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EDITIONS
Thursday, 24 January, 2002, 09:57 GMT
'My days as a white man'
In the make-up chair
Second skin: Daniel in prosthetics and make-up
What's it like to change your race? Here, Daniel de Gannes, a black hairdresser, reflects on swapping his skin colour - and marching with the National Front as a white man - for a BBC documentary on how race affects our feelings and attitudes.

I spent each day in a full prosthetic face; they extended my nose about an inch-and-a-half to match its width; filled in my chin to cover most of my bottom lip; and gave me massive false ears. I also wore a wig and contact lenses.

Daniel
Daniel as he usually faces the world...
Initially it took five hours to make me up, and I didn't see myself until it was fully done.

I freaked out - I looked really ugly. But it wasn't a vanity test. I wanted to look like someone else; I didn't want to look like me whited up.

The designer had at first tried to do it the traditional way with latex and make-up, but I just couldn't pass as white.

Daniel as a white man
... and as his white self
If she hadn't come across a new technique called 'hot flesh' [an elastoplastic gel], the BBC would have had to cancel the series because there would be no point in doing it without a black man.

Walk with the enemy

Marching with the National Front on Remembrance Day was the flipside of what I'd experienced in the 1980s when I worked with anti-racism groups picketing the South African embassy.

Then the police had told the protesters that if they got into any violence, they'd be moved and that would be the end of their non-stop picket. The National Front knew that and tried to bait them after every Remembrance Day march.

National Front march
"I left with no hate for the National Front"
So each year, we went down there prepared to fight. And each year, we'd stand a few feet away from the picket so that when we got arrested we could say that we had nothing to do with the pacifists.

It was really good for me to go on the march. I left with no hate in me. Instead I felt sorry for them. They're disenfranchised from their own society; they're after some mythical middle England that never existed.

White men can dance

I also wanted to look at my own community's attitudes, so I took an old girlfriend to a black comedy night in west London.


I looked like a dirty old man with a beautiful black woman

Not only was I the only white person in the whole audience, I looked like a dirty old man with a beautiful black woman.

The guy, a cross-dressing comedian, came and sat on my lap and then got me up on stage to do a ragga dance routine. Everyone was going mad. It's not that I'm a good dancer, but I danced better than they thought a geeky white guy would.

Gone to the dogs

Having gone to school across the road from Walthamstow dog track, I've always had this preconception of what it would be like there - especially as it was a strong National Front area when I was growing up.

Four volunteers who took part
The BBC hopes the series will inform the race debate
The way I remember it, all the white kids went to the dogs at the weekend with their fathers, yet I never saw a black person go in.

I initially went as my white self. I approached this massive 15-stone skinhead with tattoos up his arm and I befriended him.

He'd been betting vast sums of money - two grand a race - so I sidled up and said, 'I don't know what I'm doing, can you help me?' He took me through the whole thing and I won about 50 or 60.

A month later I went back as myself and luckily he was there again. So I sidled up to him and said the same thing - and he was really nice to me.

That made me question my own prejudgements. I would never have spoken to that man; I would have just presumed that he'd have some sort of problem with blacks.

It showed me that if I don't want to be judged, I in turn shouldn't judge other people.

Trading Races can be seen in the UK on 29 and 30 January, 2100 GMT, on BBC Two


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Daniel de Gannes
"It confirmed eveything I'd always felt"


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