What Frank Bruno could have taught Trayvon Martin – the pink suit vs. the hoodie

Posted: April 22, 2012 in Blogs
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Piers Morgan - self satisfied and smug

Firstly let me start with a confession – I can’t stand Piers Morgan. He has that smarmy self-satisfied attitude about him that he shares with three other of my least favourite people, Jeremy Clarkson, Simon Cowell and Chancellor of the Exchequer George Osborne.  They give off an air of ‘this is my world, just be happy that I’m allowing you some time in it’.   Normally I’ll change channels to avoid these men, but on Friday night I had to tune into Morgan’s interview with ex-heavyweight boxing champion Frank Bruno.

Frank Bruno - loved by the 'Great British Public'.

I was never a big fan of big Frank either.  Despite being blessed with a powerful physique, his boxing skills were mediocre, and, rather like Audley Harrison, he just never had that killer instinct required to be a boxing champion.

He is not the best boxer Britain has produced either – Nigel Benn, Chris Eubank, and Lennox Lewis all had more grit, greater skill and reached higher heights – but the British Public always loved Frank.  But why? We all know that the ‘Great British Public’ prefer a gallant loser to an arrogant winner (see Tim Henman) but it goes much deeper than that.

Being a six foot Black man who’s face doesn’t easily break into a smile, I know personally how intimidating some white people find Black men.  Frank is taller than me, more muscular than me, darker than me, and dare I say uglier than me, and yet the ‘Great British Public’ love him, because unlike Nigel Benn, Chris Eubank, Lennox Lewis and yes, even myself, Frank knows how to make white people feel comfortable.

The humility, the self-depreciating humour, the ever- ready joke, and yes the trademark laugh.  Despite his size and his strength white people can look on Frank and think ‘its ok, we have nothing to fear here’. Frank must have worked out how to do this quite early on in life.  Remember he was expelled from school in his early teens for constant fighting.  Physically large even then, he must have been quite intimidating for his teachers. And yet years later this same man appeared in television adverts for HP sauce and starred in panto wearing a tu-tu.

Frank - emasculating himself for the delight of the public.

As simple as he is, Frank knows that for a Black man to get on in this country, white people have to like you. (As my Grandfather used to say – ‘they hold the handle and you hold the blade’.) With his imposing physical presence that took extra effort for him, so if it requires a little coon-ing and sambo-ing, so be it. (Remember, that Lennox Lewis called Frank an Uncle Tom to his face).

Lennox Lewis called Frank an 'Uncle Tom'.

Just look at the Black men who’ve succeeded in the media in this county –Mr Motivator, Lenny Henry, Ainsley Harriot, Andi Peters  all made careers out of being smiling and inoffensive.  Can you imagine a Black comedian with a dry and serious persona like Jack Dee, or an angry ranting one like Ben Elton getting anywhere in this country?

Ainsley Harriot - modern day minstrel?

Now I’m not hating on Frank, or Ainsley or Lenny or any of those guys.  I can’t diss any black man who’s providing for his family.  I’d rather them, than some irresponsible babyfather with kids all over the place that he’s not providing for, because he’s not prepared to ‘bow and scrape to the white man’.  But while I’m not dissing them, I can’t say that any of them make me feel proud to be Black. Not in the way that self-confident, assertive Black men  Muhammed Ali, or Spike Lee or Usain Bolt does. (Compare and contrast Ali’s classic interviews with Parkinson with Bruno vs. Morgan)

But assertive, self-confident Black men are perceived as threatening  by many white people.  (‘Uppity niggers’ they used to call them in the Southern states of the U.S.). As a Black man you have to take all these proactive measures with white people just to let them know that you’re not a criminal, and you mean them no harm.  Things like smiling, joking, and wearing a suit.  One thing that you cannot do is wear your  hood up.  In many white people’s minds Black man + hoody = criminal.

George Zimmerman - in fear for his life?

Just ask George Zimmerman.  On a rainy night in February he felt so intimidated by Black boy Trayvon Martin (who had just nipped out to the shops to buy sweets, but had made the mistake of wearing a hoody) that he had to shoot him dead just to protect himself.  And apparently the Florida police agreed with his assessment of the situation on the night, because they released him without charge. The Police could see that Trayvon was Black, AND wearing a hoody so concluded that 28 year old Zimmerman was right to fear for his life.  The fact that Trayvon was unarmed and only 17 is irrelevant – he was Black and wearing a hoody.

Trayvon Martin - wrong colour, wrong dresscode?

So for all you Black men out there who are wondering why you can’t get a job, or want to know how to get on in this country, or for all those parents of Black boys who want to keep them safe on the street, here are  some tips for you, inspired by Frank Bruno.

1)       Keep showing them pearly whites – its puts them at ease when we smile.

2)      When confronted by authority figures (teachers, police, neighbourhood watch volunteers etc.) do not raise your voice, and do not gesticulate.  They will interpret that as being aggressive.

3)      Wear a suit – not a hoody (pink is optional).

Have you any other tips to help Black men to put white men at their ease? Feel free to leave a comment.

FOOTNOTE:

Trayvon Martin – Rest In Peace. 

Frank Bruno – Get Well Soon!

