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Last Updated: Thursday, 19 August, 2004, 10:12 GMT 11:12 UK
'Controversy is a good thing'
By Cindi John
BBC News Online community affairs reporter

David Matthews
No stranger to controversy: David Matthews
"Unbalanced... insulting... exploits racist stereotypes" - a storm of controversy has erupted over a new BBC TV series, The Trouble With Black Men. How does the show's presenter answer his critics?

David Matthews laughs heartily when asked if he considers himself a role model for young black men.

"That's a cheeky question," he says. Cheeky maybe, but pertinent.

Matthews is the presenter of a controversial documentary series, The Trouble With Black Men, which critics have lambasted for reinforcing all the old stereotypes of black men being lazy, womanisers and bad fathers. Some believe the programme to be so damaging they want it pulled from the schedules.

But Matthews, 37, says while he's made it as a journalist and writer in spite of an under-privileged start in east London, his show doesn't suggest he's a role model who's got all the answers.

"I'm not talking about me and what I'm all about, the programmes are about issues and about real people.

"What I'm saying is when looking at things like education and the fact that just 25% of black boys will get five good GCSEs, when looking at the percentage of black men that are in prison and issues relating to the family and relationships, these are things that need to be tackled.

Black men have become some kind of documentary subject where there's something always wrong with them
Paul Lowe, black men's group organiser
"Many of my critics have been slightly misguided because they haven't seen any of the series and they don't know what's in it. I think a lot of people will be extremely surprised when they see the films and understand the content," he says.

The programmes have drawn sharp criticism from leading black figures, such as Lee Jasper, race adviser to the Mayor of London, who accused Matthews of being a "gift to the British National Party and leader writers for the Sun and the Mail".

The leading black newspaper, The Voice, ran an editorial accusing the series of "exploiting the racist stereotype of black men as promiscuous, lazy and obsessed with rap".

But Matthews says such considerations are not a reason for self-censorship.

"I think we can't avoid self-criticism because there is a perception it will fuel the sick right-wing agendas of others.

"Controversy is a good thing anyway when it sparks debate and it gets people talking, so to that end I'm quite happy for it to be controversial," he says.

'Out-dated stereotype'

Others are more concerned with the way the issues are being presented.

Babyfather cast
TV series Babyfather also dealt with issues facing black men
Trevor Lloyd, of the support group Working With Men, which runs parenting courses in south London, thinks Matthews has simply latched on to an out-dated stereotype.

Around 70% of the youngsters who attend its sessions are young black men who want to be better prepared for fatherhood, he says.

"What we're finding is that there's an increasing number of young black men who are saying 'I don't want to do it the way my father did', so they're more likely to be looking to take responsibility than their own fathers did.

"I think there should be an active debate about the issue but I doubt whether presenting it in this form is the place to start," Lloyd says.

That's also the view of Paul Lowe who helps runs a black men's group in Forest Hill, south-east London.

"I just don't think at the end of the day you would get a programme called The Trouble With White Men.

I think it's great we live in an environment where people have got the freedom and the luxury to express alternative or radical views
David Matthews

"Black men have become some kind of documentary subject where there's something always wrong with them. I can't see the programme doing anything to help black men as a whole," he says.

However, Matthews defends the fact that the issues will be aired to a television audience, saying the majority of black people get their information from mainstream media.

"We have to be very public, we take these issues and put them out in the open and say we're not afraid to deal with them, that we're not hiding, we're not a secret society," he says.


He is used to such hostility. In 2002 Matthews provoked outrage, especially among black women, with a newspaper article entitled Why I Prefer To Date White Women.

In it he said many black women were obsessed with how much money a man earned and were "strait-laced" compared to white women when it came to sex.

But Matthews denies he makes a habit of writing sensational articles demeaning other black people simply to appeal to mainstream media.

"That was a deliberately provocative, thought-provoking piece which was a bit tongue-in-cheek.

"Of course people aren't always going to agree with my perspective but I think it's great we live in an environment where people have got the freedom and the luxury to express alternative or radical views."

The Trouble With Black Men was broadcast on BBC Three on Thursday at 2100 BST.

