Former England footballer John Barnes has defended Leigh Francis’ caricatures of black stars, after the comedian tearfully apologised for the act.
Francis, who now plays Keith Lemon on TV, used latex face masks to portray Michael Jackson and Craig David on his sketch show Bo’ Selecta.
The show ran between 2002 and 2004 and had a number of spin-offs.
Message to Keith lemon, please still do Michael jackson and Craig david.. I love it!
— John Barnes (@officialbarnesy) June 5, 2020
Barnes – now an anti-racism campaigner – tweeted: “Message to Keith lemon, please still do Michael Jackson and Craig David.. I love it!”
Elaborating on this comment on Sky News’ Sophy Ridge on Sunday, Barnes said he believed Mr Francis’ portrayal of black singers was “not a negative representation of black people” – but only of the individuals.
“As much as Craig David may have suffered, that is an individual thing,” he said.
“He was being particular about those particular people. He did Elton John – are gay people going to be upset because he did a gay man? If he did a generic black man, like what blackface is… and saying, ‘here’s a black man, talking rubbish’ then I could understand that, but not if you’re talking about a specific person.”
Barnes’ tweet expressing admiration for Francis’ act, after the comedian had apologised, has divided opinion on social media.
Barnes said he had been criticised by people “who say everything is racist and people who say nothing is”.
“We have to analyse what we consider to be racist and what is not,” he said.
“You have to take each argument and debate by its own merit.”
He told Sophy Ridge that it was important not to only focus on individual incidents, which he called “the visible face of racism”, but also on the systemic racism black people face “every single day” with inequalities such as housing and education.
Black Lives Matter protests have taken place across the US and in the UK following the death of George Floyd, an unarmed black man who was killed when an officer knelt on his neck for more than eight minutes.