A Candid Conversation With Sideman
29 Oct 2020
Possessing an infectious personality, with boat loads of banter and a distinct laugh. Jamaican-born, Birmingham-based comedian and presenter – David Whitely, professionally known as ‘SideMan All Day’ quickly rose to social media stardom following a string of hilarious reviews surrounding the popular ITV 2 dating show Love Island.
Now, sitting at 314k followers on Instagram, with an impressive resume featuring work with highly-regarded platforms; like, Channel 4, BBC Radio 1, BBC 1Xtra where he had his own show and more recently presenting for Amazon’s Plus44uk, alongside Zeze Millz. David is adamant about using his influence and reach to normalise having frank conversation’s about race, misrepresentation, oppression and other societal matters.
Fresh off the back of an empowering campaign on black love and the lack there of in mainstream media – facilitated by Bumble; the presenter sat down for an exclusive interview with MM via video call to delve deeper into his thoughts on all topics aforementioned and more!
Obviously, you left the BBC earlier for very good reasons, a lot of respected your decision to do so. Being the only one that left, did you ever feel disappointed in the fact you were the only one or not?
No, no not at all! I wasn’t thinking about anyone else when I made my decision, I was making a personal decision for me. I do think there any many ways to fight the battle, especially with people at 1Xtra, they have been championing Black music and Black talent for over a decade now. There is a lot of people in that building that have done more for Black people than I have, I started on a more activist mind set when George Floyd passed because it really affected me as a person. It changed me as a person and I don’t feel like I can go back to the way I was, but the way I was, I wasn’t doing any more than anybody else.
I think it’s unfair to expect everybody else to leave, especially with their positions, some of those presenters have kids and have a family – I’m out here on my own and made a personal decision for myself knowing full well that I came into 1Xtra being a presenter and a comedian, so I do a lot of other things outside of 1Xtra. So, I knew my life wouldn’t just stop, it’s not my main source of income. I don’t think there’s point in blaming others for not leaving, once you start doing that you end up arguing with each other rather than fighting the fight. 1Xtra has championed me leaving and supported me in my decision. Maybe one day they will make a decision that I wouldn’t make, and I’d like to champion them with their decision too.
Would you agree that it would have been more effective, if everybody made a stand and left? I know you said it’s not something that you would expecting or even thought about, but just in terms of standing together and making a change…
The reason why I say that’s hard to say is because, let’s say everyone upped and left, 1Xtra in particular, has been a hub and home for Black talent for years, with a lot of artists we love today they started out with whether it was a ‘Fire In The Booth’ back in the day, or just being on DJ Target’s ‘Embargo’ – we don’t also just want to fight but we also want to champion Black talent. Both parts are important, if these established music curators leave and suddenly you have a gap there! 1Xtra doesn’t just champion musicians, it’s championed poets, Black entrepreneurs and loads of different things! Everybody should fight there fight in there own way, yes, it might’ve made a bigger statement for that moment of course then yes definitely, but in the grand scheme of things we’re not only trying to protest and shout but champion Black talent – everybody plays there part!
So, you were recently on the Bumble campaign which is championing Black love! What does Black love mean to you?
Black love to me is shared experience and understanding, when you’re with somebody that understands you on a level where you don’t even have to explain things fully, even when I give you a certain look in a room when somethings happened, you will know what I’m saying with that look. I think that’s what it is, if anybody get with someone from their culture or from their home, I’m from Birmingham, let’s say I get with somebody from Birmingham, they’re going to understand certain things that other people aren’t going to get regularly or straight away, I think that’s Black love. And, because the Black experience is so rich with culture and even experiences in terms of struggle, sometimes there’s union within struggle. If I understand what you’re going through, and you understand what I’m going through, we are able to communicate after that, it’s not just sympathy at that point, it’s empathy – it’s really getting and understand what I am going through! That’s what Black love is to me, it’s shared love, shared experiences and it’s being able to communicate deeper than just words
Is that something that you strive for?
