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You can think like a white man but don’t forget you're black

HISTORY: James Dean, left, was a figure in Dotun’s young life; right, Shaft star Richard Roundtree

DESPITE BEING a satire, Nels Abby’s book Think Like A White Man is as
controversial as its title.

But, at the end of the day, which one of us has not thought, “What would a white man do in this situation?” It’s not because we wanna be white. And it’s not because we’re ashamed to be black.

It’s just that in this race thing called ‘life’ the white man seems to be way ahead of the rest of us. At least that’s how it looks from outer space. And you’ve got to give props where it’s due and sometimes pay homage at the altar of white geezers because they’re wiping the floor with us in many respects.

We start thinking like a white man from an early age. That’s the pernicious thing about this. We start to think like a white man even before we’re able to spell ‘racial distrimination’.

With me, it was James Dean, the ‘rebel without a cause’, that I started thinking like. Even though he was born sev- eral years before I entered this mortal coil, his films were there for all to see.

I can hear you all laughing, “So Dotun, you didn’t just think like a white man, but you worshipped a dead white man and thought you were he. Did you not simply become a white man in the process?

Like, I’m not calling you a coconut, but I have always had my suspicions and they are bountyful. “

Yeah, I get it and you have every right to laugh. I probably was a white man between the ages of 12 and 13, I won’t lie to you. When I looked in the mirror I saw James Dean. When I walked the streets, I walked them like Jimmy (like a crab) and when I sat in class I had Jimmy in my head.

I only have to show you my English report in school that year to confirm it. “Dotun would do better if he saw English through a lens other than that of James Dean,” it read.

Good job my old man didn’t have a clue who James Dean was.

The way the report read made it sound as if James Dean was some other writer, like William Shakespeare. Or some literary critic or otherwise. The last thing on my father’s mind was that this James Dean was some fool who killed himself in a car crash at the age of 24.

And, yes, I did repeatedly quote the statement attributed to him - “Live fast, die young and be a pretty corpse” – like the ‘eeedjyat’ I was. I can tell you, I was relieved to see 25.

Thinking like a white man only makes sense if we can profit from it.


For me, that year of my thinking like James Dean ruined any hope of succeeding in the acting career I had pur- sued since the age of eight, as I thought that I could get away with mumbling through my scenes under the guise of “the method” (an acting technique) instead of learning the craft as, for example, it is practised in Africa.

I profited not at all and, if anything, lost out that crucial year of thinking like a black man in which I have been subsequently deficient. To survive in this world, I attest, we have to think like a black man all the time ... just to maintain.

If we throw away some of that crucial time by thinking like a white man, it will be hard to catch up on what we have missed out on.

But I am not the only one who has thought like a white man and been made a fool of. We all have. At least those who watch the movies or the telly have.

It is through the medium of Hollywood that we all first start thinking like a white man. Because, let’s face it, Hollywood is a white man’s thinking at large.

It doesn’t matter if your favourite film is Sidney Poitier’s Guess Who’s Coming To Dinner or the one in which he has the upper hand over a white racist, In The Heat Of The Night.

It’s not about the face in front of the camera, it is about who is writing the script behind the scenes. And when you watch Richard Roundtree in Shaft you suddenly realise that black people never spoke like that. Not quite like that.

The words you are hearing coming out of his mouth are a white guy’s interpretation of how black guy’s speak, or at the very least the words of a black man who thinks like a white man.


Sometimes it’s about the scriptwriter, but sometimes it’s pure and simply about the money. Crucially it’s about the money. Because what comes across in Nels Abby’s book is that we as black people think that we know all about money, but actually we’re behind white folk because they under- stand money and the power of it more than we do.

The history of the British Empire is proof that Britons know all about the money.
Remember, Think Like A White Man is a satire like I say, but behind every satire is a nugget worth investigating.

You cannot blame a white man for wanting to make a Hollywood film appealing to the largest number of people. After all, Hollywood is where money grows – on trees, the same way that the streets of London were paved with gold.

If the former African colonies had known that, do you honestly think they would be in the position they are in where many of their citizens are willing to risk their lives on a Mediterranean crossing just to get one opportunity to think like a white man, or at least live like a white man?

And would a country like Tanzania be in the economic mess it is in today if its former President Julius Nyerere had understood that the value of his country’s coffee was not determined by its quality or the hard labour that went into producing it, but the stock markets in London and New York and elsewhere and that if they so wished to pull the plug and devalue the epic elf coffee that his country would come tumbling down?

Honestly, some of Africa’s leaders could do with thinking like a white man.

Having said that, some of this white man’s thinking has destroyed many more countries in Africa - Congo for example and its checkered history, Nigeria being another example and, of course, Uganda under President Amin, in which the country’s mad leader seemed to take a leaf out of the mad- ness of King George and was somewhat miffed when the British were not siding with him in the way that he treated Ugandan Asians.

He had after all got all his tutelage from the British as Mobutu had got from the Belgians in what became known as Zaire.

In short, think like a white man (whatever that means) if you want to, but don’t forget that you’re a black man.

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