Out of the mouth of a babe - an opinion!

Naomi Campbell's outburst may be misguided and open to criticism, but it's the most attractive thing about her
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Let me start by declaring an interest. Or perhaps that should be a lack of interest. Give me the choice between Naomi Campbell's rather frail, angular body and the sensuous curves of a Zimbabwean stone carving and I'm heading for Harare. My lips thrill to the cool, firm pressure of my favourite trumpet; the promise of Naomi's sausage lips (think of what a sausage looks like when it bursts in the frying pan) leaves me unmoved. The sulky adolescent pout she affects for her fans simply makes me want to ground her until she learns betters manners.

This will be a devastating blow to Miss Campbell; but my passion for her is confined to her mind. This reputedly tiny article has rarely appeared in public, and was at one point declared missing over Manhattan. However, I believe that I have found it. It contains a mature and sophisticated understanding of the place of the black man and woman in the West today.

Miss Campbell was born four years after the death of Martin Luther King, the anniversary of whose murder fell this week. It would be hard to imagine two characters less alike in outlook, stature and public esteem. King remains a towering moral figure, Naomi a petulant clothes-horse. Yet, trivial as her outburst may seem, it almost precisely mirrors King's own disillusioned warning to America at the height of his fame and influence - there are no half-way houses on the road to equality.

Miss Campbell's complaint that blonde and blue-eyed cover girls sell and black and brown-eyed don't sounds ridiculous in the mouth of a woman who is a multi-millionaire precisely because of the way she looks. It comes oddly from someone that most black people do not recognise as "one of us". That is to say, so far, her social conscience, such as it is, has been exercised on behalf of a series of fashionable causes, which it seems she can shed as easily as she shrugs off the garments she wears. Unfortunately, while it may be possible to decide that you won't wear mink in January, then change your mind and drape yourself in animal hide in February, no one has yet found an easy way for Miss Campbell to take off a black skin when it seems convenient. She has done little in public to identify herself with the despair of the thousands of impoverished young black women of south London. Yet had she not had such a fearsome and ambitious mother - now there's a woman to reckon with - she might have been stuck up a tower block in south London instead of a downtown penthouse.

Her editors have a defence. The magazine-buying public wants its icons to be people that they can imitate. It's hard to see why white women should be expected to make Naomi a model. For example, any make-up artist will tell you that black skins have more than 60 skin tones compared to white skins' fewer than 20. If Miss Campbell and other women of colour who have "made it" in the world of fashion - and there are many now - want to put black girls on covers, why don't they use their wealth and pulling power to start their own magazine? Or better still, back one of the struggling magazines aimed at the black women?

All of this is true. But Miss Campbell is justified in her complaint, and we should listen to her carefully. She is right in saying is that nothing will change if leadership is not exercised by those who set trends. Are publishers so feeble that they accept that their magazines have segregated zones with the cover marked "whites only"? Successful enterprises develop their customers' tastes and reach out to new audiences, a lesson learnt some years ago by the banks. They would not put a person of colour on the cashier's desk on the grounds that the customers wouldn't like it - until they realised that they were losing high-street business.

However, Miss Campbell is drawing attention to another, more profound truth about black success in the West. It is understood by all black people, and can be stated as follows - if you are not white in Western society, it does not matter how high you climb; you will always know that if had you been white, you would have climbed higher. Or to put it in the words of most black parents, probably including Mrs Campbell - you must accept that no matter how well you do what you do, you have to do it better than your white peers to achieve the same reward.

It has become fashionable to talk about black people "making it" in society; there have been several attempts lately to prove the existence of an emerging black "middle class". But being middle class in this country does not just involve being affluent; it means a shared tradition, a lifestyle and status sustainable through generation after generation, and assets which will not be devalued with time. Very few black people can yet make these claims, though some Asians can. What has happened, I think, is that some white journalists have finally met some black people, found that they rather liked them, and shared some of their tastes and ideas; their editors have decided that this is so surprising that it must be a social phenomenon.

This may seem a bit ungrateful and negative. After all, many people have worked long and hard to advance the cause of equality in the UK. But this is not a race in which you can stop for a breather. King's disillusion at the time of his death focused on the Johnson administration's failure to meet black expectations in the war on poverty while using black men as cannon fodder in Vietnam. His stance angered the White House, which expected him to be grateful for the limited advances in civil rights. Inspired leaks were starting to circulate about his womanising and his drinking. Sooner or later, there would have been a clash.

Naomi Campbell's money and fame could allow her to be satisfied with her own stunning success. She is, however, following King's example of biting the hand that feeds her, both on her own behalf and those who come after her. But prepare for the whispers that she is an ageing, bad-tempered has-been who is letting herself go. In other words, she's acquired character and opinions; now that's what I call sexy.