Elvis Presley Challenge 16 – Luis Suarez, Race and Elvis

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 Mail congratulates itself on conviction of 2 of Lawrence's killerseight 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 Luis Suarezand 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 Patrice Evra‘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

Slave trade routes

Slave trade routes

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 Diane Abbott interrupts interview to take call from Ed Miliband over racism rowconsequences 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

Elvis with BB King, taken by Ernest C. Withers, photographer of civil rights movement

Elvis with BB King, taken by Ernest C. Withers, photographer of civil rights movement

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.

The Sweet InspirationsWhen 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.


  1. Before anybody spots the ‘deliberate mistake’. The photograph above was taken by Ernest C Withers and is not a photo of Elvis with Ernest. I expect all readers of this blog to know that the man with Elvis is the great blues musician B B King. This is a case of right photo and wrong caption.

  2. Race relations in Britain historically and recently is far better than what obtains in mainland Europe but i kind of agree with the FA on the zero tolerance to it.

    Suarez and Evra should have handled the situation better. As for Dianne Abbott, he/she who comes to equity must come with clean hands. Elvis is one of my Heroes, he was no racist he used to sneak in to hear Ike Turner play the piano and he paid Jackie Wilson’s medical bills. The song King Creole shows he had respect for blacks.

    Though unrelated this is my LFC favourite 11 with 7 substitutes, looking forward to seeing yours.
    Playing 442;
    1. Ray Clemence
    2. Tommy Smith
    3. Ronnie Moran
    4. Graham Souness
    5. Alan Hansen
    6. Phil Thomson
    7. Kenny Dalglish
    8. Roger Hunt
    9. Ian Rush
    10. Steven Gerrard
    11. John Barnes
    The bench
    12. Bruce Grobbelaar
    13. Steve Heighway
    14. Ron Yeats
    15. Phil Neal
    16. Ian Callaghan
    17. Emlyn Hughes
    18. Billy Liddell

    Wouldn’t mind meeting your Site Technician, AJ or is it Amy, All the best.

  3. Hi,

    Looking at the slave trade routes it seems a key part of the route is missing in that map. The

    route was called “The Golden Triangle” It started from Europe (England, Portugal, Spain

    most likely) The slave ships sailed mostly to West Africa few sailed to central Africa. They

    bought the Slaves then sailed to the America’s to sell the Slaves then completed the last part

    of the triangle by sailing back to Europe with the profits. Penny Lane Liverpool was named

    after a wealthy slave merchant and anti-abolutionist from Liverpool James Penny.

    Keep the great posts coming.


  4. Thanks Rero for the comments. Take your point about us needing clean hands which is why Dianne Abbott apologised but some of those in the British media who condemned her have short memories. The map refers to the slave routes in the Southern Hemisphere.

    An interesting favourite eleven players. This is like favourite Elvis songs. None of us will ever agree.

    As you asked, this is my favourite 11 plus subs. First eleven: goal -Clemence, defence -Lawler, Hansen, Lawrenson, Hughes, midfield – Heighway, Gerrard, Souness, Barnes, forwards – Keegan, Liddell. Subs: Grobbelar, Neal, Thomson, Callaghan, Rush, Dalglish, Moran. Note, I only included Ronnie Moran because he used to live round the corner from me. My preference for Keegan over Dalglish is just me and I usually keep quiet about it to avoid starting fights in pubs.

  5. I am not at all familiar with the current events in your country which you write about, but it is none-the-less interesting. I am gathering from Face Book Profile page and your previous post that you have written the book, Treat Me Nice? Well done then 😉

    And thanks for stopping by my new site.

  6. A very very thoughtful piece on such an explosive subject, handled very sensitively here. Racism is not the same as ignorance (although neither are positive traits!).

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