Last week began with the murder of an Asian student by a white racist who preferred to be known as ‘Psycho’. The only uplifting moment occurred on Tuesday with the conviction of two of the racist murderers of Stephen Lawrence. The same day, Liverpool Football Club announced that they would not appeal the decision by the FA to suspend their footballer Luis Suarez for eight games. Wednesday, the Daily Mail congratulated itself on its campaign to have the murderers of Stephen Lawrence convicted. Twenty four hours later, the same Mail and other English papers were outraged because black politician, Dianne Abbott, had stated that white people had a history that implied poor behaviour. Then came Friday, which was the first day Liverpool played at home after the decision not to contest the eight game ban, and a black player in the visiting team complained he was racially abused by a Liverpool fan. Before the weekend was finished a white twenty year old man was charged with the offence. This Monday the team manager atLiverpoolmade a long statement reiterating the commitment of Liverpool Football Club to fight racism.
The spat between Luis Suarez and Patrice Evra was not edifying. Two overpaid and over-indulged young men swapping childish insults. People outside Liverpool Football Club have asked how a club can stand opposed to racism, which I can verify it does, and support Luis Suarez. There are three possible answers. One, Liverpool Football Club believes Suarez is innocent and Evra did not tell the truth; this is what a lot of Liverpool fans think. Two, the club simply fought to protect a valuable commodity; this is what other football fans think. Three, the response was a combination of both; this is thought by those who usually wait until the end of the argument to say something.
I have been a Liverpool fan since – no I am not going to say, imagine me as youthful and ignore the photograph. Like other Liverpool fans, I have no confidence in the decision making process of the FA. But, whether Suarez used the word ‘negro’ once, as he claims, or seven times, as Evra claims, Suarez crossed a line. The word ‘negro’ does mean ‘black’ in Spanish but the words ‘black’ and ‘white’ can be racially offensive if used in a certain context. Suarez was not being complimentary. He was, at the very least, being patronising. Admittedly, in the context of the slayings of black youths, this is trivial but it will do no harm to build a Chinese wall where Suarez crossed the line. Undoubtedly, Liverpool fans feel an eight game ban is harsh but it is not likely it will have a significant outcome on the fortunes of the team. Suarez has already missed three games. In one of those games, away to Manchester City, Liverpool would have probably been beaten with Suarez in the team and in the other two games Liverpool have managed their highest scores of this season. If the ban costs Liverpool as many as three lost points I will be surprised. This saga needs to be forgotten.
When I was in Brazil I sat at a bar and, shocked by what I had seen in certain parts of Brazil, tried to calculate how many black slaves had been created by white colonialism. I knew from my knowledge of Brazil that four million had been imported into that country alone. I remember staring at the bay in Salvadorand calculating crudely that the total figure across continents must
have reached ten millions or what could reasonably be described as a holocaust. If this figure has been accurately determined it has never been shared with the British by their newspaper editors. The figure is ignored as if it is history without relevance. Nor have our Western societies been zealous in repairing the damage. In Britain, black teenagers have appalling prospects – inferior education, shorter lives, more mental illness, higher unemployment and repeated harassment from the police. Present day statistics do not compare to the previous holocaust but they damn us and I think they justify Dianne Abbott losing her cool on Twitter. In view of what has happened to black people she should be given some slack. I know. I have double standards. But this inconsistency does not make me a racist. I am merely ashamed.
As always the rich and powerful dominate the argument. Serious studies of the consequences on the dispossessed exist but they are not given serious attention by our media. We would rather make ourselves indignant about what one overpaid footballer says to another or scream at Dianne Abbott for not being politically correct about white people. My God, the woman spoke as if she had a racial grievance, screamed the Mail. Hardly surprising, one is tempted to say.
In these circumstances it is predictable that Elvis and race have been debated in a less than thoughtful way. People who have no real knowledge of Elvis will assert with real conviction that the man was a racist. Elvis was born in a society that practised apartheid. Inevitably, somebody started the rumour that Elvis said black people were only fit to shine his shoes. This was denied by friends and relatives but the rumour has persisted. Peter Guralnick and Alanna Nash have researched the life of Elvis more than anyone. Neither has found any evidence of racist attitudes. Guralnick has asserted that the opposite applied, that Elvis had huge respect for black people and their culture and that he was a
keen supporter of Civil Rights. His heroes included Martin Luther King and Mohammed Ali. This blog will in future weeks examine a biography of Fats Domino. The author of the biography argues the importance of New Orleans to rock and roll and believes that Fats Domino recorded the first rock and roll record, The Fat Man in 1950. The book is a polemic and partial but throughout the book the author uses the statements of Elvis to support his argument. He does this because Elvis acknowledged the contribution of rhythm and blues musicians and the importance of black musicians as much as anyone. In 1970, two Liverpool sisters attended several of Elvis’ Las Vegas concerts. Afterwards, they produced a first hand account of their experience. They remembered Diana Ross at one of the shows. She went to the front of the stage and Elvis kissed her and hugged her enthusiastically. ‘This girl is fabulous,’ he said as he kissed her. ‘I love this girl.’ This was not the action of a racist. It happened despite Elvis spending a large part of his life in a racist society. His behaviour to Diana Ross, his relations with the Sweet Inspirations and his visits to the WDIA concert in 1956 indicate that he rejected the racial values of his society. I have said elsewhere that it can be easy to confuse the charisma of Elvis with heroism. Elvis was not a hero. But, how odd that he stands condemned in the one aspect of his life where he was prepared to demonstrate his principles.
When the BBC presented a programme on the Memphis Mafia it included an interview with Sonny West. ‘Elvis loved black people,’ said Sonny. He said this without prompting or without any need to defend Elvis. It slipped out. The statement by Sonny West could imply that Elvis perhaps had double standards. Maybe he thought black people were ‘more cool’, they had superior musical talent (Albert Goldman quotes him as saying this) and that they had a likeable way. Or maybe he felt like I have done for most of the last week, just a little ashamed, embarrassed by our capacity to be self-righteous and simultaneously ignore the experience of the unfortunate and dispossessed.