Tuning in. What the Kate Clanchy debate made me think.

Author: Nick Anderson

I was going to write a blog about the Kate Clanchy debacle but then it became so multi-faceted and there was so much white noise that it was difficult to isolate one key issue to focus on so I decided not to bother. Not because I didn’t care, I just thought it would be too confusing to read let alone write. However, after a long conversation one evening and then another longer one with myself I changed my mind. I realised there was perhaps an overriding issue which is key to many discussions of this nature.

As the story broke, it was easy for me to make a judgment. My zero-tolerance approach has no grey areas or wavy lines, I had no emotional attachment to the perpetrator, my views on the industry to which she belonged were both concrete and reaffirmed by many good people who actually work within it. So when more details of her life emerged I had no problem batting aside any comments on “the good she’s done in the past”. To me it did not matter and that is still true.

The thing is, that for others it did matter. They struggled to see past the “good work” she had done.  Even as some of those who stood up for her initially had slowly or in some cases quickly deleted their supportive tweets and offered apologies.

Obviously, no one wants to believe they are wrong about someone they like. I guess it’s a kind of betrayal in some ways. We often admire or model ourselves on people who are like ourselves or share similar values to our own. Therefore at the point we are forced to question our opinions of those we’ve raised to such lofty positions and entwined into our lives as an image of our ideal selves, it stands to reason that we will look for anything to admonish their wrongs before we re-evaluate our views. Although in reality we know that in actual fact we are trying to “polish a turd”. Try as we might to make it shine, the stink will remain. We know that the right thing to do is just flush it away, wash our hands and move on.

Easy to say, especially for me. She wasn’t my hero. For others not so easy, but why? Do they have blocked ears, blinkers on their eyes and pegs on their noses?

Perhaps it has more to do with the white noise?

It’s the only constant that I can recognise in every “debate” of this nature. This story became like an untuned radio blasting out every channel on that bandwidth. So there’s the snide comments and statements channel, flawed arguments channel, “free speech” channel, insults and crap comparisons channels and the truly confused questions channel. There is also another channel which only transmits a consistent concise stream of comments which are balanced, concise, nonaggressive and honest. Unfortunately the station which broadcasts this stream has a weaker transmitter so it is difficult to tune into.  Let’s think of this station as “Hard Truth Radio”! It broadcasts what you need to hear 24/7 not just what you want to hear when it suits you!

Some people have no problem tuning in to it. Their receivers are more advanced and better able to filter out the noise. Conversely there are those with basic out of date receivers. Reluctant to upgrade, the owners of these receivers constantly jump from channel to channel. They don’t hear anything that offends them so they mindlessly listen to what is being said. Furthermore because they hear similar content on other channels that their basic receivers allow them to tune into, they subconsciously buy into what is being said without questioning it. Some of it is actually quite catchy and relatable. Before they know it they are calling the station to make what they think is their own comment but is in fact an homogenised version of everything they’ve been hearing.

Then one day the station makes an apology and admits it’s been broadcasting a harmful content. Other stations make similar statements and they suddenly start to sound like “Hard Truth Radio”.  However, the listeners have learned all the lyrics and know the jingles, Hard Truth Radio has different jingles and plays what they need to hear but don’t want to hear.   Listeners are suddenly faced with problem, do they tune into another station that is still transmitting the same content which is now known to be harmful or do they start to learn the new jingles?  Do they make the effort to change or ignore their conscience? Remember, the content was never harmful to them so why should they change?

I’d like to think people would just learn how to change channel but the reality is they want me to tune the radio for them or buy them a new radio! It feels like they recognise that the content they’ve been listening to is harmful to me and subsequently expect me to shoulder the burden of their change for them – after all it’s for my benefit!

Forgive me for feeling angry about this. Not at the expectation but the fact they’re right.  Who can I actually rely on to care enough to make the necessary changes?

The greater majority of the industry seemingly doesn’t care and in many way add to and actually benefit from the white noise keeping everyone blinkered and confused.

There is good work being done and more people are identifying the real issues and pushing the anti racist movement forward.  There are still lots of turds that need to be flushed.  The Kate Clanchy “saga” is one such turd. From the offset, the overriding feeling about this story was that she was wrong (on so many levels) Those in the industry that enabled the book to be produced are ultimately the ones at fault. Separating them from her actions and trying to argue and find an “OK” context for what she did or said was not conducive to moving forward or eliciting change. It only added to the white noise.

At this point I wish I had some summative conclusions but I don’t. I’m just an observer trying to make sense of what I see.  I’m sharing because it might help others but also because others may be able to enlighten me.