Daffy duck, coconuts and raccoons: when do memes and gifs grow to be hate crimes? | EUROtoday

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From a person being taken to court docket for posting a raccoon image on social media to a British-Asian girl being charged after holding a placard depicting ministers as coconuts, issues are mounting about how criticising politicians can land Black and Asian folks with felony data.

Increasingly, emojis and memes are getting used as a type of political criticism, in these instances to name out members of an ethnic minority who’re perceived as pandering to white supremacy. But quite a lot of folks have been investigated by the police on account of utilizing phrases reminiscent of “coconut”, “c**n” and “tap-dancer” to criticise public figures who share the identical ethnicity.

Critics imagine they’re making professional factors, whereas these on the receiving finish have mentioned the photographs quantity to racial abuse.

Those making complaints concerning the photographs are utilizing anti-racist laws. But campaigners are involved the legislation is being weaponised towards folks from minoritised communities who’ve expressed essential views on social media, significantly towards right-wing politicians.

The accused might face sentences of as much as two years in jail if convicted.

Michael Buraimoh, chief govt of campaigning group Race on the Agenda, instructed The Independent: “It is deeply troubling to see anti-racist legislation meant to protect members of our community increasingly being weaponised against us.

“‘Racism’, whilst notoriously difficult to define, generally involves individuals with more power oppressing or victimising those with less power. The decision to open a police probe into a social media dispute between two members of our racialised and generally marginalised community is wholly disproportionate.”

Social media use can have real and unintended consequences for people posting
Social media use can have actual and unintended penalties for folks posting (Getty)

Plenty of photographs depicting coconuts, raccoons and tap-dancing have been posted on-line by Black and Asian customers.

“Coconut” and “raccoon” or “c**n” are used to suggest {that a} member of a minority neighborhood is appearing as an apologist for racism, with coconut suggesting the particular person is brown on the skin however white on the within.

Being described in such phrases isn’t any praise. However, is it worthy of criminalisation? This is the place the talk rages on.

For instance, a raccoon emoji on X, previously Twitter, landed a Black man in court docket earlier this yr in a case revealed by The Independent. In March, he was acquitted of hate crime expenses.

The man, aged 26 on the time, was reported to the police for posting the picture throughout a heated trade with a politician who can be of ethnic minority heritage, in September 2022.

Following the police criticism and additional enquiries, the person was charged with racially aggravated malicious communications and appeared in Wood Green Crown Court in London in February. However, a jury returned a “not guilty” verdict on each counts after a three-day listening to.

Another Black man was lately investigated after his tweet of a Daffy Duck tap-dancing emoji led to a police criticism throughout an internet row about race.

Suella Braverman has been accused of stoking racial tensions over her comments about Palestine marches
Suella Braverman has been accused of stoking racial tensions over her feedback about Palestine marches (Getty Images)

The HR skilled, who has requested to not be named for worry that he might lose his job, grew to become the topic of Metropolitan Police enquiries that lasted seven months, and was interviewed beneath warning and questioned at work.

“I’m going to be brought down by a Daffy Duck GIF? I felt anger,” he instructed The Independentdefending his use of the GIF as “critique of political ideology”.

This explicit GIF picture and the thought of a “tap dancer” is usually used inside Black communities to explain a Black one that goals to appease racists by denying the existence of racism, whereas showing to be amenable, entertaining or each.

As properly as raccoon emojis and tap-dancing GIFs, coconut imagery can be used on-line within the context of political criticism of Black and Asian politicians, in addition to in conversations.

This week, Marieha Hussain, a British-Asian girl, was charged with racially aggravated public dysfunction after being pictured holding a banner depicting Rishi Sunak and former dwelling secretary Suella Braverman as coconuts, whereas attending a pro-Palestine march in November. She is because of seem at Wimbledon magistrates’ court docket on 26 June.

Ms Hussain’s case has fuelled a debate concerning the extent to which phrases reminiscent of “coconut” and “c**n” are racist when utilized by folks in minority communities.

Ms Braverman got here beneath hearth for “stoking racial tensions” with offensive rhetoric about Black and Asian communities when she known as pro-Palestine protests “hate marches”, whereas Mr Sunak has been criticised for presiding over divisive insurance policies reminiscent of his Rwanda deportation scheme.

