BBC News journalist Fiona Lamdin, reporting on a racially motivated attack, used the n-word. The family of the victim wanted Lamdin to use the n-word to portray exactly what happened. The BBC gave a warning before using the actual word, and the coverage was entirely sympathetic to the victim of this appalling attack. Yet still, there were more than 18,000 complaints about the news report.

Other broadcasters have condemned the BBC. A BBC 1Xtra DJ has resigned. A freelance multimedia journalist asked the BBC if they hadn’t got the memo that, “non-black people can never say that word”. Many others took to Twitter to express their outrage.

It’s a curious development, in our age of being offended, that words, like the n-word, are treated in this way. Few seemed to care that the word was being used for anti-racist purposes, to reflect the seriousness of the incident and to give a more accurate picture of the event. This was an anti-racist news report, backed by the family, made in order to both report on and denounce racist violence.

Outrage about racist language, like the n-word, appears to express a new form of morality. But it would be more accurate to describe it as a form of moralising.

What strikes me most about this incident is not the language, but the attack. The report explained that the victim was left with a broken leg, nose and cheekbone after a vehicle was purposefully driven at him. The two men in the car, who were shouting racist insults, left their victim with injuries that will take six months to heal, he will also need plastic surgery to his face. And yet, of this attack, I find not a single sentence or word from Mr and Mrs Outrage.

Here, rather than moral outrage about the n-word expressing a new clear form of morality, it expresses moral confusion. The moral importance of understanding events in context is totally disregarded. The important moral distinction between the wrongness of violence compared with words is turned on its head. We are left with an objective and anti-racist news report about a vicious racist attack, being all but forgotten in the wave of narcissistic outrage.

What the reaction to this horrific act of racist violence expresses is not a new better form of anti-racist morality but a form of not only moral confusion but moral debasement.

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