100%. In every aspect 100%!
This is a bit of a controversial one, I feel like there are always a lot of conversations about the Black men’s attitude towards Black women, and it being quite negative. As a Black man, what do you think your experience is with other men and having conversations – Why do you think that is? And do you think we can change that?
All men’s attitude towards Black women needs sorting out. It’s not even just Black men, it’s just that Black men should feel more ashamed, due to the shared experience and struggle, that’s your own. Even in terms of that shared experience and us understanding each other, I think as a Black man, any of us will understand the struggle of a Black woman. I truly believe that that’s not something we will ever fathom.
In mainstream media, Black men have been fetishized for a lot of the time, it’s starting to change now for women, for Black women it was the complete opposite. Men will never know how that feels, especially now for women as mainstream society perpetuates the importance of a woman’s looks. I feel like that’s something we will never be able to understand but be the first to support through. It’s something I have seen and something I can’t quite wrap my head around. I can’t wrap my head around colorist tweets from back in the day – I don’t understand it. Never in my life, has it been publicly okay to disrespect a Black woman, I’m not saying I’ve never heard a Black woman get disrespected in the playground or at school or things of that nature but on a public forum, and disrespect a Black woman, or say anything negative about a Black woman’s appearance or attitude makes no sense to me at all. That was never a cool thing in any circle I was ever in, no one can sit here and act like there wasn’t a time when it was a lot more socially acceptable to say things about the LGBTQ community, everyone has to hold there hands up and understand that that was a time. I simply can’t remember a time where it was cool to disrespect a Black woman publicly – I just can’t remember it. I’ve never understood it, but it’s something that I want to come against.
What I love is that, I think mainstream media and how it affects people’s minds has actually been shown, and is a case study when it comes to the Black woman. I’ve been watching more and more Black men embrace Black women because society in the mainstream media have been embracing Black women more, which lets me know that when Black women we’re not being embraced it had a lot to do with mainstream media. In school, they used to be more bias and disrespectful towards Africans than they were Jamaicans and when you look at mainstream media, Jamaicans had celebrities in mainstream media with people like Bob Marley, the Reggae artists, Reggae was mainstream music. There were positive mainstream examples of Jamaican people but back in the day, when it came to Africans it was pure Oxfam adverts or struggle adverts – but that’s all that you would ever see! When that’s all you ever see, it effects the mind of the youth and of the people. I just know that now if we start to champion Black women, we will start to see a change in how Black men treat Black women.
Since the Black Lives Matter movement rose even further after George Floyd, companies like Channel 4 offered the Black community a chance to narrate their realities and for it to be aired on TV. Do you think that companies doing initiatives like that is enough? And how do you decipher between if they just want to be accepted because of the movement or if they mean by their actions?
It’s not going to be enough! But, Channel 4 alone or any one media outlet can’t fix what we’re talking about. We’re talking about what’s taken 100 years to build and is systematically ingrained in this country. It’s not up to just them but it’s a great start and the greatest apologies change behavior, so I’m not going to get mad at them now for jumping on the band wagon and I understand that there is a lot of people that are now buying into the struggle clout – activism clout is a new form of clout that people have. A lot of people are not standing up for Black lives and things of that nature because they really care but because it’s the trending thing. If helping Black people is your way of chasing clout then please carry on and continue to do so, because at the end of the day, we’ve never lived in a fair world and at this point a fair world is like a theory. It’s a fantasy, what I would at least want there to be is, even if you can’t do right in your heart, let it be profitable, let it be the trending thing, let helping Black people be the trending thing so even if you don’t mean it in a genuine sense, we’re still getting the help. Of course, it’s our job also to always pull up people that do it in a very performative manner. I think giving Black people, number one opportunities by helping them financially, by paying them for these things to share their experience but also getting them to share their experience with mainstream media. Mainstream media is important when changing the narrative and affecting people’s minds, people won’t want to admit it but it does affects their minds and I think its important for Black people to share their voices.
