In addition to making an impact on the cricket field, Barbados and West Indies all-rounder Carlos Brathwaite is now having a major say off the cricket field.
Brathwaite is covering the West Indies Test series in England for the BBC as part of the Test Match Special team and as a guest on their new highlights show. He has also been using his public profile to help raise awareness of the Black Lives Matter movement during the lockdown. He spoke at a march in Oxford and attended protests in London last month.
Brathwaite made headlines last week when he described taking the knee as a “cosmetic” reaction to an issue that requires a legislative and societal response. Today before the start of the first Test at Southampton both the West Indies and England teams took to the knee in solidarity with the protest action which has picked up momentum in several countries.
This month, Brathwaite will be the new face in a BBC commentary box that has until recently been home to Geoffrey Boycott – who was forced to apologise during West Indies’ last tour to the UK in 2017 after suggesting he would have been knighted if he had “blacked up” – and has for some time been a space dominated by white men.
Last week, a report was published which revealed a “clear and significant” problem with racial bias in English football commentary, which has already led to introspection within the industry through unconscious bias training. The study found that white players are substantially more likely to be praised for their skill and intelligence compared to black players, who are reduced to pace, power, and other physical attributes. Brathwaite said he recognised a similar phenomenon in cricket.
“I don’t want to speak out of turn just for the sake of saying it. Obviously there’s Bish (Ian Bishop), there’s Pommie Mbangwa who I rate very highly as a commentator, but there aren’t that many black commentators you can single out. With Michael Holding, I could probably count three.
“I don’t know the space of commentary and media well enough to speak to their pathway or their individual rise, but I know in sport that it is prevalent. Black players are seen as players that can give you height, steel, strength. But when it comes to guile, you look more towards white players.
“As a football fan, it’s something that I see. How many No. 10s or creative players do we see in the Premier League who are black? A good example would be John Obi Mikel, who came from Nigeria and the Under-20 World Cup as a No. 10 and got turned into a defensive midfielder by Chelsea. I can’t say exactly why, but my perception of it is: big, tall, strong, and black – you should run long and hard.
“There is that perception and stereotyping in sport. Hopefully with the Black Lives Matter movement and the awareness of the racial bias that’s happening in the world today, it’s brought that to light and more black players will be seen as intelligent as well.”
In English cricket, there has been a noticeable, but often uncomfortable shift in the tone and language used by fans and in the media since Jofra Archer’s first international call-up at the start of last summer; never before has a player’s “body language” been up for discussion to such an extent.
“Jof is laid back, but this all boils down to respect,” Brathwaite said. “I’ve heard it myself: I’ve been at franchises where I’ve tried to work my socks off as best I could, but as soon as you sit down they say: ‘ah, you’re resting, you’re relaxing.’ You might be early for a team meeting and they’ll be like: ‘I’m surprised to see you early’. Well, I’ve been early for the last 25 team meetings. Why is it a surprise?
“It is a stereotype. It isn’t always racial, but traditionally persons from the Caribbean are more laid back than elsewhere. In England everything moves so quickly, so everyone is just on edge to do, do, do. In the Caribbean we relax and take more time out. I don’t always think it’s racially biased, but it’s about using those bits of information to then listen to the follow-up remarks and retorts in the conversation.
“I don’t think every single thing that’s said about Jofra – positive or negative – has a connotation to his race or his colour. But it’s about listening to how people speak and what they follow up with when they speak about him.”
And what about another trope that will inevitably come up on this tour whenever a West Indies batsman hits a six: ‘natural Caribbean flair’? “If you unpack it, it can be considered a stereotype, [the idea that] we just walk out of the womb, pick a bat up and hit sixes,” he says. “That we didn’t do the same amount of running, pumping weights that other guys do, that we’re just born with biceps and muscles to hit the ball out the park.
“It doesn’t have to be racially motivated: if you can say there’s ten Caribbean players in the IPL and nine of them hit sixes or bowl fast, then fine. But it’s when that conversation continues and goes down a path of subjecting the person because of race. You don’t want that whenever anyone says something that you lose the message because you use race as a filter. It’s important to be aware of that potential filter, and to be cognisant of it, but not to always use it as a yardstick to shy away from criticism.”
After this series, Brathwaite will travel to Trinidad for the CPL, after being signed by Jamaica Tallawahs in last week’s draft. He hopes to use the tournament as “a springboard” to get back into the West Indies’ T20I team, having lost both the captaincy and his place in the side at the end of last year. (Cricinfo)