A GOOD few years back, American comedian Chris Rock unleashed on the world a brilliant piece of social satire.
The routine, part of a stand-up TV special called Bring the Pain, was so controversial I can’t really write about it here properly – nothing of what he said is printable. In fact, the only way you can get the full context of this column is if I simply point you towards it by recommending you Google Chris Rock and Civil War. The routine to which I refer will be pretty obvious.
And I best leave it at that.
Fortunately you don’t need the full context to still understand (enjoy? – why not, I’m an optimist) this column.
One of the reasons it was so controversial was because Rock, an African-American, was accused of giving up a secret of America’s black community in the routine.
I’m about to share a similarly sensitive issue and ethnic minority folk might be annoyed at me for spilling the beans.
But it’s important to share it.
At some point all of us who have skin a darker shade of pale, have had someone say to us ‘I don’t normally like (insert inappropriate racist term here), but you’re all right’.
It’s true. If you’ve got a friend with dark skin, ask them. I guarantee they’ll have heard this sentence, or some variation of it, at some point in their lives.
I was playing basketball in the snicket out the back of our house when I first heard it, and a slightly older boy stopped to play ‘hoops’ with me a for a few minutes before saying the fabled sentence.
I’m not sure how we’re supposed to respond. Had I not been about 13 at the time and perhaps had a little more of the gumption I now enjoy, I might have been tempted to thank him a little too over-enthusiastically for the fact that he found me acceptable and that it was a great honour that he was able to tolerate my presence. But I was a fat little 13-year-old with a complex about my weight so I imagine I simply said, “Right, ta.”
As I say, it’s one of those things that happens to ethnic minority people, it’s a part of our make-up and how each of us responds is an individual choice.
What the statement does is underline the thing that my dad would often remind myself, my brother and sisters about when we were growing up: that our place in this world is fragile and, as an ethnic minority, our place in this country is yet more fragile (he’s not as much of an optimist as his son).
What my dad was trying to explain to his mixed race, and therefore sometimes slightly mixed-up, children was that your sense of belonging is often brought into question when you look a bit different.
Fortunately for me, my sense of belonging I found on the sporting field.
I think I may have mentioned in previous columns that I love cricket. That’s going to figure at some point, but there are some other sports, believe it or not, that exist out there – and I’ve played a fair few of them.
At school, for example, I was forced to play rugby – with lads that were about as wide as me, but a good foot taller.
“Ahad, you fat little sod, get back in there, you’re the hooker for heaven’s sake.”
“But sir, Arana-Morton has just stood on my privates.”
(The sports editor made me clean-up this little exchange I had with the rugby teacher. For a more authentic flavour, read it again, imagining a world where we had to stand to attention when a teacher entered a classroom, where pupils were only ever referred to by surname and where discipline was old fashioned and both swiftly and enthusiastically administered).
While the more delicate parts of my body were endangered on the rugby field, my sensitivity about my race never was. All the boys were either too busy attempting to kill or be killed to come up with any race-based insults. Plus, within about five minutes of the commencement of any game of rugby, we were all the same colour of mud anyhow, so racist insults would have required an examination more thorough than there is really time for when you’ve got 15 hairy-backsided adolescents bearing down on you.
There is a serious point here.
On the rugby field, as on any field of battle, we transcend the petty differences that separate us. That phrase the Coalition have laughably made a mantra is actually true on the field of sport: we really are all in this together.
When we were finally allowed to play basketball in PE at school I received a couple of punches, as did my best mate Ben, because we ran rings around the rest of the class and it was the only way they could really stop us (coincidentally I think it was Arana-Morton who bust my nose that day – but I really had no issue with him, it was a genuine coincidence). The bloody nose and the punches Ben and I enjoyed that day had nothing to do with race or anything else, we were casualties on the field of sporting battle.
A straw poll in the office has revealed that my sporting background is a little unusual. Not everyone, as I imagined, has played as much team sport as I have enjoyed. And that is a desperate shame.
Cricket, which is obviously the greatest past-time ever invented, is a special case in point.
Nowhere can you learn more about yourself than on the cricket pitch. It tests the mettle of a man more than any other game – courage, gentlemanly conduct, how you react when your back is well and truly against the wall, but other team sports appear to do that too.
While we’re all basking in the glory of last year’s sporting brilliance, let’s use this moment as an opportunity. If you’ve never played a team sport, get involved – there are plenty of clubs that will be glad of your membership.
Do it especially if, like a lot of people around me in the office, you’ve never played a team sport before. You will learn so much about yourself, and without being too hyperbolic, it might make the world a better place.
And another thing...
Pride’s a funny old thing.
The pride for your home town, or your club, for example. You’re allowed to say what you want about these two important parts of your heart, but woe betide anyone who takes the name of either in vain.
Keighley is not the nicest part of God’s Own County. It is my home town, I love it and I couldn’t countenance playing for any club other than the one I have been with since I was 13 – in Keighley. However, I am not blind to the town’s issues, not least the young lads who stalk the streets, acting the maggot.
There’s a fella in Keighley who also loves his home town, who is disheartened by the behaviour of some of the town’s young residents – and has decided to do something about the problem. Saf, who runs a car parts shop in the town, saw some young lads pratting about and decided that all they really needed was a bit of discipline. Saf, a board member at YCCC, decided the solution was obvious: cricket. He told me this weekend that what he especially loves is watching the lads turn up to the coaching sessions he’s organised with the help of YCCC. They arrive with swagger and “they always say please and thank you when they leave”.
I love this game.