Sunday, 8 January 2012

Taboo: Racism in GB

To start the "Taboos and other subjects to piss people off" series here is an unplanned article about racism in GB.  The reason for its creation are the events of the past few weeks in GB whereby racism has become a hot topic, and a topic misunderstood or misused by many in GB.

First, a word about truth.

I once heard an Episcopal Priest say that the truth is "in the middle".  That the context was his words about conflicts between Republicans and Democrats in the US it was quite a strange claim.  By any case, there is a marked reluctance by some liberally minded people to not believe in any truth, wishing to avoid being like the likes of Nick Griffin or Jarosław Kaczyński.  While it is the case that some things are heavily nuanced and that we don't know everything, some things are clear.  It is truth that the Holocaust happened, for example.  There is truth, and there are LIES.  Satan was called the "father of lies".  Lies are there to be pointed out, to be named for what they are.  It is liberating to do so.  When I watched the parliament debate about the Hillsborough disaster I was struck with the immense sensation of rightness: This is TRUTH.  One of the whole points about things like museums and memorials for victims of crimes is the public acknowledgement of what truth was.  The truth and the acknowledgement of it can set us free.

Diane Abbott

Bearing all that in mind, let's look at what has been happening with how people have been treating Labour MP Diane Abbott, and Liverpool striker Luis Suarez.

Polish people have often told me that they see GB to be a "tolerant" place.  The ex-Prime Minister Gordon Brown said that "tolerance" is a key feature of Britishness.  Certainly we have come a long way from the 1980's, where Jim Davidson was doing racist jokes on prime-time television, a BBC sport programme also was prone to racism.  Racism was not the taboo that it largely is now (some taboos are good.)

Liverpool player John Barnes at a match against Everton backheels a banana thrown by an Everton fan in 1987 From The Telegraph

Certainly, the most relevant issue at the moment in GB regarding racism is the trial of the murderers of Stephen Lawrence.  Two of those who took part of the killing have been found guilty.  That this was a racially motivated murder is one thing.  That the way in which the police dealt with the murder to begin with was later heavily criticised; indeed the police were labelled as "institutionally racist".  One would think, then, that now would be a time to reflect on the racism in British culture that made the murder possible.  

Well, no.  The two cases which have got people most caught up in the theme of racism are that of Labour MP Diane Abbott and Liverpool striker Luis Suarez.  To summarise, Diane Abbot spoke on twitter about "white people love playing divide and rule".  This led to a massive outcry about her being "racist".  Richard Seymour deals with this claim well:

"Following the verdict against the two Lawrence suspects, and the way in which this drew attention to the facts of institutional - no, structural - racism in British society, it was a dead cert that the media would search for a way to restore white victimhood."
What we are seeing here is clearly the view of enemy figure of people with coloured skin who are ready to use the "race card", who are out for financial gain and who are in fact racist themselves (this is very much like one subset of anti-semitism). 

Laurie Perry puts it well 
"Defenders of privilege and hierarchy will do anything at all to distract attention from power, and to re-phrase attacks on power as attacks on the powerless."
Or as Sanum Ghafoor put it, "Tackle racism?  No, just #blamedianeabbot.  A convenient scapegoat figure to take the attention away.  That is also a feature of the Luis Suarez case.

Man Utd defender Evra claimed that Suarez had said a "racist word" "ten times".  What actually happened is complicated involving the need to have lingual competence (the conversation between Suarez and Evra took place in Spanish) whereby a word used as a friendly way of greeting a black person in Uruguay was used by Suarez and, seemingly, misunderstood by Evra, who further claimed that other racist things were said by Suarez.  Despite the lack of proof for Evra's claims, they believed his word and Suarez received an eight-match ban and now faces hatred by all manner of football fans, including many who are working in anti-racism initiatives.  (This site deals well with the issue.  The Independent have also began to question the testimony of Evra.)

To tell the truth, what I am hearing is a matter of accepting either Suarez's words or Evra's.  Why then did the FA take the side of the Man Utd player Evra?  There's more to this case than meets the eye:

Other forms of prejudice in GB

There exists in GB from high to low a prejudice against people from Liverpool.  This has led to tragic consequences.   Bear in mind that Man Utd and Everton are two teams who have had players accused of racism, and that Spurs fans and Man Utd fans have been recently singing racist songs (and not just by a few fans either, rather, hundreds.)  In fact this document detailing racist offenses shows that Man Utd fans are in the top spot for racist chanting and abuse, more than double Sunderland fans in second place.  Also to bear in mind is that fact that thousands of Man Utd fans (even in a youth game) and hundreds of Everton fans have been singing chants which make fun of the Hillsborough disaster.  Outside of football prejudice against people from Liverpool is fairly mainstream.  (Of course, by raising this I fulfill the Catch-22 situation of "playing the victim".)

