Grace Dent: Is this what Ukip thinks we secretly think? That Lenny Henry should go and live in a ‘black country’? It’s time to fight back

Ukip candidate William Henwood uses Conversational Racism For Beginners

 

Share

The fact that the comedian Lenny Henry is a British man born in Dudley, close to Birmingham, seems – to me at least – something as deep-rooted in the British conscience as other, similar doofus-grade Who Wants To Be a Millionaire questions such as: “Where is the Queen’s Scottish residence?” or “Which country did Paddington Bear come from the deepest, darkest part of?”

It’s impossible as a British person to say how one originally found these things out. One just knows. Still, the fact of Lenny Henry’s country of birth has eluded the Ukip candidate for Enfield, William Henwood, who suggested over the weekend that Lenny Henry should “emigrate to a black country”, if he’s not happy living with “whites”.

Henwood’s oafish mutterings were clearly a rejig of the popular Conversational Racism For Beginners’ phrase: “Get back to your own country.” He is unapologetic and indignant at the fuss. Keeping in mind that Ukip seems to be gaining considerable popularity in this country for being those ruddy great blokes with the brass balls to say what we’re all secretly thinking, it is useful to know what they secretly think we all think.

A recent episode of Channel 4’s Gogglebox – the programme that watches the everyday man watching telly – showed almost every sofa being won over by Farage’s “Tell it as you see it” chutzpah. Presumably, the trickle-down effect of this is buffoons like Henwood treating us to the full majesty of their “everyman” grunts before spinning round with a confident, “Am I right, guys?” For the good of Great Britain we need to keep whacking these prats back into place, like a depressing game of beach-front whack-a-mole, with the vehement shout of, “No, pillock, you’re absolutely wrong.”

The most galling part of Henwood’s musings is that it was in response to an erudite Bafta speech by Lenny Henry about the time-worn British theatrical and televisual problem of representation for non-white actors. Clearly, this discrepancy – the historical and socio-political reasons for it plus the debate of how to rectify the problem – is a topic which could fill many thousands of words. But in its briefest form, there’s a reason that fine British actors like Idris Elba, Marianne Jean-Baptiste and Chiwetel Ejiofor found some of their most rewarding roles in America. I would add some of my own thoughts here, but let’s instead go to William Henwood who has his own great wisdom. 

“I think,” he told the BBC when they called to find out if his original tweet was perhaps taken out of context, that “if black people come to this country and don’t like mixing with white people, why are they here? If he [Henry] wants a lot of blacks around, go and live in a black country.”

Henwood, it has been said, is not a racist. Unfortunately, the person saying this is BNP chairman Nick Griffin who jumped in to defend Henwood, saying that “the real racism” was the “bullying by the BBC and by the political elite of ordinary British people, of various parties, who stand up and say what most ordinary people think”.

Nick Griffin also added, for good measure: “We are going to be an abused minority in our own homeland.” This seems a rather extreme reaction to Lenny Henry. I’ve watched him for years in Tiswas as Delbert Wilkins, as Theopolis P Wildebeest, and I’m going to go out on a limb here and say I just don’t think he has violent race-based civil war leadership in him. I think he was just making a point about equality. Henwood’s reaction was a perfect illustration of how far attitudes in this country may need to shift.

For many people, the first time they learnt that Lenny Henry was utterly British was back in 1975 – nearly 40 years ago – when he appeared on the talent show New Faces. As, very typically, the only black person to appear on British TV that evening, Henry would touch on the matter by cracking the joke that Enoch Powell had offered him £1,000 to “go home”. “But it only costs me 50p to get to Dudley!” Henry, just a boy then, would deliver the punchline in a mock-glib, chipper tone brimming with youthful naivety, but in reality it was a dark look at 1970s Britain and the attitudes a black person had to deal with. It’s up to us as voters to spell out to men like William Henwood that this joke isn’t funny any more.

Read more:

How fitting that Max Clifford ended up at the centre of a story that he had no control over

Twitter: @gracedent

React Now

Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Maths Teacher

£110 - £200 per day: Randstad Education Leeds: Secondary Maths Teacher for spe...

