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Products of the black condition

TRAILBLAZERS: Dotun Adebayo, left and Swarzy Macalay began presenting their first show on BEN TV earlier this month – making them the first black British presenters of breakfast television

IT’S TAKEN a while but, finally, the founders of Carnival are to be immortalised this week at a blue plaque ceremony at Portobello Green, in west London, which lies at the heart of the Notting Hill Carnival area.

At the same time, the film of the first book I published, Yardie, gets its cinema release in the UK with all the pomp and ceremony that you would expect from a movie that marks Idris Elba’s directorial debut.

So how are the two things linked, I hear you ask? Well, it’s that old thing called the black condition which has brought about both by way of adversity.

Carnival was the answer to the fight that we, as black people, were getting here in the UK when the first wave of post-war immigrants arrived to colonise this country.

After the Notting Hill race riots of 1958 black people in Britain must have felt that they were in a race war. And, arguably, they were. They must have been demoralised and traumatised, having invested everything in this so-called mother country without much return.

But with that indomitable spirit of blackness that was once so palpable, they picked themselves up and dusted themselves down and had a party to celebrate life itself. Carnival is black Britons’ ‘we shall overcome’ moment.

Whether we’re aware of it or not, that is what we continue to celebrate when we gather in the London W10s and W11s every year at this time. Yes, it’s true, we do get drunk and some of us do get high – on spirit and other ephemera – but the British government just have to allow it because this is more than a party. It’s an affirmation of who we are and what we are and where we are today.

That is not much different from the release of Yardie. Remember, this is the film of the book that I published back in 1992. Arguably the whole furore around Jamaican gangsters has dissipated to a greater or lesser extent here in the UK. Nobody talks about the so called ‘yardies’ anymore.

Most Jamaican gangsters look to Canada and the US to ply their trade in death, drugs and destruction. But we cannot argue that the phenomenon of the yardies in the late 1980s and ‘90s here in London was not a significant, albeit unwelcome, contribution to the black condition here.

Especially after the killing of Pc Patrick Dunne in Clapham, south London, after which the cops clamped down with the help of the Home Office, the immigration authorities, Customs and Excise, and the Jamaican constabulary. In fact, bookstores based near the old Scotland Yard building in Victoria, central London, sold out repeatedly of copies of our book, Yardie. I wonder why?

But the cops also increased their stop and searches and, most significantly, were pulling over people who were driving while black. We were all affected by that. I think it’s fair to say that we generally don’t get pulled over as regularly as back then, when the traffic police were out of control. You could barely drive 100 yards before being pulled.

That was the adversity we were finding in those days. So to see us turn things around and create a permanent cinematic memorial to those days is ironic to say the least.

I still feel that our stories have not really been told, though. Despite these memorials, a movie and a blue plaque.

Because it is the story within the story that tells the real story of our experience here in the UK. It is the story that we sometimes forget until we sit chatting to our one another about how things used to be or what we had to do to survive our time in these islands. I tell you no lie. And it is some of these stories that have been coming out in my first week as a television breakfast show host on BEN television on SKY 175 (also available to watch live between 7am - 10am each weekday morning on bentelevision.com).

Myself and my co-host, Swarzy Macaly have had a flying start. The chemistry between us is Einstienian and always brings out the story within the story of the black condition. That is why people have been talking about us and applauding our show, because finally, here is a breakfast television show that treats black people like black people and not like some newspaper headline that is full of stereotypes.

Isn’t it amazing? I never rated myself as a television breakfast presenter. I always thought that even I couldn’t achieve that as a black man.

Swarzy and I are the only black television presenters of a breakfast show in the country. As far as I can tell.

There are one or two Asian women who present breakfast shows but I haven’t come across a black person. It’s almost as though breakfast shows are an area of television that is for whites only.

Don’t get me wrong, I know it’s not really like that. But that’s the way we sometimes perceive these things.

As insecure as the black condition makes us – even the most confident amongst us – we are insecure about our abilities and our place in society. That’s what the system does to the condition that we find ourselves in.

Dotun Adebayo presents Up All Night on BBC Radio 5 Live on Saturday, Sunday and Monday mornings (1am-5am) and the overnight programme on BBC Radio London Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday and Friday mornings (1am-4am). He also presents the black-interest debate programme Dotun On Sunday on BBC Radio London on Sunday evenings (8pm-10pm).

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