Another day, another racism row in media-land. Scarcely has the dust settled on John Galliano (whatever happened to him?) than the London Evening Standard reports on the repeated racial abuse of a black guest and his companion at the BAFTA Awards last week.
The abuse, by “celebrity hairdresser” (i.e. friend of Kate Moss) James Brown, is not denied. It has been the subject of grovelling public mea culpas and private apologies. According to the Standard, “a source close to the hairdresser” has said that “he has apologised and that should be the end of the matter”. Maybe it will be – the guest has expressed a hope that Mr Brown was “just trying to be cool and trendy” and did not actually hold the views he expressed. In other words, that he was being puerile and offensive because he thought it was clever (readers with teenage children will recognise the concept) rather than because he had actually engaged brain before opening mouth.
However, maybe it will not be the end of the matter. Like Dior and Mr Galliano but with less glamour, Boots the Chemists executives are urgently reviewing their hair-care products trading association with Mr Brown. This would certainly be a debate to overhear, in particular in relation to where the balance lies between public sentiment (no complaint so far, apparently), necessary corporate disapproval and the commercial drivers which led to the association in the first place. Is it enough that Mr Brown later apologised for the abuse and made himself look an utter twerp in the media? Or must his immaculately tousled head now roll, either to satisfy the gods of political correctness or because Boots is genuinely (and justifiably) appalled by his remarks? Would it make a difference if his product range were flagging? Should it? And how relevant is the media exposure? The Times notes that the victim of the abuse “declined to identify the BAFTA culprit to the newspapers, saying that he did not want to ruin anybody’s career”. Neatly side-stepping the perhaps obvious question of why you would consider going to the newspapers after a run-in at a private function, he nonetheless wrote an article about it for the Mail on Sunday in which, while thoughtfully not naming Mr Brown, “he gave so many clues that few could be in any doubt”.
However, it is as the host of a new 10-week “reality hairdressing” television series that Mr Brown risks losing most. The Times reports with scarcely a trace of schadenfreude that his “burgeoning media career now looks to be in tatters”, so maybe there is a bright side for the rest of us after all.
If Mr Brown had been employed behind the till and said the same things to a customer or another Boots employee you could safely assume that he would have been off the premises within minutes and the payroll within hours. While the victim here was not a paying customer, should it really be upon such fine distinctions that questions of blatantly inappropriate behaviour turn? There are some things you just can’t do once you grow up, whether or not you know Kate Moss, and repeated racist abuse of high profile people at high profile events is right up there.
As to the outcome, it is tempting to conclude that if Mr Brown goes to Boots on bended knee, evinces copious remorse, shifts a ton of hair-dryers and never ever ever does it again, he may survive, though as damaged goods for future business partners. However, if he does genuinely regard the apology as a definitive resolution and so is as outwardly oblivious to the public mood as Sepp “What FIFA crisis?” Blatter, he may find that his hair is not the only thing cut short in the coming weeks.