Christina Patterson: Prejudice and the pursuit of 'cool'

I don't know if it's common for people in fashion to talk this way but I do know they're not the only ones in our society to be confused over race

Share
Related Topics

While the staff at Buckingham Palace were completing their preparations for a visit from the most powerful man in the world, the following exchange took place at the Grosvenor House Hotel:

"You're a nigger's bitch."

"Excuse me?"

"Yeah, nigger?"

"What did you say?"

"Nigger."

"Would you mind not using that word, please?"

"What, nigger? Nigger's not offensive. Nothing wrong with nigger. I know loads of niggers."

While the president of the world's only superpower was putting the final touches to the speech he planned to give to both houses of parliament, an ad appeared in a newspaper, and on billboards around the country. The ad had a purple background, and, in the middle of it, lying in a pool of crystals, or something that an advertising "creative" would probably call "bling", a bar of Cadbury's Dairy Milk Bliss. Above it, in white letters, were the words: "Move over, Naomi, there's a new diva in town."

Naomi Campbell is considering legal action."It's upsetting," she said, "to be described as chocolate, not just for me, but for all black women and black people. I do not," she said, "find any humour in this. It is," she said, "insulting and hurtful."

Kraft Foods, which bought Cadbury in 2010, and broke its pledge to keep its Keynsham Plant open, and whose chief executive has twice refused to appear before a select committee, issued a statement. It was, it said, "never our intention to cause any offence". The campaign, it said, "is a light-hearted take on the social pretensions of Cadbury Dairy Milk Bliss".

James Brown, the celebrity hairdresser who initiated the "nigger's bitch" conversation at the Baftas last week, has also issued a statement. "Everyone who knows me," he said, "knows I am not racist in any way whatsoever". The problem, he said, was not to do with racism. The problem, he said, was drink. He was, he said, "very sorry and very embarrassed".

At the time, what he said to Ben Douglas, who runs children's theatre schools, and lives in Surrey, was this: "I've lived in New York for years," he said. "I know loads of brothers," he said. "Don't take this the wrong way," he said, "but some of my cousins have been with blacks."

Ben Douglas, who wrote about the incident in the Mail on Sunday, but didn't name Brown (who has now named himself), didn't ask him about his family arrangements. He didn't ask him if he knew "loads of brothers" because he was a Catholic, and his parents were big fans of Vatican II. He didn't ask him why he should be interested in the fact that someone he didn't know knew his own brothers, or if, perhaps, he was using the word "brothers" to mean "black men", in which case they weren't his brothers. He didn't ask him why he should be interested in his cousins' sexual partners. He didn't ask him any of this because he was, he said, "speechless". He felt, he said, "annihilated".

Naomi Campbell's mother, Valerie Morris, didn't ask how it was possible for a Cadbury Dairy Milk Bliss to have "social pretensions" since it was, you know, a bar of chocolate. She didn't ask if perhaps the ad had been dreamt up by Berlusconi. She just said that she was "deeply upset" by it. "Do these people," she said, "think they can insult black people and we just take it?"

The answer to her question is yes. But "these people" don't think they're insulting anybody. They think it's fine to compare a black person with a chocolate bar, which is what quite a few black children get called by their white classmates at school. They think it's fine to refer to a black person's "sun tan". They think it's fine to say pretty much anything, as long as it's "light-hearted", which I think means that the person saying it thought it was funny.

Some of them even seem to think it's fine for a white person to call a black person "nigger". They think it's fine for a white person to call a black person a "nigger" because they've heard a black person, perhaps in a TV series, perhaps on an album, perhaps on a street corner, from someone who wants to be in a TV series, or making an album, calling another black person a "nigger". They think that because a group of people in one particular subculture have decided, for complicated reasons, to reclaim the worst word of abuse that can be directed at a black person, it's fine for everyone else to, too.

I don't know anything about James Brown. I don't know anything about the world of fashion, except that it has about as much appeal to me as the world of Apache helicopters. I don't know if it's common for people in the world of fashion to start talking about their cousins' sex lives, or their brothers, or somebody else's brothers, but I do know that they're not the only people in our society to be confused.

We're confused because we seem to think that to be black is to be "cool". We seem to think that being black has something to do with playing sport very well, or being very handsome, or very beautiful, or very sexy. We seem to think it has something do with multi-millionaire musicians who make music that uses words like "nigger", "bitch" and "whore". We seem to think, or some people seem to think, that knowing a black person, or having had sex with a black person, is something to boast about to another black person, or even to a white person. Something that will make us look "cool".

That, presumably, is why profiles of Samantha Cameron often refer to her friendship with a musician called Tricky. The friendship, like the dolphin tattooed on her ankle, is meant to be a sign of her street cred. Tricky himself doesn't even remember meeting her, though he has said that "the dates and times she mentioned match up". For Samantha Cameron, it was clearly quite a big deal to be playing pool with a black man. It was such a big deal for her husband to meet one that he mentioned it during one of his election broadcasts. You don't mention meeting someone black if you mix with black people all the time.

God only knows what Barack and Michelle Obama would have made of an ad that compared one of the most famous black women in the world with a bar of chocolate. God only knows what they'd have made of a racist rant at an awards ceremony where not a single person who heard it spoke out. But we don't need God to tell us that the world's most powerful man thinks young black men should "pull up their pants". We can probably guess that he's not too keen on people who use the word "nigger" or "whore".

