LRB apologises for baboons & bananas etc

The apology from the London Review of Books is here. Gary Younge’s piece in the Guardian is here. It took a week of work, in the end, with much less sleep than I like, to get this letter (below) together with these 73 signatures. Several people were of huge help: Margaret Busby, Katy-Evans Bush, Shula Marks, Bernardine Evaristo and China Miéville. It just goes to show what you can do. If you would like to see a copy of the offending blog, please email me and I will send you the edited version I saved. Also, to let you know that people have continued to write to ask if they could be included on the list. They include William Beinart, professor of race relations at Oxford University. But there are more. And for all the support and belief, I’m hugely grateful and hugely humbled. Bravo to you all.

20th July 2010

To the Editor,

With its stress on its own ‘depth and scholarship and good writing’ and its ‘unmatched international reputation’, the LRB has a responsibility to maintain high standards if it is to retain its enviable position of having the ‘largest circulation of any literary magazine in Europe’.

We find it baffling therefore that you continue to publish work by RW Johnson that, in our opinion, is often stacked with the superficial and the racist. In a particularly egregious recent post on the LRB blog, ‘After the World Cup’, 6 July 2010,  Johnson, astonishingly, made a comparison between African migrants and invading baboons. He followed this with another between ‘local black shopkeepers’ and rottweilers. He concluded with what he presumably thinks is a joke about throwing bananas to the baboons.

In the particular arena of football, some fans do not need to be encouraged to produce racist abuse. Across Europe for many years, black players have been spat at, subjected to racist chants often including references to monkeys or apes, and have been the focus of monkey chanting noises during matches. Neo-Nazi groups have also been known to use football matches as target areas for recruiting new members and promoting their racist practice. (How ironic that when Johnson does decide to write about ‘Football and Fascism’, 11 July 2010, he produces a piece about Italy that reveals the dearth of his knowledge.)

While South Africa has made great strides, overturning the racist politics of the National Party, it still has a long way to go in combating the racism that thrives among certain communities and individuals. Elsewhere, in the UK for example, this is no time for complacency about attitudes to race. Although British National Party leader, Nick Griffin, may have been humiliated at the recent General Elections, his party now has two MEPs. Let’s not forget that young black men in this country are seven times more likely to be stopped and searched than young white men, and they comprise a disproportionate number of the prison population.

Whilst it might be unfair to pick on a man for his inability to be funny, we believe that it would be wholly wrong to stay silent when he resorts to peddling highly offensive, age-old racist stereotypes that the LRB editorial team deems fit to publish. (Indeed, we note from the comments that at some point the post was edited – and yet, in our opinion, it remained an appalling and racist piece of writing.)

We were relieved on Monday 19 July when, finally, the post was taken down. However, we remain appalled that it was published in the first place and appalled that it remained up for 13 days. Several of the comments beneath the post pointed out some time ago that the piece was clearly racist and yet the LRB still chose to leave it online. It is not good enough to remove the post – apart from its URL which, we note, ends ‘coming-of-the-baboons’ – and expect this nasty episode to be forgotten. We would like to know why it was published in the first place and we would like to read a public apology.

It is of deep concern to all of us that the LRB could be so impressed by RW Johnson that his racist and reactionary opinion continues to be published in the magazine and now, in the blog too. And there we all were thinking the LRB was progressive.

Yours sincerely,

Diran Adebayo, writer & academic, Lancaster University

Patience Agbabi, poet

Yasmin Alibhai-Brown, journalist & writer

Candace Allen, writer, journalist & broadcaster

Cristel Amiss, coordinator, Black Women’s Rape Action Project

Baffour Ankomah, editor, New African

Nana Ayebia Clarke, publisher, Ayebia

Pete Ayrton, publisher, Serpent’s Tail

Sharmilla Beezmohun, deputy editor, Wasafiri

Benedict Birnberg

Professor Elleke Boehmer, University of Oxford

Professor Patrick Bond, University of Kwazulu-Natal

Victoria Brittain, writer & journalist

Dr Margaret Busby OBE, publisher & writer

Teju Cole, writer

Eleanor Crook, sculptor & academic, University of the Arts

Fred D’Aguiar, writer

Dr David Dibosa, academic

Kodwo Eshun, The Otolith Group

Gareth Evans, writer, editor, curator

Katy Evans-Bush, poet

Bernardine Evaristo MBE, writer

Nuruddin Farah, writer

Professor Maureen Freely, writer & academic, University of Warwick

Kadija George, publisher, Sable LitMag

Professor Paul Gilroy, London School of Economics

Professor Peter Hallward, Kingston University London

M John Harrison, writer

Stewart Home, writer

Michael Horovitz OBE, poet, director New Departures/Poetry Olympics

Professor Aamer Hussein, writer & academic, University of Southampton

Professor John Hutnyk, Goldsmiths

Dr Sean Jacobs, The New School

Selma James, coordinator, Global Women’s Strike

Gus John, associate professor, Institute of Education, University of London

Anthony Joseph, poet & novelist

Kwame Kwei-Armah, playwright & broadcaster

Candida Lacey, publisher, Myriad Editions

Alexis Lykiard, writer

Firoze Manji, editor in chief, Pambazuka News

Shula Marks, emeritus professor, School of Oriental & African Studies

Professor Achille Mbembe, University of the Witwatersrand & Duke University

Dr China Miéville, writer & academic,

Professor David Morley, University of Warwick

Professor Susheila Nasta, editor, Wasafiri

Courttia Newland, writer

Dr Alastair Niven OBE, principal, Cumberland Lodge

Dr Zoe Norridge, University of Oxford

Dr Deirdre Osborne, Goldsmiths

Lara Pawson, journalist & writer

Pascale Petit, poet

Caryl Phillips, writer

Dr Nina Power, Roehampton University

Jeremy Poynting, managing editor, Peepal Tree Press

Gary Pulsifer, publisher, Arcadia Books

Michael Rosen, poet

Anjalika Sagar, The Otolith Group

Richard Seymour, writer & activist

Dr George Shire, reviews editor, Soundings

Professor David Simon, Royal Holloway

Lemn Sissay MBE, writer

Keith Somerville, Brunel University

Colin Stoneman, editorial coordinator, Journal of Southern African Studies

George Szirtes, poet & translator

Dr Alberto Toscano, Goldsmiths

Professor Megan Vaughan, University of Cambridge

Patrick Vernon, chief executive, The Afiya Trust

Professor Dennis Walder, Open University

Verna Wilkins, writer & publisher, Tamarind Books

Dr Patrick Wilmot, writer & journalist

Adele Winston

Professor Brian Winston, University of Lincoln

Dr Leo Zeilig, University of the Witwatersrand

PLEASE NOTE: Institutions are named for identification purposes only

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