Opinion: In Defence Of Daniel Kitson, By Paul Sinha

Editor's note: Journalist Nosheen Iqbal wrote an opinion piece in the Guardian headlined "Daniel Kitson can’t reclaim a racist word he’s never been the target of." The piece prompted considerable debate on social media among other comedians. Here stand-up Paul Sinha expands upon his issues with the article.

Firstly I present a few caveats. I am a friend and a longstanding fan of Daniel Kitson. But I am also a fully paid up member of the perceived smug, metropolitan liberal elite. I am a pampered, middle class, gay, British Asian Radio 4 comedian that many people assume only gets work to fulfil diversity guidelines. Furthermore I loathe the word ‘paki’. Despite the fact that my very cosseted background means that I have generally avoided the worst excesses of racism, I have never lost sight of the word’s power and its original venomous intention. I once stopped my car on the way to work to ring up Mike Parry and Alan Brazil on Talksport to explain, with a degree of incandescent rage, how wrong they were to defend the infamous England football chant “I’d rather be a Paki than a Turk.”

So why am I defending Daniel after his choice of words upset the Guardian journalist Nosheen Iqbal? Because, in common with several thousand people, including many other journalists who didn’t take offence, I have seen the show. It is hugely creatively ambitious, weaving several narrative strands over two hours. And one of the recurring threads is whether he is doing enough to fight racism, something which he clearly and vehemently despises, and perceives to be on the rise. He reminisces about his childhood and how frequently people he grew up with used the word. In order to make a point he reports racist speech. And he is quite clearly condemning it.

He certainly isn’t making any attempt to reclaim it, as the utterly dishonest Guardian headline would infer. He is not making any attempt to reclaim its power, as Nosheen Iqbal suggests. And he certainly did nothing to justify the sentence “Daniel Kitson called me a Paki last week”, a sentence which Iqbal immediately admits is not ‘literally’ true. He very clearly and unambiguously criticises his childhood community for having used the word so blithely. 

So is Nosheen Iqbal justified in being upset?  Of course she is. I’m not so pompous as to diminish her visceral response to the word, based as it is on a life experience very different to mine. Is she justified in criticising the comedian in her very privileged position as a Guardian journalist, in a piece with a misleading headline and a shamelessly sensationalist opening line? In the days since I first read the piece, I cannot think of any justification for it, when the comedian’s intentions were so clear cut. It is hard to see how, after watching two hours of a comedian discussing his hatred of racism, one’s first instinct could be to suggest that he had achieved the opposite. Anyone is entitled to be upset. But it is not the job of a comedian to try and second guess the life experience of every member of the audience. For context, in a few days I am doing material about ISIS at an Edinburgh preview in central Manchester.  

For what it’s worth I used the word last night on stage, when relating the story of a terrifying man at a gig calling me a “Triple-necked Paki motherfucker.” If any white comedian were to relate the story, I would fully approve of them using the word. Without it, the story is simply incomplete. Reported racism is not racism.

Paul Sinha is at The Stand, Edinburgh from Aug 2 - 27. Tickets here.

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