Reggie Yates, radio show host and presenter for the BBC made comments on a podcast, almost a month ago, where he discussed how “great” it was that grime artists are no longer managed by “some random fat Jewish guy from north west London”. I heard them, and tipped off The Sunday Telegraph.
Two weeks after the story was reported, in which the BBC notably failed to comment, Yates issued a tweet announced he will be stepping down from presenting this year’s Top of the Pops Christmas special, saying his remarks were “ill considered” and “hurt many people”. A spokesman for the BBC said that they “take these issues very seriously” and that “Reggie is in no doubt about the BBC’s comments”.
But since these comments were so serious, why was it down to me to report them to begin with? And secondly, why did it take two weeks for the BBC to comment? Was it an unwillingness to believe that when someone is really popular, they can make mistakes? Was it a huge complacency about antisemitism with some people just taking it as unspoken truth that Jews run the world? Or, perhaps, a mixture of both?
I have always been a fan of Reggie Yates. I liked his naturally warm persona, his easily accessible and thought-provoking documentaries, and I was pleased to see him positioned by the BBC as the heir to Louis Theroux. It was natural, then, that I would listen to a podcast he appeared on, and which he was promoting on social media: #Halfcast Podcast: Take Back the Power.
Listening to the podcast, I set off to catch a tube. Then, 37 minutes in, Reggie said very casually the comment above.
I am a Jewish person working in the media, and I can safely say I’m not a rarefied snowflake. I very rarely feel offended or experience antisemitism. But his comments were so unexpected, especially because they were from a BBC presenter known for supporting the cause of diversity and battling against prejudice. They really, really stung.
I googled Reggie Yates and this podcast and nothing came up. None of his quarter of a million followers had raised the alarm. Nothing came up on Soundcloud other than people congratulating Reggie on how funny he was.
Let’s examine this sentence and the chosen adjectives. “Managed”: this taps into the insinuation that Jews wheedle their way into positions of authority, where they are self serving and exploitative. They are “random”: Jews don’t really know anything, there’s no real reason why Jews occupy positions of power beyond a vast sinister conspiracy. And lastly, “fat”: Jews are made to be financiers, lawyers, they are physically inferior, and just another attribute to the Jewish fat-cat.
I do not think for one second Reggie Yates dislikes Jews. I think he made a flippant comment. But I think his comments reflect the dangerous normalisation and acceptability of antisemitism, which too explains this huge delay in any meaningful response.
The response to Yates’s Top of the Pops resignation on Twitter has been mainly in the territory of “yes he was wrong to speak out, but he is just saying the truth”.
Yates isn’t saying the stuff of conspiracy chatrooms, but nevertheless, I believe he is wittingly or unwittingly perpetuating stereotypes. This is something that should be checked immediately, rather than building up to a backlash. Why did it take the BBC two weeks to respond, then react so harshly?
Should Yates get fired from Top of the Pops? Perhaps not, but certainly it would be good to create the expectation that someone who is supposed to be a journalist, and is also a role model, must be responsible with their words.