It is, of course, fairly unlikely that Britain will get a black head of state. It's looking pretty unlikely that it will get a black prime minister, or even a black (not Asian) member of the Cabinet. But it would be nice if it had more black teachers, and doctors, and lawyers, and editors, and professors. (Out of 14,000 professors, only 50 are currently black.) Maybe then we won't get white people talking about black people as if they're another species. A species that Prince Philip might call "exotic".

"This," said Naomi Campbell's mother, "is the 21st century, not the 1950s. Shame," she said, "on Cadbury." Yes, shame on Cadbury. Shame on Brown. Shame on us.



c.patterson@independent.co.uk; twitter.com/queenchristina_

React Now

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

Senior IP Opportunity at Major Firm

vary Attractive Salary: Austen Lloyd: MANCHESTER - AN OPENING AT A VERY HIGH Q...

Nursery Manager

£100 - £110 per day: Randstad Education Ilford: Nursery Manager Long term Ran...

Sales Consultant – Permanent – West Sussex – £24-£25k plus commission and other benefits

£24000 - £25000 Per Annum plus company car and commission: Clearwater People S...

SEN Teaching Assistant

£45 - £65 per day: Randstad Education Bristol: Supply SEN Support Jobs in Bris...

Day In a Page

Read Next
The Liberal Democrats leader says efforts need to be focused on cracking down on the criminal gangs  

Nick Clegg: We should to go to war on drugs, not on addicts

Nick Clegg
East German border guards stand on a section of the Berlin wall in front of the Brandenburg gate on November 11, 1989  

Twenty-five years after the Berlin Wall fell, Hungary’s PM thinks it is Western capitalism that is in its death throes

Peter Popham
The drugs revolution starts now as MPs agree its high time for change

The drugs revolution starts now as MPs agree its high time for change

Commons debate highlights growing cross-party consensus on softening UK drugs legislation, unchanged for 43 years
The camera is turned on tabloid editors in Richard Peppiatt's 'One Rogue Reporter'

Gotcha! The camera is turned on tabloid editors

Hugh Grant says Richard Peppiatt's 'One Rogue Reporter' documentary will highlight issues raised by Leveson
Fall of the Berlin Wall: It was thanks to Mikhail Gorbachev that this symbol of division fell

Fall of the Berlin Wall

It was thanks to Gorbachev that this symbol of division fell
Halloween 2014: What makes Ouija boards, demon dolls, and evil clowns so frightening?

What makes ouija boards and demon dolls scary?

Ouija boards, demon dolls, evil children and clowns are all classic tropes of horror, and this year’s Halloween releases feature them all. What makes them so frightening, decade after decade?
A safari in modern Britain: Rose Rouse reveals how her four-year tour of Harlesden taught her as much about the UK as it did about NW10

Rose Rouse's safari in modern Britain

Rouse decided to walk and talk with as many different people as possible in her neighbourhood of Harlesden and her experiences have been published in a new book
Welcome to my world of no smell and odd tastes: How a bike accident left one woman living with unwanted food mash-ups

'My world of no smell and odd tastes'

A head injury from a bicycle accident had the surprising effect of robbing Nell Frizzell of two of her senses

Matt Parker is proud of his square roots

The "stand-up mathematician" is using comedy nights to preach maths to big audiences
Paul Scholes column: Beating Manchester City is vital part of life at Manchester United. This is first major test for Luke Shaw, Angel Di Maria and Radamel Falcao – it’s not a game to lose

Paul Scholes column

Beating City is vital part of life at United. This is first major test for Shaw, Di Maria and Falcao – it’s not a game to lose
Frank Warren: Call me an old git, but I just can't see that there's a place for women’s boxing

Frank Warren column

Call me an old git, but I just can't see that there's a place for women’s boxing
Adrian Heath interview: Former Everton striker prepares his Orlando City side for the MLS - and having Kaka in the dressing room

Adrian Heath's American dream...

Former Everton striker prepares his Orlando City side for the MLS - and having Kaka in the dressing room
Simon Hart: Manchester City will rise again but they need to change their attitude

Manchester City will rise again but they need to change their attitude

Manuel Pellegrini’s side are too good to fail and derby allows them to start again, says Simon Hart
Isis in Syria: A general reveals the lack of communication with the US - and his country's awkward relationship with their allies-by-default

A Syrian general speaks

A senior officer of Bashar al-Assad’s regime talks to Robert Fisk about his army’s brutal struggle with Isis, in a dirty war whose challenges include widespread atrocities
‘A bit of a shock...’ Cambridge economist with Glasgow roots becomes Zambia’s acting President

‘A bit of a shock...’ Economist with Glasgow roots becomes Zambia’s acting President

Guy Scott's predecessor, Michael Sata, died in a London hospital this week after a lengthy illness
Fall of the Berlin Wall: History catches up with Erich Honecker - the East German leader who praised the Iron Curtain and claimed it prevented a Third World War

Fall of the Berlin Wall

History catches up with Erich Honecker - the East German leader who praised the Iron Curtain and claimed it prevented a Third World War
How to turn your mobile phone into easy money

Turn your mobile phone into easy money

There are 90 million unused mobiles in the UK, which would be worth £7bn if we cashed them in, says David Crookes