When is racism not racism?
Or…...put another way; is it possible to be racist and not cause offence? I guess the answer depends on who the protagonists are and the context; or….it depends on who, outside that dynamic, who sees or hears, the incident, post etc and decides to take offence.
I honestly think that’s the best way I can answer that question.
Cue the outrage!!
Many won’t like or subscribe to this, but having been in the environment of a dressing room (and former sports/football people will relate), once the relationships, rapports and ground rules are agreed upon and established, there’s very little that is off-bounds in the name of ‘banter’, although there always has to be a mutual understanding and level respect.
Yes, the ‘B’ word, often hidden behind by bullies or used as a way of explaining the systematic abuse of the victim, by the perpetrators. However, in a mutually respectful and agreed upon dynamic, can provide the source of great humour and even bonding. It’s in the latter context, that I feel the Silva tweet was sent.
The other end of that spectrum, of course, is when those on the receiving end take offence, but feel the environment isn’t one, where they can express their true feelings. Again, I don’t think the Silva/Mendy incident fits this at all. Peter Beardsley’s case at Newcastle, where he racially abused young black players who felt they were not able to challenge his ‘banter’ is perhaps, the perfect example of what I’m referring to here.
Many would argue that Silva’s mistake was putting it in the public domain.
Many could also argue that if you focus on the word, ‘Conguitos’ (translates to ‘little one from the Congo’), rather than the image alone, Silva’s motives for comparing his teammate to the image it relates to, could become a little more sinister. Does Silva see all people of colour as 'Conguitos'? Does he see being black, as a negative in general? If the answers to this are affirmative, this would make him and his actions racist irrespective of his relationship with Mendy.
Recently Rio Ferdinand and Patrice Evra, former United teammates and friends, exchanged in a brutal, but humorous exchange on Instagram, the pair posting comparative pics depicting each other as various things involving small people (I can’t say the ‘M’ word), camels and more. Had Rio posted a similar comparative picture of Evra, would it have received the same level of outrage from the outside world?
Would Kick-it-Out be beating the drum of retribution, or would they selectively see it as what it is; banter, within the agreed-upon context? I mention them, as they were quick to object to songs about Romelu Lukaku and the length of his appendage, but said little when the same fans sang songs about Nemanja Vidic, a Serbian, and how he would ‘murder you!’. I’m sure Albanians took great offence, but not a murmur of dissent from the same organisation. To me, that undermines so much of what they’re supposed to be trying to do.
….but that’s another issue.
The whole debate around football and race is obfuscating the debate about race and society, which is exponentially more important and absorbs all other forms of racism. In a rare moment of common sense, John Barnes recently referred to the discussion about footballers being racially trolled online, and the united condemnation from everyone in the game for it to be addressed.
The disgust and call for action, however, is not extended to other areas in society where racist ideas and stereotypes permeate the everyday lives of many people of colour, with far more devastating consequences. Barnes was talking about education, criminal justice, employment, mental health, all areas of society. It’s almost as if, by catching an online troll, or giving a fan with extreme views a lifetime ban, the fight against racism is alive and well and people of colour should be grateful for it!
Marvellous, well done!!
Now, what about disproportionate attainment levels in our education system between black boys and everyone else for example? The disproportionate exclusion levels. No? Ok, …let’s just focus on a racist Paul Pogba tweet!!!
The irony is that the very TV stations (Sky Sports, BBC), papers, radio stations like Talksport, vehemently hold heartfelt debates, in some cases facilitated by white men alone (I’m laughing as I write), who’s organisations, absent the odd, token presenter of colour in the shop window so-to-speak, are run by white men and women who have no regard or are even aware that their most powerful decision making positions lack any kind of racial diversity in the majority of cases.
This is a far bigger issue than some Neanderthal with a keyboard and @ handle screaming racial slurs from behind the safety of his keyboard. The focus on the latter only reinforces the lack of impetus and desire to address the multifaceted issues of the former. At this point, I won’t mention the lack of representation of people of colour, off the field in powerful decision-making positions.
I understand the solutions to society’s, indeed, the world’s problems around race, are neither simple nor in plain sight. We’re all fully aware significant change will not happen overnight. Education, and the reconstruction of perceptions of who we all are, based on our histories and their implications, how we then relate to each other, and a breakaway from how the world has been run, to something more equitable, will take generations to impact if the process is started at all.
In the meantime, it’s patronizing to heap significance on the debate around issues of racism in football, as if they’re in a vortex. Will closing stadiums in Italy change the racism that exists in Italian society? Absolutely not.
I'm all for and fully support the identification and reprimanding of individuals guilty of breaking the law around race, as I am around other crimes. What doesn’t help is the focus on part of one thing and not the whole of it. This only results in resentment, a false sense of accomplishment and a huge portion of hypocrisy.
Never, ever, a good look.