I'm often one to give the benefit of the doubt, but on this occasion I don't agree.
You can't tell me an experienced football journo doesn't know that Barkley has Nigerian heritage. The story was in several national papers when Barkley first started making the England squad. It got resurrected again before the 2016 World Cup. I find it highly unlikely that Kelvin MacKenzie, who knows Barkley well enough to write full articles about him, wasn't aware of that fairly well known piece of information.
MacKenzie comes from a generation where for many racism was second nature, and who has committed his thoughts on black people to paper several times, publicly. The man is a demonstrable racist and there's absolutely nothing to suggest he's changed his views on the matter (and plenty to suggest he hasn't).
Now, perhaps his thought process wasn't as explicit as "I'm going to compare Barkley to a gorilla because of his black grandparent".
But once MacKenzie learned that Ross came from African heritage, did that later influence - perhaps subliminally - his perception that Ross is stupid?
And was his use of the gorilla as the point of comparison influenced by the usage of that animal as an insult to denote stupidity in black people? An insult I'd wager he'd thrown out many times before it become taboo in society. Gorillas are smart. They certainly aren't my go-to animal to denote stupidity.
In fact, can you imagine anyone who isn't racist committing these words to paper "I have always judged Ross Barkley as one of our dimmest footballers. There is something about the lack of reflection in his eyes which makes me certain not only are the lights not on, there is definitely nobody at home. I get a similar feeling when seeing a gorilla at the zoo".
Maybe the comparison was deliberate and malicious. Maybe it's a slightly more subtle form of racism. Either way, sorry, but personally I don't see the case for giving him the benefit of the doubt.
His heritage was an after thought, because it's an indirect attack on the City, Barkley wasn't the cut and thrust of the story. He denigrates Barkley as thick and worthless, but only to build blame to shift. He probably spent a few minutes looking at the manna of the Barkley story and then spent every waking second between then and finishing article on thinking of all the different ways to call people cunts.
In terms of the racism issue, there is the fairly obvious point that without the heritage, very few considered it racist, but once Barkley's heritage was raised it became a big issue. But white people in UK who campaign on racism matters tend not to find comparisons to primates offensive for some reason, they are more concerned about having freedom to say it. But also it's presumed you can't be racist among your own racial group, there is somewhat of an impunity for self denigration. But I do think you can make the case that while Barkley may be 1/8 Nigerian, McKenzie will have some too at some point, maybe he's got Ghanaian heritage and that's why he's having a pop.
With regard to Barkley's heritage, it was available in public domain, but probably a long way down the pecking order in terms of stories or info. We naturally have a higher level of knowledge of Everton players and I'm sure there were plenty of us who didn't know or had forgotten about it, until this re raised it.
It's that time of the year when McKenzie gets the most abuse, and I think people are always somewhat reflective of what they receive. I wouldn't be surprised if he was drunk, manically laughing and spitting through gritted teeth as he was writing it. There is an art or skill to contained offence, much like controlled aggression in football. If you can offend only a selected group in society, a minority will cheer you on, while majority reserve judgement, give benefit of doubt or lack interest.
When you are trying to deliberately offend a group, you try so hard to offend you sometimes forget where the boundaries lay and the context changes. People like McKenzie who have been editors, will rarely admit their mistakes in public and assume they know best on all matters, the narrative just adapts. But he quickly realised he'd dropped a bollock and is desperately scrambling for some sort of defence and to try and isolate himself from liability.