Where I want to see the change is behind the camera, I’ll show up to a shoot that’s about Black empowerment or things of that nature, but every single person behind the camera in white and therefore I am the mouth piece at that point for them to promote their inclusivity of Black people but that’s only happening for me, I’m a contracted talent who will go home and their company will continue to not be diverse. There stories and there ideas will not be from a voice that’s mine, a lot of times you see talent come out with stuff where it’s not authentic, even though it is Black talent, behind the camera – the only thing Black about it was the talent. I don’t even like using the world talent because there is talent behind and in-front of the camera. I’d like to see more Black people as writers, camera operators, even the person that might go and get you a water in between – I’d like to see more Black people in these roles as well.
Does that put you off working in a space if there is no one that looks like you?
It doesn’t put me off, I’m just going to address it, maybe there is a part of me that enjoys it because I’m going to say it on camera. I’ve said it on many shows where there has maybe been one other Black person – I’ve made clear mention of it. I always believe that you can’t heal what you don’t reveal so let me see the problem, I don’t want to shy away from it, let me see it so I can address it.
How do people respond to that normally?
Just with agreement! With story’s, plea and backstories, but me mentioning it will let them know that this is an area that we need to change this and even make a Black person feel more comfortable if they see more of their own people on set. Especially if we are going to talk about Black things! Sometimes you want to say something, you will see somebody in the room in the background nod their head in agreement, with a nod that you can really feel like what they’re saying and it goes back to that shared experience.
I’m white myself and the sector of the industry I work in is predominantly Black, and the company I work for is Black owned. There are several musicians and artists who are white and are in the same position; if they are asked about BLM or how they feel about being a white person in a predominantly Black sector of the industry, and they start to avoid these questions – How do you feel about it?
Number one, I understand it because everybody tries to avoid awkward conversations. My new phrase is keep it awkward, nobody likes awkward conversation! We are past that point, sometimes in life we get past the point of being able to avoid this because it’s awkward. It’s just time to stop that! I’m not against white people being in the industry, some people take Black-owned and Black ownership to where it must exclude white people completely and I’m not there! It’s not going to happen and be successful, the only way that we can have that world is if we all moved back to Africa and if everybody else goes, I’ll go! If no one else goes I’m not going on my own, and I just be there by myself – I’ve grown up in the Western world!
I believe that white ally-ship is absolutely important because this country is predominately white, that is a statement of facts! We are the loud minority; Black culture is popular culture and sometimes we get gassed by popularity. I remember it was time for Brexit and if I listened to my social media, I was sure we were staying, I was so confident but that’s because social media was the loud minority! People across the country got up out of there house and went and voted for us to be out! I believe that white allyship is important because it’s a simple maths thing! There are more white people here than us, if they champion us as well, our voices will be amplified and get stronger. When I went out to protest and I saw white people there, I said this to every protest I went to, I said “white allies don’t be afraid to speak because you might get something wrong” and different Black people are going to take that in different ways, there are some Black people that will write you off completely for saying the wrong thing and there are some that will be more understanding – you can’t heal what you don’t reveal! This cannot be a mission to be accepted by Black people, this is a mission to do the right thing and those two things aren’t always the same thing! Because Black people are not monolithic, you will not be like ‘Oh yeah I did this” and be accepted by all Black people, that’s not how it works. As long as you know in your heart, “Okay, I said the wrong thing there and somebody accepted me, I’ve grown since”, you know your right and that’s what it has got to be about – your own moral compass! In trying to understand somebody and understand their struggle you might say the wrong thing, that doesn’t mean you should stop speaking, you not saying the wrong thing means nothing if it is still in your heart.
Since we are on a music platform, how do you feel about people using the n word a lot in their music and people who aren’t from that particular background singing it, or thinking that it’s ok to say?
