the apathy…and long may it continue. We will make a change.

  8. OMG!! Really??? Your arguments are weak and you logic is lacking. Get a grip. Btw Africa is a continent with lots of countries. Many of those countries only exist because the British colonized then.
    You really need to get over being black and stop hating yourself and your race. It’s ok to be black and happy at the same time. It’s ok to live without fear of the white man. Trust me no white people that matter have it out for you and yours.

  9. I feel I have to say that the jam boy practice is no urban legend and something I researched on the internet THANKS TO J. Clarkson as I had simply never heard of this shocking thing before. As to the jingoism it is mostly playacting and part of the way the show has always worked: everybody watching knows Clarkson plays the part of the obnoxious Englishman, everybody knows the arguments put forward to prove England’s superiority are absurd and sometimes blatant lies (simpler-minded viewers are made to understand the cheating and lies) and French people or German people are regular targets and yet have never been offended. What is wrong with you?? I’m afraid I tend to agree with Tyler’s comment (and by the way, I am French and a women and have never felt threatened or insulted by Top Gear).

  10. imagine a complete stranger came into your house and drew a line down the middle..everyone on either side of the line at the moment it was drawn must never cross the line without permission from that stranger.whatever was on that side of the line is now unacessible to you, no matter how many millenia this had been the way life functioned…this is the “civilzation’ the British and all colonialist powers brought to Africa. and until that line is removed, the chaos in Africa will continue to reflect the arbitrary ignorance and arrogance created by dividing mother from father, sister from brother. But even then, the colonial sequelae of racism, sexism, classism and elitism will continue, But now, perhaps, white supremacist thinking, no matter the color of the power elite, is too ingrained in the blood soaked soil of Mother Africa for change of any significance to ever occur. Fanon believed that violence would be the transformative act to create an enlightened consciousness. Ghandi believed non-violence would be that transformative factor. Individual and institutional racism may have succeeded all too well for positive transformation to ever take place. It has permeated almost every human being on earth at the molecular, cellular level. it is now firmly entrenched in what Jung referred to as our “collective unconscious”. I expect most responses to this post will be conclusive proof. I desperately would like to be proven wrong.

  11. This is a great display of both superior intelligence and misguided backlash. I should point out that I am a white male who agrees that the scripted, covered-up racism is very crude comedy. I know what you’re thinking, “Comedy isn’t the word you meant.” Well, yes, it was. What you have obviously forgotten is that Top Gear is not a documentary about cars but an entertainment show. If you are not entertained then the show wasn’t meant for you to enjoy and you need to do one of the following: write your tv provider, change the channel. If you can’t enjoy it simply because your feelings were hurt then I must say you have such a fantastic vocabulary for an adolecent.

  12. There is one simple solution to all of this. Top gear is a TV show not something you just see walking down the street. So that means that if there is something you see or dislike change it. Or even go outside. Do anything else. People love to complain. But that should be only for what you can’t change.

  13. Uh, you realize that clarkson is playing a character right?

    Being boorish and lazy and clumsy and stupid and out of touch is a complete put on

  14. I am a white English male, I despise all racism and I treat all people with respect and courtesy just the way I like to be treated, why should I be made to feel guilty about actions of the British 100’s of years ago, I was not around to either participate or demonstrate against such actions, I find this attitude towards the white English discriminatory. I cannot change the past, I have learned from the past but find it offensive to be blamed for it.

  15. Whilst some of the points made in this article are genuine, it seems a shame that the basic undertone of the article is, in itself, racist. Isn’t it about time that people of all races, religions, genders & sexual orientations learned to get along with each other? You don’t have to like everyone, you don’t even have to agree with each other, but please, respect other people and their opinions. If we all did this then just maybe the world, and everyone in it, would be a better and happier place.

  16. Golly. The author is terribly angry and has really got himself quite worked up here. The key thing to always remember (and which many nationalities forget) is as much as the British are laughing at you, they are always laughing at themselves more! It is normal banter and is always self depreciating – the po faced and professionally insulted should first learn to laugh at their own absurdities before moving on to laughing at the Brits. Don’t worry, the Brits will be laughing with you as you laugh at them! It does make the world a happier place I promise! Amen

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