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Why white folks love black culture

STYLE ICON: David Beckham

IN THE short space of time I have worked for The Voice, one thing that has grown to fascinate me is the love some white people have for black culture – especially, some white men’s love for black men.

No, that is not a typing error. I have met some wonderful white men who either write about, paint or emulate the black men that they love, and frankly, I can’t blame them, because I love black men too!

I first encountered the work of British artist Charlie Pi during one of my frequent visits to The Crypt Gallery in Euston, London. The art on display was bold and vivid with colour, and more specifically, each canvas featured a captivating image of the black male form.

Walking around and appreciating the various images, I admired the person who could produce a whole installation of work by painting only black men. By the end of the exhibition, I wanted to find the artist responsible for the brilliant work. Standing by one of his paintings was a middle-aged white man, quietly talking about the way light bounces off the body of a black man better than his white counterpart.

I will admit I was a little surprised; I nearly raised an eyebrow, as if to say ‘You painted these?’ I later found out that Pi had immersed himself in black culture since the age of 18, when he came to London from Coventry. Since then, he has spent his artistic career glorifying the image of black men and trying to get it in mainstream galleries.

When I later interviewed the artist for an article, he revealed that he once longed to be black.

“We were so into dance and we wanted to dance the same as black boys,” he recalled of his youth.

“We wanted to look in the mirror and see our reflections as the same as them. So us little white boys would go trotting over to Lavender Hill [in south London] just to get our heads shaved. I was heavily into ska and used to go to the Ram Jam club in Brixton on a Sunday to learn all the new dances.”I couldn’t help but be struck by the way the painter spoke of the young white boys who were fascinated with a different culture, and who would do whatever they could to be a part of black British society in the 1960s.

I was similarly intrigued when I received a book called Faggamuffin. As I read the press release, I learned that the book was about a black, gay Jamaican man, and saw a photograph of the author – a white man called John R Gordon.


BOOK: Author John R Gordon

A man who began to examine life through the lens of black culture when he was at university, Gordon describes himself as a writer of ‘afro centric’ issues.

“All of my writing is concerned with the lives of black people, particularly young, black gay men,” he told me when I interviewed him earlier this year. “It’s just what interests me the most; I like to put black people on the centre stage.”

Both Grodon and Pi are gay and have a love of black men that has the potential to rival the love black men receive from many black woman. But for other white men, it’s not black men but black culture as a whole that spawns the attraction.

The 2003 documentary Black like Beckham argued – albeit in a light-hearted fashion –that the footballer was ‘Britain’s most famous black man.’ And whilst I certainly don’t agree with the presenter’s statement that Beckham is ‘accepted by black people as a hero,’ he is a man that loves black culture. A big fan of R’n’B singer Tyrese; a man who named his dogs Puffy and Snoop after the famous US rappers; and a man who once hit the headlines when he had his hair canerowed, Beckham has no issue with immersing himself in elements of black culture.


'HONORARY' BLACK PEOPLE: Reggae DJ David Rodigan

There are many white men who, for one reason or another, love to be around, write about or document black society.

Veteran reggae DJ David Rodigan has made a career out of his love of reggae music. The famous selector has clashed with the best soundsystems such as Stone Love and Bass Odyssey, and was awarded an MBE this year for his services to broadcasting.

While the Kiss DJ was grateful for all the messages of support that he received, Rodigan admitted that the support he received from Jamaica was particularly touching.

“I’ve had a tremendous response from Jamaica,” he told The Voice. “Journalists in Jamaica have been incredibly responsive and I’ve been blown away by it. Jamaicans are very proud of their culture and their response to this [MBE] is indicative of the pride they have for their country and their music. I’m very grateful for the love they’ve given me.”

When it comes to white men who love and emulate black music and culture, who could forget Tim Westwood? The Radio 1 DJ and son of an Anglican bishop, has been berated for ‘sounding’ and ‘acting black’. But there is no denial that the hip-hop hero loves rap music and black culture – and as they say, imitation is the sincerest form of flattery.


RESPECTED: Rapper Jay-Z with hip-hop DJ Time Westwood

To me, the reason why white people, particularly white men, love black culture is because we allow them to. In my opinion, black people are the most inclusive and accepting of all races. Let’s be honest, it doesn’t take much for us to take a white person and appoint them an ‘honorary black person.’

In the cases of Rodigan and Westwood in particular, many black people have gladly accepted them as representatives of black culture. As Rodigan also explained, he saw his MBE as “recognition for the music that we all love… an honour for our music.” And by the response he said he received from Jamaican reggae fans – music-lovers who are notorious for expressing their disapproval for acts they don’t like – it’s clear that Rodigan is firmly embraced by black audiences not only in the UK, but beyond.

To me, there is no other culture that welcomes people of other races with open arms as much as we do – which some people may say is to the detriment of our own advancement. But I’m glad that the black community’s attitude of acceptance has allowed others to feel free to showcase their love and respect for our culture, which openly accepts them as they are.

* Is it a good thing that black people are so accepting of other cultures? Email your thoughts to: hazelann.williams@gvmedia.co.uk

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