Business Analyst - Surrey - Permanent - Up to £50k DOE

£40000 - £50000 Per Annum Excellent benefits: Clearwater People Solutions Ltd:...

***ASP.NET Developer - Cheshire - £35k - Permanent***

£30000 - £35000 Per Annum Excellent benefits: Clearwater People Solutions Ltd:...

***Solutions Architect*** - Brighton - £40k - Permanent

£35000 - £40000 Per Annum Excellent benefits: Clearwater People Solutions Ltd:...

Day In a Page

Read Next
 

Taking on Ukip requires a delicate balancing act for both main parties

Andrew Grice
Today is a bigger Shabbes than usual in the Jewish world because it has been chosen to launch the Shabbos Project  

Shabbes exerts a pull on all Jews, and today is bigger than ever

Howard Jacobson
Wilko Johnson, now the bad news: musician splits with manager after police investigate assault claims

Wilko Johnson, now the bad news

Former Dr Feelgood splits with manager after police investigate assault claims
Mark Udall: The Democrat Senator with a fight on his hands ahead of the US midterm elections

Mark Udall: The Democrat Senator with a fight on his hands

The Senator for Colorado is for gay rights, for abortion rights – and in the Republicans’ sights as they threaten to take control of the Senate next month
New discoveries show more contact between far-flung prehistoric humans than had been thought

New discoveries show more contact between far-flung prehistoric humans than had been thought

Evidence found of contact between Easter Islanders and South America
Cerys Matthews reveals how her uncle taped 150 interviews for a biography of Dylan Thomas

Cerys Matthews on Dylan Thomas

The singer reveals how her uncle taped 150 interviews for a biography of the famous Welsh poet
DIY is not fun and we've finally realised this as a nation

Homebase closures: 'DIY is not fun'

Homebase has announced the closure of one in four of its stores. Nick Harding, who never did know his awl from his elbow, is glad to see the back of DIY
The Battle of the Five Armies: Air New Zealand releases new Hobbit-inspired in-flight video

Air New Zealand's wizard in-flight video

The airline has released a new Hobbit-inspired clip dubbed "The most epic safety video ever made"
Pumpkin spice is the flavour of the month - but can you stomach the sweetness?

Pumpkin spice is the flavour of the month

The combination of cinnamon, clove, nutmeg (and no actual pumpkin), now flavours everything from lattes to cream cheese in the US
11 best sonic skincare brushes

11 best sonic skincare brushes

Forget the flannel - take skincare to the next level by using your favourite cleanser with a sonic facial brush
Paul Scholes column: I'm not worried about Manchester United's defence - Chelsea test can be the making of Phil Jones and Marcos Rojo

Paul Scholes column

I'm not worried about Manchester United's defence - Chelsea test can be the making of Jones and Rojo
Frank Warren: Boxing has its problems but in all my time I've never seen a crooked fight

Frank Warren: Boxing has its problems but in all my time I've never seen a crooked fight

While other sports are stalked by corruption, we are an easy target for the critics
Jamie Roberts exclusive interview: 'I'm a man of my word – I'll stay in Paris'

Jamie Roberts: 'I'm a man of my word – I'll stay in Paris'

Wales centre says he’s not coming home but is looking to establish himself at Racing Métro
How could three tourists have been battered within an inch of their lives by a burglar in a plush London hotel?

A crime that reveals London's dark heart

How could three tourists have been battered within an inch of their lives by a burglar in a plush London hotel?
Meet 'Porridge' and 'Vampire': Chinese state TV is offering advice for citizens picking a Western moniker

Lost in translation: Western monikers

Chinese state TV is offering advice for citizens picking a Western moniker. Simon Usborne, who met a 'Porridge' and a 'Vampire' while in China, can see the problem
Handy hacks that make life easier: New book reveals how to rid your inbox of spam, protect your passwords and amplify your iPhone

Handy hacks that make life easier

New book reveals how to rid your email inbox of spam, protect your passwords and amplify your iPhone with a loo-roll
KidZania lets children try their hands at being a firefighter, doctor or factory worker for the day

KidZania: It's a small world

The new 'educational entertainment experience' in London's Shepherd's Bush will allow children to try out the jobs that are usually undertaken by adults, including firefighter, doctor or factory worker