Activist and political commentator Dr Shola Mos-Shogbamimu says the term ‘coconut’ should not be considered a hate crime
Activist and political commentator Dr Shola Mos-Shogbamimu says the time period ‘coconut’ shouldn’t be thought-about a hate crime (PA Archive)

In gentle of those instances, campaigners have raised issues that anti-racist laws is now being weaponised towards ethnic minority teams.

Dr Asim Qureshi, analysis director at advocacy group CAGE International, which has advocated for Ms Hussain, mentioned: “We have reached late-stage diversity, equity and inclusion, where legislation enacted to ostensibly protect minorities from racial discrimination, is now being weaponised against people of colour for expressing their political views.

“It is why CAGE International focuses on the systemic, rather than seeking to ameliorate a broken system of injustice. Racism never went away, it was just subverted by racists into being something that could become everything except doing the actual work of anti-racism”.

People falling foul of the legislation are largely being questioned and prosecuted beneath the Malicious Communications Act of 1988 which makes it unlawful in England and Wales to “send or deliver letters or other articles for the purpose of causing distress or anxiety”.

Black and Asian individuals are already arrested and prosecuted at increased charges than their white counterparts and comprise 27 per cent of the jail inhabitants regardless of making up solely 18 per cent of the inhabitants of England and Wales, in keeping with authorities knowledge.

There are issues that police clamping down on such language signifies that folks from minoritised communities, already extra in danger, face a heightened danger of imprisonment.

The National Black Police Association (NBPA) lately instructed Channel 4 that legal guidelines designed to crack down on racial hate speech are being weaponised towards ethnic minorities.

Shaun Bailey says Black politicians face criticism for both being ‘too Black or not Black enough’
Shaun Bailey says Black politicians face criticism for each being ‘too Black or not Black enough’ (Reuters)

“I think the increase is probably due to the external environment and the polarised communities that we see ourselves in at the minute,” mentioned NBPA president Andy George.

“I think policing needs to make sure that we don’t get caught up in anything like a culture war, [and] we make sure that we stay impartial.”

Many commentators say that phrases reminiscent of “coconut”, “c**n” and “tap dancer” will not be racist when used intra-communally inside Black and Asian communities.

Lawyer Dr Shola Mos-Shogbamimu instructed The Independent the phrases don’t quantity to a hate crime or racism. She mentioned: “Misappropriation of ‘coconut’ by institutionally racist structures like the police is intentional and solely to push an agenda of white supremacy.”

Moreover, critics of police complaints have pointed to the instance of Tory donor Frank Hester’s feedback calling for Labour MP Diane Abbott to be shot, including that she makes him need to hate all Black girls. They have argued that senior Conservative Party politicians’ obvious failure to report him to the police for hate speech whereas suggesting that he must be forgiven, contrasts with the remedy of the lads on the centre of emoji-gate and the Daffy Duck debacle.

Conversely, issues have been raised that phrases like “coconut” are certainly racist and warrant police intervention.

Sunder Katawala, founding father of the British Future assume tank, mentioned it’s “no way to make a political argument” and “unlawful racist abuse”.

Lord Shaun Bailey, a Conservative peer, expressed sympathy with Black politicians who report different Black and Asian folks to the police for calling them names reminiscent of “coconut” – although mentioned he wouldn’t try this.

“What’s interesting being a Black politician is you get it from both ends: you’re either not Black enough or you’re too Black. And that leads to comments such as ‘coconut’, ‘Bounty’. On a personal level, if you’ve been attacked so much, you have to say ‘enough is enough’,” Lord Bailey lately instructed Channel 4.

“Is it hypocritical that I haven’t reported people from the Black community [to the police]? I would say no because that’s a personal decision and I understand the pressures that might cause on my community.”

It is unlikely the talk will likely be settled any time quickly. After all, complaints to the police about language utilized by folks inside marginalised teams return greater than a decade.

In 2010 Liberal Democrat councillor Shirley Brown was discovered responsible of racial harassment after she known as her political opponent, South Asian Conservative Jay Jethwa, a “coconut” throughout a debate at Bristol City Council the yr earlier than.