I remember the first time I heard someone say ‘if you cut him, he bleeds red and white’. I was only young and it struck me as a stupid thing to say. Not because he didn’t but rather because he definitely did. I’d just learned about it at school - red cells and white cells, we all bleed the same. The most die-hard Newcastle fan must be devastated when they get a scratch and their tissue ends up red and white. They might like to bleed black and white but they don’t.
The player that was being talked about was, ironically, Barry Venison. A red and white who turned black and white.
Of course, he didn’t, he just got a new job and so wore a different uniform. People change their shirts all the time, but they’re still people. And in a world where we all, I hope, can agree that people should never come to any harm because of the colour of their football shirt, surely the same is true of the colour of their skin.
We can disagree on who should run the country, on what the right answer is on Europe, whether Donald is the best or worst thing to happen to the club and even on whether we have the right music to walk out to, but some things aren’t open for debate. Some things are fact.
The world isn’t flat.
Montgomery’s save was extraordinary.
Skin colour doesn’t make you a better or worse person.
I’ve read some posts on social media that suggest that last comment is up for debate. And next to those comments are pictures of the Sunderland crest or a Sunderland player, the stadium or a phrase declaring an allegiance to the club.
These are people who, presumably, adored Jermain Defoe. Loved him when he put the ball in the net and loved him more for his friendship with a young boy. When you see photos of them together you see love and respect between two human beings, a beautiful friendship, two people who bled the same colour.
When I was ten I used to cheer on our captain, Gary Bennett. I marvelled at how strong he was as he led the defensive line. I loved it when he broke forwards as if no one else was on the pitch. I joined in with the cheers and chants, not knowing that ‘go on Midnight’ while meant with complete respect was an utterly inappropriate nickname. I didn’t know. I didn’t understand.
I have had the honour of speaking to him about that nickname and other things since and, while I thought racism in football was something that used to happen, he corrected me. It continues to be everywhere. And when vile social media posts like those I’ve seen in the last few days are associated with my club it reminds me of the need to speak out against them. Against any post or chant or attitude or behaviour that judges one person based on the colour of their skin. I don’t speak for anyone but myself of course, A Love Supreme have published this but I do not speak for them. But I want to encourage people to speak out if they see prejudice.
Report messages of hatred or bigotry and, when we get back in to the stadiums, report racism in a safe way to stadium staff. It has no place in football and it has no place in life.
I apologised to Gary Bennett for things I’d said as a child. ‘As long as you learned, that’s all that matters’ was his utterly respectful reply. Based on things I’ve seen and heard recently, there’s a lot of learning still needed. We can’t impact the situation in the USA or in London but we can try to impact the behaviour and attitude in and around our club and our region. Ignoring it isn’t enough. Turning away isn’t working.
Anyone who wears red and white needs to learn that everyone bleeds red and white and if they don’t know that, we need to tell them.