OK, let’s start with the easy bit. Racism is wrong. Obviously. Having agreed on that, the first question that seems to crop up is whether there are any problems with racism in the UK. The argument is that we don’t need to fight racism because there are only a few racists and the world is basically peachy and they get ignored by the sensible people so ignore them.
As your stereotyped middle class white boy, I’m not really able to answer that. After all, there’s no racism in my house. Or in my office. Or with my friends, who are all, as it happens, mostly middle class white boys and girls. But, every so often, I realise how difficult it is away from my extremely comfortable existence for others – the appalling treatment of the England players who missed penalties, the attitudes towards people on social media and, from time to time, I hear active racism inside a football ground, in the street or in the mainstream media and I realise that, while I can’t answer the question from my personal life, there’s enough evidence for me to conclude that we are in a far from peachy place where people are treated differently based on the colour of their skin and based on where they, or their families, come from.
So, next question, is it up to me to fight to stop racism or should I leave it to someone else? And, in my opinion, I think it’s entirely up to you.
I don’t support every charity. There are some where I can’t ‘text twenty to…’ quick enough – sick children, people who are starving, refugees in need of help for example and there are others I can ignore – donkeys and snow leopards are the ones that have popped up on TV as I write.
But I don’t dislike donkeys. I don’t chuckle when one hobbles across the screen and, perhaps most importantly, I don’t resent the efforts of those trying to save the donkeys so much that I boo the adverts or write on social media that the donkeys don’t deserve saving. Because that would be unbelievably messed up! But I accept it would be equally messed up if we were all forced to go on a save the donkey march (presumably in Blackpool) if we didn’t feel it was the cause for us.
All I’m really saying to this point is, racism is bad, it’s still a problem and some people want to do something about that. I can’t see that any of that can be too outrageous to anyone.
But then we come to how we do it.
I can’t think of any non-violent protest against racism I wouldn’t support. I respect those people’s commitment to their cause. I support them in their efforts and, to mark that, I applaud them. If I happened to be in Blackpool and the donkey march walked past, I would carry on with my walk without applauding. But I wouldn’t boo. I wouldn’t scream ‘what about all the other animals? Do they not matter?’ with a hate filled anti-donkey agenda. I’d just stay quiet. It’s not for me but they’re not wrong in what they’re trying to achieve.
Some people think taking a knee is not the best route when it comes to standing up against racism. I, personally, tend to agree but I applaud the message of a need for change. I don’t dislike it because it’s disliked by racists or its links to other organisations but rather because it is now associated with uncertainty, mixed messages and confusion. The moment for it is passing. Many clubs have now stopped doing it altogether and some, like Sunderland have told players to do what they, as individuals, want to do. As I say above, each must make their own decision as to what they want to do.
I think we, as a society, should stand up against racism. I think, as football fans, we should take the lead. And I think we should make a stand when the world is watching and, therefore, before kick off is the best time. But it should be something fans can join in with (or not if they prefer not to, that’s fine too).
My suggestion would be the stand taken by Tommie Smith and John Carlos in the Olympics in 1968. At the time referred to as a ‘black power’ salute, Smith himself went on to call it a ‘human rights’ salute. Players, staff, directors, fans could all, if they wanted to, raise an arm together before kick off to mark our belief that change is needed in the world. Change to some people’s attitude and behaviour, change to legislation, particularly when it comes to social media and also a change to education. I’d like to see the club going the extra mile and showing that commitment to removing racism from football and society, not just by reading out the pre-agreed pre match wording about reporting it but offering education about race as part of the work done in education and in football. It needs positive change and it needs our community’s biggest role models to take the lead.
I’d like to see the club make a strong and obvious stand against racism in the hope that change can come from their lead but without anyone being able to suggest it’s a political gesture or not something the players agree with. I think standing together and raising an arm, everyone from Kyril to me, David Jones, Lee Johnson, Frankie and Danny, Barnesy and Benno, would send a clear, non-political message to the world. And if you don’t believe in it, fine, don’t raise your arm, that’s your choice but booing it would say a lot more about the booer than those standing together.
Change has to happen and we, as a club, should be at the forefront of that change, doing everything we can to raise the profile of injustice and work to end it.