Samuel Green
Tour Guide, Educator, Music Lover, Zionist

Wiley is still a racist…and no one cares

Richard Cowie, aka Wiley. Source: WikiCommons
Richard Cowie, aka Wiley. Source: WikiCommons

Wiley is back in the headlines. The MC and self-styled “Godfather of Grime” (grime is a rough and ready music genre with roots in UK garage, hip hop and jungle) is once again spewing his racist anti-Jewish filth on Instagram and Twitter, despite having all his social accounts suspended last year following a series of racist outbursts.

Largely anonymous outside the UK, domestically Wiley is a big deal. He’s a pioneering musician with multiple industry awards and a prestigious MBE award from the Queen. He’s a major influence for a whole swathe of popular British artists and even greater numbers of fans.

He’s also got previous when it comes to lashing out at people in person and on social media. In fact, only a couple of months ago he was arrested for physically attacking a friend and then failed to show up in court for his hearing. But last year his occasional personal spats with individuals crossed a whole new line when he started abusing the Jewish community as a whole.

As a big fan of his music, this was particularly hurtful. I wrote about it back then and ended up releasing a new song for the first time in a decade discussing Wiley’s racism. It was even more hurtful because his hateful tweets were being amplified by his vast numbers of followers, many of whom were themselves leading artists. Among grime musicians, he was almost unchallenged. Notably, and to his huge credit, P Money, another long time grime MC and producer, did call him out on several occasions.

Meanwhile, eventually, the tech companies reacted. It took time but he was banned from Twitter (supposedly permanently although it doesn’t seem to have been closely enforced). This didn’t stop Wiley. He continued his abuse on (and was subsequently banned from)  Instagram, Facebook and then YouTube before he ran out of social networks to attack Jews from.

But he’d already started the conversation. He’d legitimised the abuse. And in a large article about the whole sorry saga featuring an interview with Wiley, the UK’s national black newspaper, The Voice, asked “within his ranting were there any salient points?” among other awful slurs (and when criticised, although they took down the article, their statement left much to be desired).

I listen regularly to the UK’s flagship grime show, presented weekly on the BBC by Sir Spyro. He made no mention of the Wiley controversy on his show. You’d think that a story involving your genre that’s all over the national news would warrant some discussion, right? I emailed and tweeted him asking him to address it. I didn’t hold out too much hope for a reply (although some of the major artists I DM’ed did respond during this period) and I didn’t get one.

The issue was never raised on the show. I wondered if he was steering away from controversy (although is there anything that controversial in condemning a racist?) or whether perhaps the silence indicated tacit approval?

In September Wiley released a new album: Anti-Systemic – I’m sure you get the thinly veiled reference in the title. It was trailed with several singles in the preceding months which Sir Spyro played with gusto – mentioning that these songs were not available to listen to elsewhere online (funny that – I wonder why? A mystery…) – and then when the album dropped he invited Wiley onto the show for an interview.

Finally, I thought, the issue would be addressed. I mean, look at what he called the album. But no…in a wide-ranging interview the subject of Wiley’s racism, his ban from online media, the album title…was ignored. Listeners were treated to a sycophantic love-in about Wiley’s history in the grime scene and his support for up and coming artists. 

Wiley’s rehabilitation has started, he still has his MBE (although there were recent reports that it may be removed because of his arrest for assault – his racist rants didn’t seem to be a big enough issue), he’s getting bookings and we’re also seeing other artists suggesting he should be allowed to return online

I’m the kind of person who believes in assuming the best and giving people a chance. Sadly I’ve encountered plenty of very intelligent people who’ve believed pretty nasty things about Jews. When I’ve confronted them, most have been shocked to learn that their prejudices are, well, prejudices – and apologise profusely. 

It’s ok to be wrong – the question is, how do you react? Look at what happened when it turned out that Azeem Rafiq, a well known British cricketer (currently campaigning about anti-Muslim racism in the world of cricket), had written some nasty stuff about Jews on social media some years back. He apologised profusely and is seeking to make amends. 

I think we should embrace that attitude, because we have to (sadly) accept that as long as prejudice about Jews is widespread – and it’s hard to see this changing – we need to give people a chance to recognise and atone for their error of their ways when it’s pointed out to them.

I’d love Wiley to do the same. To admit that he was wrong. To publicly state to all his followers, and privately to all the people he works with in the industry, that he was completely out of line. I’d be willing to forgive him. I want to forgive him – if he’d give me the chance.

But he doesn’t, and I don’t think he will. In fact a friend reached out to him last year and even spoke to him on the phone a couple of times, offering to meet up and explain why Jewish people were so upset about what he’d done. Wiley indicated that this would be a good idea, but then stopped responding. And then doubled down on the abuse. And he’s still going.

And while he’s still doing this, I think it should be made clear that he’s persona non grata. I don’t think that clubs and festivals should be booking him. I don’t think the BBC should be supporting his new releases, or at the very least, they should be challenging him on air about his views and what happened. Sir Spyro…it’s over to you.

But will this happen? Sadly, I doubt it. Because although Wiley is a racist, outside the Jewish community, I just don’t think that anyone really cares.

About the Author
Samuel is an award-winning tour guide in Israel. Born in England, he moved to Tel Aviv 10 years ago, via a few years in Geneva, Switzerland. After some years in the corporate world, he decided to follow his passion and qualify as a tour guide. When not guiding, he runs an Israeli music radio show, makes music, writes, and enjoys hanging out with his daughter.
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