Is this why a Liverpool player has received a far more hostile treatment than other players accused of racism?  There's much more to it.  Look at the three links you just saw, and note that two of those accused were British, and the other one is Danish (i.e. white).  A clue lies in the allegation that Evra used a word which denotes a prejudice against people from South America.  No furore resulted when that emerged.  Prejudice against people from South America has not an issue that is seen to be relevant in GB.  Add to that the FA wanting to act tough to FIFA and a media campaign with both malicious people and also well-meaning but misguided anti-racist people, as well as the fact that the FA have a heavily criticised disciplinary commission that has a 99.5% conviction rate, together with the mass mania effect and we arrive at the guilty verdict arriving at Suarez's door.  Now we have people falling over themselves to heavily criticise the Liverpool manager Kenny Dalglish for backing Suarez, including those involved against racism.

EDIT: Note also that the BBC (and countless viewers) tolerate the xenophobia directed against Mexicans by Top Gear presenters (see this excellent article dealing with that and the contrast with how Suarez was treated.)

Suarez could have said something racist.  Evra could be telling the truth.  We will never know.  That hasn't stopped most people from jumping to a foul conclusion that will stick with Suarez.  Meanwhile away from the public gaze xenophobia against Polish and French migrants exists, Muslims are attacked inside their mosque, all manner of claims are levelled against a woman with coloured skin forced to give birth in a waiting room, a pogrom against Romanian Romany happened within the UK and fascist paramilitaries increase their network, or where black people are seven times more likely to be stopped by the (still institutionally racist) police.  But no, the media are concentrating themselves on "racism" by focussing on two people with coloured skin.  There's truth.  The taboo is that racism is a strong feature of the attacks on Abbott, and xenophobia and prejudice against Liverpool is a feature of the attacks on Suarez.

Incidentally, this leads me to the view that prejudice against the left-wing isn't just about the usual anti-left or anti-communist prejudice, it's also sometimes about what they stand for: Internationalism and anti-fascism.

British people still haven't come to terms with the racism intrinsic to the British Empire.  As promised, I shall return to this theme.

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  1. Jenni: No, I believe that the Liverpool management are totally right in supporting Suarez the way they have. The accusation against Suarez is foul, one that will stick with him, especially as the FA (mindful of looking good to FIFA) have found him guilty. A guilty verdict which would never happen in a proper court. We say in Britain that one is innocent till proven guilty. Suarez has not been proven to be guilty of racism. He needs all the support he can get. I actually think that he'll end up leaving Liverpool; something that will of course benefit the club whose player made the claim. If you were claimed on the "Christians against the EDL" group of making a racist comment and I believed that you hadn't, I would stand up for you. That's a good message to make.

    John Barnes, a player who faced vile racism while playing for Liverpool would agree with me:

    So would the management of Oldham Athletic: "Latics have issued the following statement on the incident involving Tom Adeyemi which happened during Friday's FA Cup with Budweiser, third-round tie at Liverpool.

    "The Chairman and Directors of Oldham Athletic Football Club would like to thank Liverpool Football Club and officers of the Merseyside Police for their concerns and painstaking efforts in investigating the circumstances surrounding the incident involving Tom Adeyemi.

    "Excellent communication has been maintained and the Club and player have been notified of every detail during the progress of the investigation. The professional standards applied throughout have been praiseworthy.

    "The Club would also like to thank the numerous fans from Liverpool and Oldham, and also those from around the country, who have sent letters of support to Tom.

    "This type of incident is contained within a minority and should not deflect from a superb match that was enjoyed by both sets of Club officials and fans.

    "We wish Liverpool every success in the next round of the Cup."

    Kenny is also right:

    One sees here that Liverpool FC have come out strongly against racism.

  2. I still believe that they have left too much open to interpretation by deciding not to appeal, and by waffling about there being "more to the case than meets the eye". If they simply said he didn't do it and Evra is lying, I could understand their reaction, but I don't think that's what they are saying. As the Oldham incident proves, certain Liverpool fans have interpreted this as a green light to be racist to opposition players. There are so many ways they could have supported their player without doing this. Whether what the media have said is right or wrong - and I'm quite sure a lot of it is wrong - people are going to believe it, therefore Liverpool are going to look like a club that actively condones racism.

  3. 471 out of 473 commissions by the FA go the FA's way. There is no chance of winning with them. Liverpool FA know that, hence the lack of appeal. FA rules state that one cannot appeal against the verdict, rather the ban.

    It's not "several", it was "one" Liverpool fan who has been charged with a racially-aggravated offense. You don't know whether that has anything to do with Liverpool's support of Suarez.

    Liverpool did say, by the way, that they (I cannot remember the exact words) hold Evra's testimony to be untrue.

  4. Sorry, just to add, I mentioned this link: There one sees that of the 471 FA convictions, none were overturned on review.

    1. My final comment on this subject, but I do know that the two Liverpool fans (don't know why only one has been charged) who did this were wearing copies of the T-shirts that Liverpool players wore in support of Suarez, which is how I know that they were thus influenced. Anyway, thanks for an engaging discussion. I do agree that getting charged by the FA usually means getting punished by the FA. I remember Ian Wright and Nigel Winterburn being let off for something, and Wrighty scoring the next weekend and revealing a T-shirt saying "I love the FA" and Winterburn revealing one saying "So do I!" The fact that I remember this so clearly just shows how rare it is...