Shortly before shabbat came in last week, I discovered that Wiley, the “Godfather of Grime”, an MC and musician that I looked up to, had gone on a wild antisemitic rant on Twitter. I brought in shabbat feeling a mixture of emotions – rage, disappointment, betrayal. When shabbat came out and I discovered that he was still going, first on Twitter and then, having been banned, onto Instagram, I channelled that emotion into writing my first song in a while. I called it, simply, Wiley the Racist.
I sent some messages out to try and find a way to record it. In the end I couldn’t find a studio at short notice so I recorded it under a blanket to get the right acoustics – with thanks to a creative sound engineer – and the song was online under 24 hours later. People have responded positively. I sent it to Wiley on WhatsApp (after he published his phone number on Facebook) but he’s yet to respond.
I write songs best when I’m angry. It all started around 20 years ago when the Second Intifada broke out. I’d been into rap music for a while, and had written things here and there, but I became so angry with how the conflict in Israel was being presented in the UK (and when I lived the intifada while I was volunteering in Israel, it felt even worse), that I needed an outlet – and it came in rap music.
Self-styling myself as Antithesis, I began to write, record and release songs expressing my feelings. And these songs struck a chord. I’ve never considered myself a particularly great MC – it’s a passion rather than a profession – but it seemed that what I was doing, in expressing these thoughts in public, on record, in a medium that was just breaking through into the mainstream, connected with a generation of young people, particularly in the UK but also further afield.
But I digress. Way back in 2007, I released my second EP – and called it United Kingdom of Racism. Over the years I had kept experiencing incidents of racism, and had become convinced that it was deeply embedded in British society; but that it surfaced rarely as it was still unacceptable to say certain things in public. In my personal experience, a lot of the time the perpetrator had been under the influence of alcohol, removing their inhibition and expressing their true thoughts.
And yet, when I put out this EP, there were some people in the British Jewish community who criticised me. Politely, discreetly (we are British after all), but it was there. They told me I was wrong. That things were good. That I was sending the wrong message. I disagreed then and I disagree now. There is an undercurrent of racist ideas in British society which began to really surface with the rise of Corbyn et al in the Labour Party, got worse with Brexit and is still coming out now. It affects all minorities, not just Jews. There are many people who fight the good fight against it, but the prejudice is pervasive.
Wiley is well known in the industry for being erratic and unpredictable. He’s a creative genius but it’s clear he doesn’t grasp these issues well. So, while what he is doing upsets greatly, and feels very personal given that I’m a fan of his music, I am more distressed by the support that he is getting on social media. By the shares and likes. By people sending him more anti-Semitic conspiracy theories which he then shares with his hundreds of thousands of followers. And by the social media companies that let it happen for far too long before doing anything about it (and remain a cesspit of racism which is woefully regulated).
The hypothesis that you need to get a Jewish lawyer in order to progress in the music business may be a complete fallacy…but yet it remains…I’ve never seen anyone Jewish refute or confirm this…but maybe, it’s a discussion that needs to be had?
And as if that wasn’t enough, The Voice, “Britain’s Black Newspaper”, published a disgrace of an interview with him, quoting him without challenge and then asking questions such as “within his ranting were there any salient points?”. That’s before going on to say “the hypothesis that you need to get a Jewish lawyer in order to progress in the music business may be a complete fallacy…but yet it remains” and then stating “I’ve never seen anyone Jewish refute or confirm this…but maybe, it’s a discussion that needs to be had?” (you’d think a journalist could have reached out to a Jewish person to explain how nonsensical and problematic this is, but I guess that’s too much to ask).
As I write, Wiley has been banned from Twitter, Instagram and Facebook but is still going strong on YouTube. The Voice’s article is still online. People are still supporting him. But, in a way, I’m grateful to him. Because he has exposed the prevalence of antisemitism even more. Not just through his vile ranting, but in the support he has received from many of his followers and beyond. What we see is that many people don’t believe their views are antisemitic. As far as they are concerned, these tropes about Jewish power are true. And if they’re true, then what’s wrong with saying it?
So now it’s impossible to hide from the extent of this problem. Only by truly acknowledging it can we begin to deal with it. And sooner, rather than later.