© 2012 Norman Samuda Smith



During the winter festivities, I began to realise my mounting frustration with UK television’s viewing agenda. Not one of the Christmas programmes scheduled was there a black face. I became even more disillusioned when I happened to be watching Master Chef with my partner hosted by John Torode and Greg Wallace. During the second and third episodes of the series’ qualifying rounds, I noticed a pattern. The ‘ethnic’ representation of the culinary competitor’s origins were from Japan, China, India and Sri Lanka. Nothing wrong with that, but I posed these questions; Where are the Africans and West Indians? Are the Television producers trying to tell me that we can’t cook? Or Did our brothers and sisters decline to enter The Master Chef competition because they felt the programme is not for them to show off  their gastronomy skills?

The only black characters portrayed on UK television week in, week out, are those we see in the soap opera’s, or, from time to time a British ‘urban’ drama. So I began to analyse how they depict us: A black guy moves into a neighbourhood, he’s smart, good-looking, articulate, a good sense of humour, all the girls like him, he has the world at his feet. As the weeks go by the script begins to peel off the layers of this character. He has a world of issues. His mother is the long-suffering matriarch who has tried to hold the family together, while her husband and father of their children either batters her physically or verbally through the years. Either he does that or he is in prison for some crime that went horribly wrong. So now the populace begins to see this smart, good-looking, articulate black guy for what he really is, battling not to be like his father, but the majority of the time, he fails.

The young black woman, is usually portrayed as the single mother who mirrors her elder matriarch, the long-suffering heroine. Usually these characters are introduced to a soap opera for argument’s sake in January, by March or April, they are gone. When it comes to British ‘urban’ drama, where black people are predominately in the starring roles, the setting is always dominantly an inner-city housing estate, where gang culture rules, drugs are rampant, the life of crime is the order of the day and in every household there is a dysfunctional family. In my experience, I can’t recall off the top of my head ever seeing a successful positive black functional family being portrayed on UK television; and trust me, we have a trailer load of positive successful functional black families, in the inner-cities and the suburbs. So why should we accept always being exposed as dysfunctional, arrogant, criminals, got rhythm and lazy? – The highest form of stereotypes.

I have come to the conclusion there are not that many roles for commanding, strong, black characters in the UK. It’s a fact that those characters are not written. Recently we have seen the exodus of our black talent to the USA, such as the acclaimed Birmingham-born actor David Harewood who has starred recently in ‘Homeland’, as well as Idris Elba and Adrian Lester. What concerns me the most is: What kind of subliminal messages are our children receiving when they watch such negative character dramas? That nothing great is expected of them? That they will remain in their run down inner-city housing estates fighting postcode gang wars? Defending their ‘ends’ and selling drugs, shooting and stabbing one another? The more we accept this kind of negative broadcasting and buy into it and say this is the status quo, the more we will think little of ourselves and it’s not acceptable. We are not a minority. Brown eyed people happen to be the majority population on this planet. We need to wake up and say enough is enough of watching a world of negative black people flickering across our screens to the irritation of many viewers. We should boycott watching negative drama, unite and lobby the UK television stations and demand more positive drama written by talented black writers who are out there yearning for the break. Balance is the order of the day.


‘Til the next issue June 2012 – Everyting Bless


*All rights reserved.  No part of this article may be reproduced in any form or by any means without prior written permission of the writer Norman Samuda Smith.*


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