I don’t have a 100% answer on how I feel about it. Simply because, there is so many different thoughts on the subject and there’s none of them that I 100% beef. I totally understand when somebody says we shouldn’t use the word, but then I totally understand that somebody making the point that it’s not their word anymore and its ours. It annoys a lot of white people that we get to say it and they don’t so somebody could easily look at that and say “Do you know what, it feels good! That feels like victory, that feels alright!”. I’m barely interested in discussing that because I think that it’s a distraction because we have to deal with topics in priority in my opinion. We have got to get to white people using the word first before we talk about why Black people use it, because if we sit here and pretend it’s the same sentiment and feeling when a white person uses it as to when a Black person uses it, as literally a means of communication then we are just being silly. That’s a problem with a lot of racism that Black people encounter because it’s not something that can be a put into a 1+1=2, because a white person can easily say “Well what’s the difference between me and you saying it”, they are technically right and that’s why Black people struggle sometimes.
This is why Black people don’t speak out at work when they face certain injustices because people will use lack of statements to invalidate their pain, but I don’t care what anybody says! When a white person uses the n word it feels different to me then when a black person uses it. That’s when people say “Oh, why did you leave the BBC when they paly music that says the n word in it?”, I say the reason why I left the BBC is because 18,000 people complained. They make whole polls saying that 1 in 10 people do this and that and they only interview 1000 people – but they will still tell you that 1 in 10 people in the UK don’t cream their elbows because they interviews a 1000 people! 18,000 people complain and you don’t retract?! At that point, it isn’t about what your stances are on the issue, the general public have let you know that their sentiment on the issue so you need to back track because you are publicly funded system! We pay for you and we’re telling you that we didn’t like that!
You talk about how Jamaica has shaped you a lot as a person, were all those experiences positive?
No, they weren’t! I grew up extremely poor in Jamaica, even by Jamaican standards. There was a time in my life where I actually used to go down the road to get water, I used to collect water in a bucket and carry it up the road and some of it would spill out. I used to shower outside in a basin, all of those things were things that I experienced. The things that people think might only happen in an African country because mainstream media makes people think like that – I have lived that life! It’s hard for me to look back on that negatively because I remember when those days used to happen, I used to sit there, live in that moment and say “I’m going to remember this, so that when my life changes I will never forget that I’m blessed.
I feel like I am able to handle the pressures of having social media and be inundated with people’s opinions every single day because I remember where I come from. It’s hard for me to be one of those people get 100 positive comments but get down sided by one negative one, because I am getting money for telling jokes. There was a time in my life where I was collecting empty glass bottles and sell them for a penny in Jamaica, if you sold six, you’d get 6 cents and I’d buy something called ‘bag juice’ which was literally juice in a bag! Those experiences – I say I’m richer than people who have more money than me because the money means more to me! I don’t even spend money on jewellery or anything like that simply because I like seeing the money in my account knowing that if anything happens right now, my family is good! That means so much more to me! I remember coming home and my parents saying they we’ve already eaten because they only had enough food for us, when you live that life and experience those thing even though they didn’t feel great at the time, they are allowing me to be the happiest I have ever been currently!
Do you have any plans to give back to Jamaica at all when you reach a certain point or?
Ermm no! It’s not that I wouldn’t but prior to you asking me that I had no such plan! I’ve given back to family that I have in Jamaica, but Jamaica as a country, I’ve always let people know I’m from Jamaica and have always celebrated it. I had no prior plan to do that but now that you have said it, maybe I need to go away and think about that!
You did say you have been driving from a really young age, how did that work?!
No! I wasn’t driving! It was people in my school! When I was in Primary School in Jamaica, other people used to drive to school! I never drove, I used to see my classmates drive to school yeah!
At a young age?!
Yeah! It’s standard! Literally I’m looking at man and their head is barely over the dashboard! Facts! No one can tell me that didn’t happen because I saw it with my own eyes!