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"Are we black or are we Brits?"

PICKING SIDES: Venus Williams (right) triumphed over Johanna Konta

THE GREAT British hope Johanna Konta’s semi-final last week at Wimbledon versus the perennial Williams sister – Venus this time – posed that recurring dilemma for us UK people of colour who grew-up in the bad old days when we supported anybody but the British: are we black or are we Brits?

I swear, back in the 1970s and ’80s, so bad was the racism in this country and the feeling of exclusion from the Great British society, that I refused to fight for Britain in the Falklands War and even applauded Maradona with his ‘hand of God’. I know, I know. It weren’t right, but it’s okay – the way we were treated back then.

I’m over it now. I think. And I am almost a fully signed-up member of the Great British public. I say ‘almost’, because there is still some lingering resistance without and within. The kind of resistance that shows its ugly head every time I arrive back on these shores from overseas and pull out my British passport to avoid the ‘negroes queue’ at passport control.

On one hand, I am glad to not have to be humiliated by some jobsworth Brexiteer who has the power to decide whether I am going to pass through or go straight to detention centre before I am put back on a flight to wherever it is that I came from.


OUR GIRL: Venus Williams during this year's Wimbledon

On the other hand, when the same said jobsworth takes a look at my passport, hands it back to me, smiles and says, ‘Welcome home’, and my bredrin in the ‘negroes queue’ look across at me as if to say, ‘Don’t you know that you’re a negro too?’. Well, how do you think I feel? Shame within and without. Without? Well, yeah. Just when you think that everything is hunky dory and you’re as cockney as they come and you’re skipping through passport control singing...

There was an old lady of 92 Parlez-vous/There was an old lady of 92 Parlez-vous/There was an old lady of 92/Done a fart and let it roll Inky pinky parlez-vous...like any old cockney, along comes a Tory MP and reminds you of that old saying about ‘nig-nogs’ in the woodpile and you remember why it crossed your mind in the first place to line-up alongside your fellow Africans in the ‘negroes queue’ at the airport with the sea of troubles awaiting them when it’s their turn to face Massa Jobsworth, the Brexiteer, who believes that his job depends on him alone getting the immigration levels of the country down to the tens of thousands, with which successive Tory governments have convinced low-profile xenophobes that they will achieve.

DOOMED

Promises, promised. Promised but never achieved. In point of fact, everybody in the ‘negroes queue’ is doomed to a return passage to wherever they came from if the Brexiteer known as Jobsworth is on shift – sorry, you lot, you can’t come in. This is what we call racism, and it’s doing our ’eads in.


BEST OF BRITISH: Johanna Konta

ARE WE BLACK OR ARE WE BRITS?

We cannot have our cake and eat it. We have tried to be black and British and it’s not worked. That schizophrenic existence is doing our head in. Even those of us who are fortunate enough to go down the EU/British passport holders aisle have been condemned to be the Benedict Arnolds of the African race and it is doing our ‘eads in.

That’s what a constant diet of racism can do to you. After a lifetime of it, most of us need our heads tested. If, that is, we have managed to somehow keep our said heads above water and well away from the South Atlantic or any other body of water during that time. I don’t know how we do it. I genuinely don’t.

Which brings me back to the resistance within. You might remember some years back, in 2002, when England lined-up to play Brazil in the World Cup and my eldest daughter, who was then four years-old, asked me who I wanted to win – England or Brazil. I immediately retorted Brazil, because that it was what we (my generation) were inclined to say, because we were made to feel that we didn’t have any investment in this country and, by the way, we should go black where we came from, was the constant refrain from our neighbours, and haters and general passers-by.


INTERNATIONAL: Blackpool FC's tribute to Brazil's football club

So why on earth would we support England?

My response to my daughter didn’t go down well with my wife, though, who pointed out to me that for the first time ever, half of the England team were young black men who represented my daughter’s generation on the world stage and who, hopefully, would be her role models. How could I say I didn’t want them to win? Well, I couldn’t argue with that.

I made a resolution there and then to always be mindful that, whether I found it hard to swallow being British or not, I was not to be dismissive of my daughter’s condition in these sceptred isles and not to burden them with the baggage of the racism I suffered.

So it was with something of a heavy heart that I turned to my daughter when Venus was slugging it out with Johanna Konta last week, and to pre-empt any questioning on who I wanted to win, offered my support and allegiance to the British contingent assuming that I would have done my duty as a father to an English gyal by waving the union flag in the face of my primordial desire to be 100 per cent black when it came to the Williams sisters and tennis. After all they have done for us.

It’s not just because they’re black. The Williams sisters mean more than that. They have represented us on those Wimbledon courts for more years than I care to remember. And who wouldn’t support Venus at 37 years of age against the Great British hopeful? And yet, I had to swallow hard and say “I’m backing Konta. You too...” I said to my daughter.

To my shock and horror she replied:

“I want Venus to win. Oh my goodness, I cannot believe that you thought I would back Konta over Venus...”

“But we’ve got to back British,” I said feebly.

“Not over Venus,” my daughter insisted.

“Not over Venus. I am not backing British over Venus or Serena.”

Well, would you Adam and Eve it? So much for my wife’s ‘her generation’ views. The truth is that you don’t know what experience your child is going to have in this country that may lead them to or from whichever fountain they choose to drink at. I cannot say whether my daughter has experienced the kind of racism that I have experienced. But I do know that if she experiences it continually like my generation have done it, will do her head in. I cannot protect her from it.

That is the conundrum of being a black parent in the era of racism through which we still live. We cannot protect our children from it any more than the Great British hope can beat Venus Williams at Wimbledon.

Dotun Adebayo is Britain’s most listened-to black radio talk show host. He presents Up All Night on BBC Radio 5 live Thursdays through Sundays on 909/693 MW, The Sunday Night Special on BBC 94.9FM and Reggae Time on BBC London 94.9FM on Saturday evenings. Tune in if you’re ranking!

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