Former MP tweets clearly racist comment – and stands by it

Posted on May 1, 2018


With Twitter known for its brevity, it’s not uncommon for people’s tweets to be misinterpreted and not come across in the way intended. Social media, being the way it is, has a habit of blowing such tweets out of all proportion, when often a simple apology for a poor choice of words would do.

Sometimes, though, a tweet can be so stupid and obviously wrong, the medium through which it’s posted cannot be blamed and you wonder what could have been going through the perpetrator’s head. Former Ulster Unionist Party (UUP) deputy leader and life peer Lord John Kilclooney had such a moment yesterday afternoon.

Replying to a story about Irish prime minister Leo Varadkar being accused of ‘disrespect’ and ‘poor manners’ on his visit to Northern Ireland, Lord Kilclooney had the following to say:

Without using a racial slur, it’s hard to think of anything more obviously racist he could have said in two words than ‘typical Indian’. Lord Kilclooney is known for his hard right-wing views, and was once a member of Jean-Marie Le Pen’s Group of the European Right, but surely even he could not be that crass? Surely he had had a bit of a brain freeze, perhaps sending his tweet too early, or maybe someone had hacked his account?

No, it seems he meant it. He hasn’t deleted it and has told BBC News NI he doesn’t intend to, dismissing “false accusations of racism” and standing his ground.

The 80-year-old’s main argument for why it’s not a racist comment seems to be that it is accurate to describe Varadkar as an Indian due to his mixed race heritage.

He also brings up the standard semantic quibble that people often cite when accused of racism – that Irish is a nationality, not a race. However, he does admit that Varadkar is “racially a half Indian”, and to be honest, he’s lost me now with whatever point he was making and just seems to be digging himself deeper and deeper.

We shouldn’t need to do this with a grown adult, let alone an experienced politician, but let’s explain why the Lord’s tweet was racist, or at least xenophobic. If you comment on somebody’s ‘disrespectful’ behaviour by saying ‘typical Indian’, you are saying that Indians are typically disrespectful. It’s insulting an entire race/nationality, and there was no need for him to bring up Varadkar’s race in making a point about the PM as an individual.

To argue that Varadkar describes himself as Indian is irrelevant. So insulting a race is OK as long as you identify the race correctly? I would say if you describe someone who is in no way Indian as a ‘typical Indian’, that’s probably not racist, as it doesn’t make sense.

With social media mistakes, there’s usually a point to be made about checking your tweets and thinking carefully about them before you launch them into the Twitterverse, but the best advice for Lord Kilclooney might be to just stay off Twitter and keep his inherent bigotry to himself. Perhaps the only way he would understand how offensive he has been would be if someone described the IRA as “typical Irishmen” – then maybe he would see how harmful, insulting and inaccurate it can be to equate someone’s race or nationality with the very worse behaviour committed in its name.

Content Team Leader at Engage Web
John works for Engage Web as a Content Team Leader and regularly contributes to the website and programmes of his beloved Chester F.C.
John Murray
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