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My 'Sir Trevor' dilemma

SUCCESS: Sir Trevor McDonald is the UK’s No 1 newsreader

FOR YEARS I thought that ‘blackness' and my black identity was my first, my last, my everything. I bore it through happiness and sadness and into and out of relationships and schoolwork and career and life. I wore it like a universal badge of pride and honour. It was in everything - my hair, my food, my bath times, my moods... and even in my dreams.

I'm starting to wonder whether I haven't carried it TOO far, all because of Sir Trevor McDonald.

TRAJECTORY

You see, I didn't realise how alike my career trajectory is to his until I spent a couple of hours in conversation with him recently at the ITN studios in Grays Inn Road in London where he broadcasts from.

Our talk was organised by Shine Media, the self-funded not-for-profit social enterprise run by three sistas who have achieved more than the BBC, ITV, Channel 4 and Sky TV put together in getting black graduates real jobs in the media.

Obviously Sir Trevor’s success in the game dwarfs my achievements in journalism and broadcasting. I'm not making those comparisons, but the similarities are stark nevertheless.

For example, we are both from humble beginning - me in Lagos and he in Trinidad. We both found a London radio broadcasting home at the BBC World Service in the early 1970s, even though I was only 12 years old at the time. He then of course went off to television and the rest is history. I stayed in radio and got an MBE for my efforts. He hosted the nightly 10 o’clock news and got a knighthood. He's a multi-millionaire.....and there the comparisons stop.

So I asked him straight: “Has your blackness been an asset, a hindrance or inconsequential in your career?"

He was equivocal. He had never seen it as either. If it had been an advantage or disadvantage he wasn't aware of it.

I may have been mistaken, but I always saw my blackness as an asset in journalism. That's just the way I am. I wear it on my sleeve. And I've told the many, many black journalists that I have mentored over the years that they should see it as an asset and, to be frank, have lost patience with those youngsters who didn't see it like that. But now I wonder whether I was giving them the right advice. Because which one of them wouldn't rather be Sir Trevor McDonald than be Dotun Adebayo? Like I've said, when it comes to success in this business that we are both in, he's got me licked.

It might be simply that he is better at what he does than I am at what I do (which at the end of the day are two slightly different things within the same field). I cannot rule that out but I can't help wondering whether being too black in my every thought and being has not also been an own goal.

MANTRA

Whereas Sir Trevor told them straight out when he got to ITN that he didn't want to do the “Brixton stories" (his words not mine). I loved doing them. Send me down to Brixton any day was my mantra. And while I'm out there I'll pick up a couple of Jamaican patties for me and the missus from what used to be D.Bess Bakery.

But was I a fool to my blackness? While the BBC sent me to Brixton, ITN sent Sir Trevor to Johannesburg to interview Nelson Mandela, Baghdad to spend the evening with Saddam Hussein and Washington for a chat with President Obama. 

While I have become the country's leading black journalist, Sir Trevor's the country's No.1 newsreader. One million black people and about five million white people in this country know who I am. Sir Trevor, however, is known by 50 million people (and maybe more) in this country, period.

So where did it all go right for him/wrong for me? Is BLACKNESS and the maintenance of it in every aspect of your life a higher purpose or are we hostages to our black identity? What should I be telling the young journalists I mentor, to be black or not to be black ? That is the question.

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