Trevor Noah’s monologue about racism on The Daily Show in America attracted criticism, including that it was ‘lazy stereotyping’.
The row began with a call to a British radio station, was stoked by one of America’s best known comedians, and ended with former Cabinet ministers and Downing Street wading in.
At the heart of this furore was a claim that Rishi Sunak had experienced a racist “backlash” after becoming the UK’s first British-Asian prime minister.
For many, how something across the Atlantic created such a kickback in Westminster is an example of the dangers of drawing direct cultural and political parallels between two differing nations – and the power of Twitter.
“There has been no racist backlash against Sunak from anybody with any public standing in Britain,” said Sunder Katwala, director of the British Future thinktank.
“This shows more solid anti-prejudice norms in our media and politics than in the US.”
Katwala was reacting to a segment by Trevor Noah on the US satirical news show, The Daily Show, in which he alleged that Britons were concerned that “Indians are going to take over Great Britain”.
His polemic was inspired by a telephone caller on LBC Radio who said Sunak was “not even British” and “doesn’t love England like Boris does”.
The caller, who claimed to be a member of the Conservative party, said: “Could you imagine me becoming the prime minister of Pakistan or Saudi Arabia?
No. These things matter. We’re talking about England. 85% of English people are white.”
Noah responded: “Watching the story of Rishi Sunak becoming England’s first prime minister of colour, of Indian descent, of all these things and then seeing the backlash is one of the more telling things about how people view the role that they or their people have played in history.
hear a lot of the people saying ‘Oh, they’re taking over, now the Indians are going to take over Great Britain and what’s next?’
And I always find myself going ‘So what?
What are you afraid of ?”’
Sajid Javid calls out Trevor Noah for being ‘detached from reality’
He compared the caller to Tucker Carlson, the rightwing Fox News presenter, which led to accusations that he was “projecting” American views on race on to Britain.
Former cabinet minister Sajid Javid, who was Britain’s first nonwhite chancellor and home secretary, said Noah was “simply wrong” and called his monologue “a narrative catered to his audience, at a cost of being completely detached from reality”.
Britain, Javid insisted, was “the most successful multiracial democracy on earth and proud of this historic achievement”.
Asked whether Sunak believes Britain is a racist country, a Downing Street spokesperson said: “No he doesn’t.”
Rory Stewart, a former Tory leadership contender, said Noah’s comments were “completely bizarre” and “lazy stereotyping”.
It was hard to deny the LBC caller’s racism, Katwala said, but the strength of feeling boiled down to a simple belief – that while there was a “toxic rejectionist fringe with an excessive share of online voice” who might be more inclined to contact radio shows, their bigotry should not be held as representative of what Britons think.
“It’s important to understand the differences between the US and the UK,” he said.
“It’s an important problem for America, that in the [Donald] Trump era people like Steve Bannon managed to dissolve the boundary between extreme politics and the Republican mainstream.
You have Republican candidates having to be ambivalent about racism or prejudice, violent protests, false conspiracy claims.
” In the UK, he said, even the likes of Nigel Farage are still “aware of where that boundary is”.