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David Rodigan and our 'colourblind spot'

IN BLACK AND WHITE: Reggae DJ David Rodigan (photo credit: FACT)

WHILST MOST peoples around the world have a blind spot, people of African heritage may be unique in always having had a colourblind spot. At least since time immemorial.

It might be because we gave birth to all other races (and, yet, look how they treat us). Maybe it's because within our colour spectrum we embrace every shade under the rainbow (and, yet, look how they treat us). We don't raise our eyebrows when somebody is presented as black, even when they are white (and, yet, look how they treat us).

I mentioned this with regard to the Everton footballer Ross Barkley the other week, as it emerged that his grandfather is Nigerian. I (as I am sure all of you were) was quick to embrace him as black. Even though, on the surface, he is white. My love for him is of course predicated with the assumption that inside, even in the deepest recesses of his mind, that old African is lurking and informs the works of his hands (and feet) and the meditation in his head that manifests itself in the utterances from his mouth. If you follow me.

This colourblind spot is perhaps most tangible when it comes to culture.

So when a black guy created jazz (let's call him Jelly Roll Morton for the sake of argument) in the darkest recesses of a New Orleans brothel and Bix Beiderbecke loved it so much that he learned how to play it, Jelly Roll didn't say that's cultural appropriation of our music. On the contrary, he threw a nickel in Bix's hat and said, "Blow, brother, blow!"

SMILING IN ORANGE: David Rodigan (photo credit: BBC)

As far as we as an audience is concerned, we were somewhat bemused when Elivs and Jerry Lee were singing our blues and playing our boogie woogie. But we didn't knock 'em for it. On the contrary, Elvis's records found their way into our living rooms, right next to the gramophone.

Goodness knows, there is not an audience with more of a colourblind spot when it comes to anybody who can do the black thing culturally than a black audience. If Michael McDonald is blessed with the chops of an African, we don't ask to see his DNA we just say, 'Gwaan, my yute!'

That's the way we are. That's the way our community is. Deep down, we don't have a racist bone in our body. I'm not sure if any other peoples can say that. And yet, and yet, and yet, we get vex when some dude not from round yahso immerses himself in our culture and gets props and paid better than the originators. Yuh si mi?

The argument has been made over and over again that many white people see our colour first before they see who we are as people. It's their blind spot. And, like any blind spot, it's regressive.

Look at ex-tennis star Ilie Nastase's racist comments about Serena William's unborn child. If chocolate with a bit of milk is all a so-called pillar of the tennis community can see even before a black child is born then what hope is there for any black child to be judged on the content of their character as Martin Luther King dreamed about over half a century ago.

PROUD COUPLE: From left - Alexis Ohanian and Serena Williams show-off their baby bump

So to white folks we are black this or black that. That's alright. Ultimately it's not us that their blind spot holds back, it's them. They are the ones who lose out on a colourful and inclusive society and the talent that rainbow coalitions brings.

We, on the other hand, may suffer the initial indignity of not getting a job that we can do better than anyone else, or being pulled over by the cops while we're driving our car better than anyone else or facing the ignominy of social exclusion when we are full up of jokes and the life and soul of every party. But, when push comes to shove we rise up, over and over again, like a phoenix from the flames and do better than expected.

All this is by way of saying that the biggest row in reggae since Beenie Man and Bounty Killer clashed over whether Beenie Man's song Memories referred to Bounty Killer as a cowboy riding on a H-O-R-S-E or as the Jamaicans would say 'A-R-S-E'. And as we dun know already, not knowing the difference can cause bloodshed down Jamaica way - WELCOME TO JAMROCK.

The row between radio deejay David Rodigan and large segments of the reggae fraternity has turned into something of a T-R-I-B-A-L or a R-A-C-E war which doesn't look like it's going to die down any time soon.

CRITICISM: Lloydie Coxsone (photo credit: Ancient to Future)

Rodigan, as many of you will know, made his name playing reggae on radio over yahso and some would say has for, going on half a century, run reggae t'ings over this side. Between BBC radio and Capital Radio (London) no reggae deejay has enjoyed the power of the airwaves that he has.

Back in the seventies when he started out he was something of a novelty. I cannot remember there being an outcry. There were murmurings, mutterings and stutterings whenever he neglected to play a record. For example, Rodigan pretty much neglected the entire lovers rock reggae boom in the early eighties which was a truly British innovation, origination and experience which resulted in UK reggae's most lucrative period. But lovers rock didn't appeal to Rodigan too tough, neither musically, nor culturally (to this day lovers rock is credited with the black British baby boom 1979-89).

Rodigan stuck to what he knew and loved - dancehall - for which he hosted club nights and regularly flew out to clash with deejay Barry G in Jamaica and fly back. And why not? Jamaica couldn't get enough of him.
Loved him so much they made him their reggae 'ambassador'. Worldwide.

But it wasn't until Rodigan published his memoirs that the doo-doo hit the fan.

Veteran sound system man Lloydie Coxsone put out a video on Youtube which ridicules Rodigan and the idea that he made any contribution to reggae. Not content with that, Coxsone chastises Jamaicans' 'colourblind spot'.

This nation of 'out of many one people' has always claimed to be 'colour blind'. You only need a butchers at the ghetto to see that not to be true. But if we cannot truly be 'colour blind' in our desire for racial justice, is having a 'colourblind spot' the next best thing, or the road to cultural suicide? You tell me.

And, oh, by the way, did I mention that Rodigan is white? What has that got to do with it? Indeed.

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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