Taking Away Forgiveness Can Cause Guilt To Turn Destructive

This week, radio presenter Danny Baker has been fired by the BBC for tweeting a picture in response to the news of the Royal baby that has been considered by many as racist. (The BBC article is here). Given that this is the first multi-racial child born within the Royal Family, it was clear that such a picture (of a chimpanzee dressed up as a child) was found to be offensive and so the action was taken. In the interests of keeping this post on topic, I’m not going to discuss whether it was right or wrong (for what its worth, I think it was wrong) but instead I want to focus attention on how he handled the situation and what it tells us about guilt. This is important because it shows how it can make a difficult situation far more inflamed than it needs to be and can stop us making any real progress.

So, the perspective from Danny yesterday was tweeted as this:

Here we go. Opened door, grinning Mail hack. “Do you think black people look like monkeys?” Any other time you’d knock someone right on their arse for saying that. No mate. Gag pic. Posh baby chimp. Alerted to circs. Appalled. Deleted. Apologised. (via Twitter)

Now Sky at the door. Would have used same stupid pic for any other Royal birth or Boris Johnson kid or even one of my own. It’s a funny image. (Though not of course in that context.) Enormous mistake, for sure. Grotesque. Anyway, here’s to ya Archie, Sorry mate.” (via Twitter)

What I see here is someone who realises they have messed up and because they feel guilty and embarrassed, they take the tone that we all try to take – that of “oh well, it’s a bit embarrassing but ultimately what can you do?” rather than allowing the enormity of what had happened hit. We all do this – we all try to make something big feel small so that it doesn’t affect our mental state. However, with such a big and public error of judgement, there was never going to be one journalist, or one conversation, but multiple, all trying to get him to say something in the heat of the moment to inflame the situation further.

The challenge with these situations is that in reality, no apology can ever truly make up for the act, and without the completion of the apology being accepted, he is left to feel guilty without a way of getting out of it. When we feel that something has lost an exit route, there are limited options. From Danny’s tweets today (copied below), it seems he has gone down the healthier route of trying to once again explain and apologise for the action, and may be willing to continue to do this as many times as it takes for it to be heard and accepted (although never truly forgotten). What can happen (and remains to be seen if Danny’s patience will hold out) is that without forgiveness, you go the other way and come to the conclusion that if the apology is never going to be accepted then you will stop saying sorry and – more harmfully – may even double down more on it not being wrong in the first place.

Public humiliation and anger has this habit of magnifying a situation that is already incredibly sensitive and holding it under such scrutiny that it leaves the person few choices to be able to do something about it. Even if the Royal couple accept the apology the rest of the public will continue to be enraged on their behalf. And as such, it can result in the perpetrator feeling more like the victim and less like the culprit. This isn’t healthy for them and it is not healthy for us as a society.

For those trying to defend his actions, they may be supporting someone who they feel (because they know him) is not the type of person to have done this with malicious intent. But interestingly there have been several I have seen that have gone down the route of “well, any one of us could have done this”, to which many have responded, “er no, we wouldn’t!” What I see here is guilt from others – they are looking at the situation and thinking that there is a risk that they may say something in the spur of the moment which will have the same reaction with no malice at all, but that would get the same type of anger targeted at them and so it unnerves them. If we know that sometimes we say things that are controversial or challenging, then there is a greater risk that something we say will offend – indeed, many commentators will tell us political correctness has ‘gone mad’ and you can’t say anything these days (which is not true). But it is an important aspect to bring to mind – sometimes we come to the defence of others not to benefit them but to benefit us in case we find ourselves in a similar position.

We want to know there is redemption. We want to know there is forgiveness – otherwise, how do we get past moments of misinterpretation or miscalculation? We all make mistakes and some will indeed be extremely difficult to back away from. But as a society we have to find a better way to continue this conversation so we don’t accidentally create a villain out of a misfortunate situation.

Danny Baker’s tweets today (10 May):