Sports & Music and a Natural Sense of Rhythm….or Not!

When I was a very young man many of the famous Black people that I was aware of were famous for their skills in either sports or music. For some the received wisdom was that for some reason we as Black people were endowed with special talents in those areas. Of course, many of us did not appreciate that there were specific reasons why we excelled in some of those areas but that’s a longer story. We were also supposed to be endowed with qualities like “coolness”, the ability to dance and a natural sense of rhythm and ironically it was sometimes inferred that these natural born qualities gave us an “unfair” advantage. The truth is that some of us bought into that narrative!

I guess my sense of non-conformity made me resist all of these so-called “qualities” and I imagine that I disappointed those whose expectation of who I was supposed to be was not realised. I was not a huge Sports fan…and my memories of the dreaded cross-country running, that seemed more like a punishment, turned me off even more. Nonetheless, people like Muhammad Ali and Jesse Owens inspired me as they represented more than their ability to perform their craft with charisma and professionalism; and they exuded qualities that were incredible when one considers the political and social environment they existed in. Notwithstanding these circumstances, Black sports men/women have achieved far beyond expectation, but the price sometimes paid is that when their performing days are over the paths to management and other professional positions is very limited….and they say there is no such thing as “Institutional Racism”.

In the early days just seeing a Black person on TV was a moment for celebration and we were less critical of what they were representing, as many black roles were either in the field of sports, music or self-deprecating comedy. That over representation in Sports and Music gave many Black people an over inflated sense of where they could be successful and the fact that we were able to laugh about ourselves showed how well integrated we were; or so we thought!

There were very few role models in my day and Sports & Music were the areas that yielded the greatest choices. I had to carefully choose my heroes as the ones we were more exposed to seemed to have compromised their original identity and surrendered to the kind of personality that white audiences were comfortable with. Let’s not forget that The Black & White Minstrel Show was still being aired on BBC television until 1978….at a time when “Race” was a volatile issue. The price of being allowed into the hallowed ground of successful artists in either Sports or Music was either to be too Black or not Black at all!Unfortunately, some of us surrendered to white society’s expectation, indulging in some of the stereotypes, laughing atjokes about ourselves and sometimes being satisfied that we were complimented for not being like the ones who caused all the trouble by protesting about racism…..or perhaps even suggesting that Black Lives Matter!

Racism in Sports and Music is a double-edged sword. On the one hand we are supposed to be very good but are only appreciated in the performance of the sport but not anything beyond those specific skills, which gave a false picture of the nature of our representation in these fields. On the other hand, some of us are grateful that this is one of the areas where we can be recognised but many of us are increasingly aware that this is not enough.

Football has for some years has declared it’s position on Race, dropping the knee and promoting its zero-tolerance approach and unfortunately has been met with some considerable resistance. Furthermore, the recent “revelations” about Cricket seems to have been one of the biggest open secrets that society has been comfortable not to acknowledge. Tennis has provided a very small opening and of course we are not very good swimmers and as for golf…let’s not go there! The one reality is that some of these sports require financial investment and socio-economically Black people are very often at a disadvantage and the ones that get through have to be the very best.

Once upon a time children’s dreams in the uk were all about being astronauts or ballet dancers….and for many Black Children it became fashionable to aspire to being rappers or hairdressers. The denial of what we are capable of as a Race is very much influenced by our unawareness of our own history. That is not to say we should deny the excellence of our achievements in Sports & Music, but we should not allow that to dictate our capacity to achieve in other areas. Our true Black History tell us that we are so much more diverse than that.

Don John