Add your comments to this story using the form below:

Matthews has failed to find novel ways to look at the same issue, therefore all he adds are stereotypes to an already sensitive subject. As a black woman I have no problem with analysing problems affecting my race in order to address them. However, I find Matthews' style is more of the puppet than the puppet master. He perpetuates the stereotypes that the Daily Mail and BNP spout. He is a race disgrace!
Fudia, UK

Such a documentary is definitely a good thing because it opens up a dialogue on tricky and challenging issues facing the black community and, as the programme quite rightly points out, problems do exists and pretending that they do not exist is sweeping it under the carpet.
Alex Liang, London UK

There are thousands of white men out there who are lazy, womanisers, and bad fathers. Couldn't we just have a programme called "The Trouble With Men"? The fact is there are some human beings who will be undesirable regardless of race. I'm against highlighting a particular ethnic group for examination of this kind when the results could equally apply to everyone.
Matthew, England

Good luck to David Matthews. If he has something to say about his own community, he should be allowed to say it. When did we start censoring people out of fear of how cretins like the BNP might react?
Peter, UK

Why not a program entitled "The Trouble With White Men"? As a white Englishman I can think of plenty of material - an obsession with status and material possessions, maintaining the perception of others over the reality; suppressed racism and nationalistic tendencies. And that's even before we consider politicians
harmless, UK

Paul Lowe's "Trouble With White Men" argument doesn't stand up anymore. Both Michael Moore's recent books have whole chapters on what he dislikes about "white" culture.
Chris Etches, London

As a black woman I feel I need to support my community (both men and women) as much as possible, rather than criticise it. I will watch the programme therefore, to see what message David Matthews is trying to get across. If he only wants to confirm the stereotypes then I will be disappointed. I know many black men (including my husband) who are far from being lazy, womanisers, etc. Good journalism is typified by showing both sides of the argument. Let's hope Matthews proves himself worthy!
Hariet, England

My problem is with BBC Three for choosing to screen the documentary in the first place. When black people like David Matthews walk in the door they must rub their hands with glee since he can say all the "controversial" things they, the TV companies, cannot, and then point to Matthews and say "But he's black and he's saying it", as if that makes it all right.
Jackie, UK

I disagree with Paul Lowe that you wouldn't get a programme called The Trouble with White Men. The media's constantly dissecting the white male stereotype, accusing him of being bigoted and closed-minded.
Liam Sato, UK

Hard to comment about any stereotyping until after seeing the program. Much of this could just be sensationalism .... controversial issues get publicity
Al, UK

As a black man I believe David Matthews is right in what he says. If a white person was to say the same thing they would be branded racist. It is something that needs looking at.
Kevin Fraser, United Kingdom

I agree with Matthews 100%. The problem with us black people is we are not good at facing the real issues. Before we can solve the many problems we black men have, we must first of all acknowledge our problems exist. Keep using the spotlights Matthew, you are a breath of fresh air.
Shell, U.K

Like most documentaries, I find this quite negative and depressing. Why do we always focus on black peoples' negative side? As a mother of two young boys, I really do not think I need to take notes from David Matthews, as to me it is just another way of making us hate and be angry with ourselves. Yes we black people do have a problem, but you tell me which race of people don't
Debra, London UK

Although Mr Matthews may be addressing very pertinent issues, and I agree they need to be addressed, my concern lies with the lack of positive documentaries about my race. It is difficult for some to be objective as viewers, if they are only exposed to our problems instead of our successes.
Donna G Palmer, UK

I am a black women who have had a number of relationships with both white and black men, but I certainly do not have a preference to either! Some of those relationships have been good and bad... what does colour have to do with it? The programme will at least provoke debate... I am not sure what else though.
Cassandra Knight, Londinium

The black community is perfectly happy to celebrate the MOBO Awards - Music of Black Origin. If as much effort were put into improvement as criticism then surely that ought to be the way forward. Give the man a fair trial and see what he has to say first.
Peter, UK

Bill Cosby is saying similar things about the black community in America. He is saying that it is itme the black community stopped blaming others for their problems and just got on with fixing it. Not everything is racism and not everything has been "done to them". The Asian community in the UK outperform white kids at school and we all know the stereotype of the Indian Doctor. Why don't we have the stereotype of the Black Doctor?
Martin Caldwell, UK

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