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Fiona Bruce criticised for asking non-white member of Question Time panel to handle racism question

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Question Time panellist Nazir Afzal today backed Fiona Bruce, saying he had ‘no criticism’ of the host after accusing her during the show of asking him first about the cricket racism row because he is a ‘brown person’.

The BBC programme has become embroiled in an ‘unconscious racism’ row after Bruce asked Mr Afzal, the only non-white member of the panel, to be the first person to answer an audience member’s query about racism.

The question, which was partly about recent allegations of racist abuse made by cricketer Azeem Rafiq, was asked last night to a panel made up of former crown prosecutor Mr Afzal; white psychologist Jordan Peterson; and three white MPs – Mims Davies from the Conservatives, Stella Creasy of Labour and Stephen Flynn from the SNP.

Bruce then immediately turned to Mr Afzal and asked him to answer, prompting him to say: ‘The brown person will answer first’. As he made the comment he turned to the audience and laughed, which saw some chuckle with him.

The presenter then asked him: ‘Nazir, so do you think that was wrong of me to come to you first?’ Mr Afzal replied: ‘I think so’ and attempted to continue answering the question while pointing towards the audience.

But Bruce then added: ‘Well let’s not do it. I’m not being sarcastic at all. I mean if that’s how you feel, I respect that.’ Mr Afzal then stopped speaking and sat silently, while Bruce went to Mr Peterson to hear from him instead.

Reacting this morning after the incident prompted huge debate online, Mr Afzal tweeted: ‘I have no criticism of Fiona Bruce. I made point that racism is something which everyone should have a view on, not just minorities. If the subject was say child or domestic abuse, you wouldn’t just ask the victim. It’s everybody’s business.’

Mr Nazir’s parents were from Pakistan but he was born in Birmingham. He is known for his prosecutions of the Rochdale child sex abuse ring in 2012 and has featured on the Asian Power 100 and Muslim Power 100 lists. 

Amid much discussion last night on Twitter, one viewer branded what they called Bruce’s ‘unconscious racism’ as ‘incredible’, while another said: ‘Fair play to Nazir there putting Fiona Bruce in her place.’

But Shahrar Ali – the former Green Party deputy leader from 2014 to 2016, who was the first Black, Asian and minority ethnic deputy of a UK parliamentary party – supported Bruce and praised her quick reaction.

He tweeted: ‘I really like the way Fiona Bruce changed order of panelists after Nazir Afzal made throwaway comment that she just had to come to him first. She changed tack and said she wasn’t being patronising.’ 

Mr Ali added: ‘Afzal is brilliantly insightful on this topic but may have been over interpreting that situation. Plus even if she did want to go to him first because he might have greater insight because of his background or campaigning work that also wouldn’t be prejudice.’ 

And another Twitter user pointed out: ‘From what I can see she went to him first because he hadn’t spoken in a while. I don’t think skin colour was anything to do with it.’

An 'unconscious racism' row broke out over the BBC's Question Time last night after presenter Fiona Bruce asked the only non-white member of the panel to be the first person to answer an audience member's query about racism

An ‘unconscious racism’ row broke out over the BBC’s Question Time last night after presenter Fiona Bruce asked the only non-white member of the panel to be the first person to answer an audience member’s query about racism

The panel last night was made up of former crown prosecutor Nazir Afzal; white psychologist Jordan Peterson; and three white MPs - Mims Davies from the Conservatives, Stella Creasy of Labour and Stephen Flynn from the SNP

The panel last night was made up of former crown prosecutor Nazir Afzal; white psychologist Jordan Peterson; and three white MPs – Mims Davies from the Conservatives, Stella Creasy of Labour and Stephen Flynn from the SNP

Bruce immediately turned to Mr Afzal and asked him to respond, prompting him to say: 'The brown person will answer first'

Bruce immediately turned to Mr Afzal and asked him to respond, prompting him to say: ‘The brown person will answer first’

Later in the discussion, fellow panellist Stella Creasy said: ‘All of us have a challenge to ask ourselves, of whether we are normalising forms of racism.

‘And actually I think that is what Nazir called you [Fiona] to account to about Fiona tonight was to say, ‘we normalise the idea that if we are going to talk about racism we go to the person of colour first and ask them to give their hot take.’

Reacting this morning after the incident prompted huge debate online, Mr Afzal tweeted the above

Reacting this morning after the incident prompted huge debate online, Mr Afzal tweeted the above

Bruce said she always tries to ‘go to everyone on the panel first’, so that ‘everyone has a go at the first question’. 

As the programme neared its end, Mr Afzal asked Bruce to ‘forgive’ him for his earlier answer, but then added: ‘The reality is that brown people, black people, people from minorities are tired of having to continue to describe how much racism we experience on a daily basis.’

Reacting to the exchange on Twitter, another social media user said: ‘Nazir Afzal was spot on. That look from Fiona Bruce in being called upon on it though.’ 

Another claimed: ‘Fiona Bruce is raging after being called out immediately asking the only ethnic minority about racism – BBC need to put her on unconscious bias training.’    

Panellist Jordan Peterson – who was also joined on the panel by the Scottish National Party’s Stephen Flynn and Conservative employment minister Mims Davis – leapt to Bruce’s defence after Mr Ali said he did think it was wrong of her to ask him to answer the question about racism first.  

He said that Bruce’s decision to go to Mr Afzal first was a ‘mark of respect’. He added: ‘That may have been inappropriate and it may have been taken wrong but that doesn’t mean it was racist.’  

In his own response to the audience member’s question, Mr Peterson said: ‘Things need to be particularised rather than generalised as a general rule lets say.

‘This cricketer was facing racism, by his own account. The question is, ‘who? When? What? Exactly.’ 

‘Because otherwise it degenerates into something like a discussion of structural racism.

‘And when it becomes abstracted up to that level, first of all that pits group against group, which I think is entirely counter-productive and it actually doesn’t address the issue.’  

However, the popular author then attracted criticism from the rest of the panel when he waved his fingers in the air as he said that ‘racism’ is a ‘global and vague term’. 

Mr Flynn angrily asked: ‘Sorry, why would you possibly do that? What did that mean?…As if it wasn’t a real thing?’ 

Mr Peterson responded by claiming that the hand sign was ‘indicative or low resolution thinking’.

Jordan Peterson attracted criticism from the rest of the panel when he waved his fingers in the air as he said that 'racism' is a 'global and vague term'

Jordan Peterson attracted criticism from the rest of the panel when he waved his fingers in the air as he said that ‘racism’ is a ‘global and vague term’

When the presenter asked him if it was 'wrong' for her to ask him first, he said 'I think so'. Ms Bruce then added: 'Well let's not do it. I'm not being sarcastic at all. I mean if that's how you feel, I respect that'

When the presenter asked him if it was ‘wrong’ for her to ask him first, he said ‘I think so’. Ms Bruce then added: ‘Well let’s not do it. I’m not being sarcastic at all. I mean if that’s how you feel, I respect that’

Ms Creasy then said: ‘He [Rafiq] was repeatedly called abusive terms directly linked to his ethnicity.’   

When Mr Peterson asked, ‘By who’, Ms Creasy added: ‘By not just one but repeated members of the Yorkshire cricket club.  If it walks like a duck Jordan and talks like a duck it is a duck. It’s racism.’

Mr Peterson then insisted that he was not ‘denying’ the cricketer’s experience.  ‘What I asked was ‘exactly who and when’ and you just answered that question,’ he added.

‘And so I would say those specific people should be held specifically to account for their actions before any movement up the abstraction hierarchy to a discussion of something like structural racism, which I don’t think is helpful.’

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