Let’s not too much of a fuss about what follows, but it was a little thing that bothered me a bit. It concerned racism, except that it didn’t, not really. The truly wonderful Nile Rodgers was on the Chris Evans Breakfast show on BBC Radio 2 this morning. As ever, he was hugely entertaining, very wise and very funny. There is nothing I don’t like about Rodgers but I was, just a tiny bit, concerned by one little thing he said, a throwaway comment when referring to another guest’s suntan. Rodgers said it wasn’t as good as his own tan, or something like that. Everyone laughed, very awkwardly, I thought. I winced.
Nile Rodgers, you may know, is black and, increasingly, matters of colour are becoming irrelevant. This is not Alf Garnett or Love Thy Neighbour, it is not the Colour Bar or Apartheid. These are fast becoming the disgraces of yesterday, not today.
The norm is that if a black person makes a black joke, then that’s all right. This extends into other areas, like Jewishness. Jackie Mason has made a career out of Jewish humour, Mel Brooks has trodden all over all manner of areas including colour, usually to tremendous positive effect. With comedy being the new rock and roll, comedians come from all areas of society. Reginald D Hunter upset a PFA dinner the other year by his use of the ‘N’ word. How far should it go and is it all right as long as the joke is funny?
I grew up in a word of ‘N’ word humour and ‘Paki’ jokes. They were not just mainstream in the school playground (although not in mine, thankfully), it was what TV comedy was all about. The famous comedians of the day, the likes of Bernard Manning and Jim Davidson, went way over any line of acceptability by which we might measure it today. Racist humour was the norm and if you spoke out against it, you were “politically correct”, a worthless term used by racists and bigots to this day to defend racist and bigoted comments. All this returned to me this morning whilst listening to Nile Rodgers.
If you have never seen Love Thy Neighbour, a TV series from the 1970s where a black couple moved in next door to a white couple of which the man was an unpleasant racist, I suggest you don’t. I cringed when I saw it first time out. How I would feel now, I daren’t even imagine.
Most of us have managed to work out that black people are black not through sitting on their loungers, although a black friend of mine joked about his own tan when returning from foreign holidays (and he was right: sun tans are not exclusive to white people). But this was 30-odd years ago and we were still living in the dark ages, so to speak.
Rodgers meant no ill by his comment. It was the sort of thing older black people tend to say, possibly because that was what they were expected to say. And it was a throwaway comment, that’s all.
Maybe it’s the sense of how we have all, finally, moved on that got me to thinking about this age old subject or maybe it’s because I’m over-sensitive, operating a zero tolerance strategy, at least in my mind.
More than likely, it gave me a glimpse of yesterday, before we realised just how bonkers it is to judge people by colour. It’s hard to believe it did used to matter for most people and that it still matters to some.