The truth about our 15-stone aunts

It's OK for us to make fun of our older relatives. We do it discreetly, and with affection
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The Independent Culture
ACCORDING TO Jeffrey Archer - who should presumably know - 30 years ago, "your head did not turn if a black woman passed because they were badly dressed [and] probably overweight, and probably had a lousy job."

When I heard these comments I shook my head, raised my eyes heavenwards and awaited the inevitable howls of protest from my fellow black community leaders. I didn't have to wait long.

Trevor Phillips, the eminent black broadcaster competing with Lord Archer to become mayor of London, was one of the first to express outrage. "It takes your breath away that he should make such remarks which are so manifestly untrue," said Phillips, adding that Archer should apologise to his mother.

Mrs Phillips was, apparently, slender, and the owner of a wonderful wardrobe, even though she worked in a sweatshop. And according to her son, many other black women of her generation "brought style and panache to a Britain that looked rather grey".

Personally, I can't see what the fuss is about. Yes, Archer has been unfair and silly. Unfair because slim and tastefully attired black women are not a new phenomenon. They have always existed. Silly because it's a bit dim-witted to make tactless remarks about African-Caribbeans when you desperately want to be mayor of a city that has a high African-Caribbean population. But let's get things into perspective and be totally honest. Alongside embodiments of elegance such as Mrs Phillips, there have always been African and Caribbean females who are formidably huge-bottomed, scarily vast-bosomed, and unrepentantly determined to ignore fashion.

I'm Nigerian. I have many friends from Africa and the Caribbean. And we often joke among ourselves about the fact that almost every black person we know has a devout, church-going aunt or mum with a name such as Pearl, Myrtle, Hyacinth, Agnes or Florence, who weighs about 15 stone.

These ladies force you to eat non-stop when you visit, fervently believe in capital punishment, regard homosexuality as evil, clean their homes obsessively, insist that the Dubonnet or Stone's ginger wine they regularly quaff contains absolutely no alcohol and think that men should be waited on hand and foot, even though they reckon that men are utterly pathetic. These ladies have ghastly wigs, countless dodgy outfits, and cupboards full of alarming hats. These are the ladies who have embedded themselves in Archer's black consciousness.

It's OK for African and Caribbean youth to make fun of their older relatives, just as people do about Jewish mothers. We do it discreetly. We do it with enormous affection. Archer's remarks may contain a large grain of truth, but they aren't underpinned by love, deference and gratitude. He is not One Of Us and therefore he can't get away with making unflattering observations about elderly black women. We will fight the bugger on the beaches if he disses our Pearls and Myrtles!

Archer should also have noticed the slinky black models and dancers. He should have spotted the crisp, wafer-thin black teachers, nurses, secretaries and factory operatives who knew how to turn cheap clothes into attractive ensembles. And what about the millions of white women of all classes who were terribly dowdy and/ or extremely chubby throughout the Fifties, Sixties, Seventies and Eighties? Did Archer ever notice them?

However, Archer isn't necessarily a rabid racist for making a naff generalisation about a trivial issue that nobody should take seriously. His crude stereotyping is a bore, but it doesn't mark him out as a bad man. I've met him three times. I found him genial. I didn't feel that I was with one of Hitler's heirs, or a psycho who saw the Ku Klux Klan as a misunderstood minority. It is also worth noting that Lord Archer's obsession with appearances is not restricted to making sniffy remarks about black women who don't look like Naomi Campbell. His wife, Mary, recently told a journalist that she had to watch her weight because "Jeffrey doesn't like plump ladies", and Archer himself is always heading for gyms, going on diets and making a big effort with his apparel.

I'm not saying vote for him. I'm just saying don't hate him for being an insensitive white fiftysomething health freak.

I am about to move back to Nigeria because I don't think that the majority of black people have much future in the UK. Black Britons have very real problems in this country.

But Lord Archer's body fascism is essentially colour-blind; and it is the least of our problems. Any Black Brit who is deeply upset about Archer's ramblings should get a life and a sense of humour.

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