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.
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.
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).
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?
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.
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.
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.
Trayvon Martin – Rest In Peace.
Frank Bruno – Get Well Soon!