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Wot does it mean to be 'too' black?

REJECTED: New Orleans Saints stars turned away from exclusive London club for being "too urban"

WE’VE ALL bouncers say with sheer relish at the entrance to a venue:

'If your name’s not on the list, you can’t come in.'

There’s now a new twist to the bark, however:

‘If you’re too black, you’re going to get browned off... cos you can’t come in neither...’

Or words to that effect. At least that’s what a group of NFL players claim they were told on an evening out at a Soho bar.

So, you’ve got six big and beefy black guys who play an American version of rugby for a living (albeit with more protection than a French letter) trying to get into a club in the centre of London... Well, you can almost hear what the bouncer was thinking:

‘How on earth am I going to kick these guys’ arses out of the joint if I have to?’

That’s what he was thinking but, as is usually the case, ego got the better of him and, instead, he allegedly said:

‘Sorry lads, you’re black, so not tonight sunshine...”

Or words to that effect.

You’ve got to feel sorry for the bouncer, don’t you. Because you can see how easily a slip of the tongue like that could happen. Particularly as you’re trying to protect your own status as a He-Man, even in the face of six black He-Men who you don’t want to admit to yourself that you couldn’t possibly have any authority over. I mean, for all we know, it could even have been a black bouncer that said it. I doubt it. But for legal reasons, I guess, we have to give the Soho club the benefit of the doubt. Even if they are talking rollocks.

In the interest of balance, I should say the bar in question says that it’s all one big misunderstanding. That they are not racist and that one of their bouncers wouldn’t use such a racist slur as ‘too black’, but that they do have a ‘six men and you can’t come in’ policy. Yeah, I get that. And if that is the case, it would apply to six white men, too. But somehow (whether the bouncer used the term or not) this would not have been an issue if the six white guys claimed that a black bouncer at a black club or wherever had claimed that they were ‘too white’. You see where I’m going with this?

Being too white is not seen as a bad thing. Actually in a court of law it sounds like a compliment. I don’t know what it means, but it doesn’t have the same connotations as being too black. Even too brown doesn’t sound as bad as too black. I don’t know why. But there is something about blackness and us that is barely tolerable for some people in authority in this great British country that we live in, and something too about being all extra about it, that seems to conjure the retort, 'After all we’ve done for you, this is how you repay us, by being too black.'

Clearly not all white folks hate us for being black. Indeed, arguably the vast majority of white folks don’t mind us being black. Not any more. It’s not like back in the day when black might as well have been the devil’s spawn for all the hatred it attracted. No, things are different now. Some of us are some of the best friends of white folk. And that’s no lie.

But even most well meaning dyed-in-the-wool liberal white folks with a whole bunch of black friends struggle when they’ve got one too many black friends. Too black. As if being too black makes us too strong and, hence, too flippin’ cocky and unmanageable.

It’s like if we’re too strong it somehow diminishes the power and strength of whiteness. It’s like the racial equivalent of the beasts in George Orwell’s Animal Farm chanting “FOUR
LEGS GOOD, TWO LEGS BAD” as if their lives depended on it.

Now, you have (some) bouncers thinking ‘ONE BLACK – OK, SIX BLACKS – NOT OK.’ So, let’s try and break it down. What is meant by this too blackness. We need to know so that we avoid straying over to that dark side – that too dark side. Well...


I kid you not, back in the day you couldn’t get into some clubs for sporting an afro. After all, this was in the days of black power and all that hair was a symbol of that movement and cultural identification when, for the first time, we were saying it loud: “I’m black and I’m proud.” That was just too loud. And too proud. Which amounts to too black when it comes from us.

Ask Professor Angela Davis, who is in the UK giving a one-off talk at the South Bank (sold out, I’m afraid). She had the biggest afro of them all. And, arguably, she was seen as being the blackest of them all.


All those gold chains and gold teeth and gold smiles are just too black. No, not when Trump throws it all over his boudoir, but when we who shouldn’t be able to afford expensive metals feel like there’s no better place to wear it than all over our clothes. Gold looks fantastic on black, we know that. But excessively... well, that’s too black.


Well, everybody knows that we’re louder than every other race. That’s just too black. When we’re going out to a club, we’ve got to hold it down like we’re deaf, dumb and blind kids – who sure play a mean pinball.


Why are we walking in gangs of six? That’s just too black. If you’ve got more than two black guys standing, talking together, trying to get into a club, you’ve got a ‘gang of black guys’ standing, talking together, trying to get into a club. I am right in thinking, am I not, that that is the collective noun for a group of black guys: ‘a gang of black guys’. Ask any copper. It’s too black.


Don’t even think that six of you are going to get into a club and nobody is going to know that you’re six beefy black guys. Don’t even think about it – that kind of thinking is too black.

And those are just some of the RULES OF BLACKNESS you have to consider to avoid coming across as too black to get into the black clubs. Next time I might get into how to scrape off your excessive blackness to get into the white clubs. We might be here all night though.

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 and ‘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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