Lee Pinkerton

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Comments
  1. rapz says:

    Well done Lee, however I think that even though your observations on how to make it in the ‘white’ world are accurate, i think here in the 21st c they are also dated (but still relevant).. Today as a blackman if you have something that the masses want then the masses will take you and it, whatever your character…. Today more and more black men are making their own beds and people are ready to dive under the covers, without you having to change the sheets… You have the Reggae Reggae Sauce guy, ok he sang a song to get a deal but I’ve seen him talk, he seems an intelligent fellow, without the coon effecr…Tim Cambell is doing well and well respected with his Bright Ideas company, even got an MBE from Prince Charlie… My point is, I think if you have something worthwhile to say, can say it in an intelligent way with authority not aggression and have something that people want and can make money from (with you controlling the lions share) then you’ll be a man, you son…

    • leepinkerton says:

      Thanks for your response Rapz. Maybe my examples are a litle dated, but even with your example of Levi Roots, he’s still presenting that hapy, smiling ‘One Love’ vision of Jamaica that the tourists love, rather than the real modern day version. If he’d have come on Dragon’s Den spiting like Bounty Killer do you think he would’ve got the deal? And even in America the First Lady was decribed as an ‘angry Black woman’, and look what they’ve got the President doing now – singing slow Jams on late night chat shows! But lets stay positive. i like the metaphor – ‘Black men are making their own beds and white peole are willing to dive under the covers without you having to change the sheets’!!

      • Devon says:

        LOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOL arrrr maTe!! lol Lee you are on point to the max and I’m not even saying that cause your family. This is too much and freaking hilarious. Like seriously everything you said is so true and its also uplifting… Blessings. RIP to Trayvon Martin that something I just cannot even talk about cause that’s where I just see red for these cowards but what a great blog Lee. Big up.

      • leepinkerton says:

        Thanks for the love Dev. Now all you have to do is subscribe, so I don’t have to Facebook you every new upload. Just click on the button that says ‘follow’ then you’ll automatically get an e-mail every time I publish a new one. Peace.

  2. devon daley says:

    must respond as a) thought provoking – b) saw earlier devon reply..forgot ya bro in law name dev (easy Ldn Dev) ..anyway Lee you’ve written much of merit but since asking for suggestions for black men..my humble one..remember key life skill… emotional intelligence skill cos, whatever our aims – 99% involves people interaction, so a bit like racing drivers picking tyres to suit race situation, it aint always selling out to assess which skills and attire suit a situation or wear a friendly smile sometimes

  3. Hughie Williamson says:

    Great observation Lee and very well explained . Unfortunatly Frank Bruno is a product of institutionalized racism. years and years of subliminal brainwashing. I will give you another example of this. When watching football on tv or listening on the radio, you will always hear these so call football pundits describe black players as ” he’s a big strong lad or man mountain, he’s very quick, has a lot of pace”. Have you ever herd them say ” he is very creative, he has a great fooballing brain or has a high footballing iq. I have never herd them describe a black player like that. Have you? A lot of black players do not get the praise they deserve for their footballing abilities only their physical abilities which again is sending out negative subliminal messages to the masses.

  4. akinsankofa says:

    great stuff here lee – funny and thought provoking

  5. bt says:

    Lee, I enjoyed this post, but I didn’t take it seriously – I wasn’t supposed to ….. was I?
    Black men still have to ‘coon-up’? Really?

    Would you also accuse Ozwald Boateng (who you feature on this blog) of having also ‘cooned-up’ in order to reach Saville Row at a tender young age?

    I think your post is doing a huge disservice to the thousands of black man who are quietly (after all, most people are not famous) succeeding in their chosen professions without having to react or pro-actively appease any preconceived notions of danger that their white colleagues may hold about them.

    • leepinkerton says:

      Barbara
      Thank you so much for your comment. I’m glad you enjoyed the post, but yes, i am serious. As a Black man who has spent his whole life in Britain, i know only too well the regular compromises you must make, and humiliations you must suffer if you are to succeed in this country. There is clearly a type of Black man that Britain likes/celebrates/rewards, and another type who they dislike/punish/demonise. Our dole queues, psychiatric hospitals, and prisons are full of the second type. I’m not saying that for any Black man to succeed in this country, he must ‘coon’ himself, but he must certainly make white people feel comfortable. You mentioned Ozwald Boateng, who i have the highest respect for. if you have seen the documentary about him, you will know that he has a public school accent and was married to a white woman. These two things make him more acceptable to the mainstream. They are by no means the only reasons for his success, but they help.
      Anyway Barbara, as i say to all who disagree with me, it is not my desire to make you see things the way i do, only to make you think.
      Thanks again for your comment, and do subscribe, to get a regular supply of thought provoking material.
      Best
      Lee

      • bt says:

        Hi Lee,

        Just a couple of points:

        Ozwald Boateng has a public school accent which, I have no doubt, helped him to succeed. But this is true of everyone with a public school accent. As you mention in another post, ‘poor is the new black’ and there is generalised ridicule of ‘chav’ culture in the UK, including it’s associated accents. Few people can afford to keep an accent that is associated with a ridiculed culture. Maybe the super-successful footballers are the exception that prove this rule. How many MPs/Newsreaders/City workers/Teachers/Doctors/Add Your Profession Here have shed their regional accents in favour of the more acceptable ‘home counties’ accents along their path to success?

        Ozwald Boateng was married to a white woman. I hadn’t realised that this was regarded as acceptable!

        And just for the record, I am a black woman with a father/brothers/nephews/cousins and so I completely understand the compromises that you refer to. I am regularly faced with surprised glances from people who are astonished that I can complete a well constructed sentence. But so what? My mother taught me that I can’t change what other people think or do, I can only change myself. And I don’t believe that this is pie-in-the-sky rhetoric – it’s the way I’ve chosen to live my life.

        Regards
        Barbara

        PS I have subscribed!

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