The New Danger
The New Danger
Even as recently as the 1980’s, it was said that Black footballers weren’t as skilled at the beautiful game as their white counterparts; some even went as far as to claim Black people were unable to play as well because of inherent flaws in their make-up – genetic or otherwise, I never could tell. These claims were made despite the presence of athletes like Garth Crooks and later, of John Barnes, both of whom had to endure having bananas thrown onto the pitch whenever they played, often by supporters of their own teams. The naysayers also neglected to mention Arthur Warton and Walter Tull, who had played for national teams in the mid-1880’s and and 1900’s respectively, and were the first Black professional footballers the world had seen.
In this first half of the millennium it would seem ludicrous to think that literature penned by Black writers might be seen in a similar fashion – especially with the successes of Zadie Smith, Andrea Levy and Ben Okri. Many would argue that these are the exceptions that prove the rule, that class plays a major part in their acceptance, and that diverse genres – sci-fi, romance, experimental fiction, thrillers and even crime – are relatively poor pickings for Black British writers. Some would say that that’s because Black writers are not sufficiently talented; others, like myself, that the issue is publishing and promotion of these authors, not quality. Of course, either of these views are difficult to prove without firm evidence . The fact of the matter is, without a frank discussion of the varied perspectives that includes honest input from experienced Black writers working within the industry, we’ll never get close to the truth.
Because for every Zadie Smith there’s a Precious Williams; for every Andrea Levy there’s an Yvvette Edwards; for every Ben Okri there’s a Chris Abani, and for every Mike Gayle there’s an Alex Wheatle. Heard of these writers? Some, but not all? I suggest you do your research before making any claims to know Black British writing, what we’re capable of and what we’re about. Listen to our experiences before making comments about the reasons why we might not be as lauded, test the waters to see if the playing field is as level as it is claimed. All these writers are valid, all their voices are necessary, of that there is no doubt. But if the argument is to begin with the assumption that Black writing is crippled by inability, as it was once claimed about Black footballers, then we haven’t moved very far from attitudes expressed in the 1800 and 1900’s after all.
N.B. – This post is written in response to comments made regarding two articles, one by Catherine Johnson in the Guardian: http://www.guardian.co.uk/commentisfree/2011/dec/05/where-are-britains-black-writers
The other by Alex Wheatle in the Independent:http://www.independent.co.uk/arts-entertainment/books/features/the-race-problem-with-the-booker-2371944.html
In both articles I found the general public response unsettling to say the least. If this is truly how the majority readership see writing by people of colour than we have further to go than I ever believed.