A nation wakes up to the reality of racism…

At the Marcus Rashford Mural. Photo: Pam Stevens

JVL Introduction

This blog by Leah Levane, presents some personal thoughts by a white woman and some links on the expressions of racism and of solidarity after the Euro final.

She is co-Chair of JVL, writing in her personal capacity.


Almost every mainstream politician, media outlet and Establishment organisation has rightly condemned the vile and atrocious racist abuse meted out by far too many vocal so called “fans” of the England football team. The self-appointed patriots have exposed the not very well hidden underbelly of racism in our society. Gareth Southgate’s multi-racial and community-minded young team illustrate one side of what being English can mean and the racism shown on Sunday night shows another.

David Olusoga writes about these two sides of England and of Britain and notes that while the side that is genuinely appalled by what has happened is growing, the other side is never silent.

There has been an outpouring of solidarity that  we must remember and build on,: for example, in the 3 days after the match ended:

  • The vandalised mural honouring Marcus Rashford’s humanitarian and political work on feeding children was repaired by the original artist (who is Vietnamese).
  • The funds to do this were raised in response to an appeal started by the owner of a crowdfunding site,not the project behind the mural. Even before this could happen, local residents covered up the vandalism with love hearts, beautiful messages of support and love.
  • Children in many schools around the country wrote letters to the three young men to say how much they appreciated them and were sad that they had been treated that way.
  • Stand Up to Racism Manchester organised a vigil by the already restored mural; what that looked like is shown in the image above.

It looks as though every mainstream media outlet – from the Guardian to the Standard and the Metro to LBC and even, if you can believe it, the S*n (!!!!!) condemned the racial abuse; the BBC led with it on their news bulletins; almost all expressing shock as well as outage.

Earnest conversations were held on serious news programmes and, of course, social media was abuzz with thought-provoking discussions and more expressions of shock. This – the shock – was something of a surprise to people from racialised communities up and down the land who understood much about the reaction but could not get why people were shocked.

Time and time again I see my Black and Brown friends and family members’ posts saying effectively: “stop being shocked – we have been trying to tell you this for years – it’s exhausting, why weren’t you listening?”.

This was John Barnes back in December 2018 after a racist incident toward Raheem Sterling: “Those (old) days haven’t gone. They have gone in terms of the overt racism. In many respects, I much prefer the overt racism now to the racism we went through in the last 10 years whereby we are being told that it doesn’t exist so, therefore, let’s get on with it. I knew that not to be true.” (our emphasis)

I have seen countless excellent comments on social media making these sorts of points:

“Black Lives Matter became a mass international and multi racial movement over summer 2020; it highlighted and sought to address systemic racism. The UK crowds cried out: “The UK IS NOT INNOCENT.”

“The Prime Minister and other so called leaders insisted that it was ridiculous to talk about systemic or institutional racism in the UK. They called us “woke” and “snowflakes” along with too many others who also told us to be quiet….the better to enjoy their own silence. They have no right to be shocked! “This is the same racism that we had been telling you about our whole lives. Why did you take no notice before? “

“The nation needs to wake up from its myth soaked slumber!

In terms of media coverage, perhaps more surprising is the uncritical coverage of and significant support for Tyrone Mings’ pitch perfect response to Home Secretary Priti Patel’s shock and horror at the racism meted out to these players. It is rather astonishing and, frankly, ridiculous, that we have footballers and ex footballers (Gary Neville, for example) with more political nous than our so-called political leaders. )

So outrageously disingenuous were her comments that even one of her Tory colleagues, Johnny Mercer MP said in support of Tyrone Mings: “The painful truth is that this guy is completely right”.

And in another example of these footballers getting the political failures and making the political connections, they refused to go to a reception at Downing Street because of the way that Johnson and his front bench had fanned the flames of racism towards Marcus Rashford and other Black players”

More than Football

But this racism is endorsed by much more than derisory comments about footballers taking the knee, it is not only rooted in our history but reinforced by almost everything that this government has done, is doing and is planning to do and, regrettably, much of what the current Labour leadership are doing and the support of most of the mainstream media most of the time. These things are portrayed as though they are normal, acceptable, sensible, necessary and fair.

Examples include:

  • The hostile environment
  • Rejection of critical race theory being used as an approach in schools
  • Legislation being introduced to potentially incarcerate asylum seekers off shore
  • The restrictions and threats of heavy fines and long gaol sentences for protesting (Black Lives Matter anyone?)
  • The effective outlawing of the lifestyles of Gipsy, Roma and Traveller communities
  • The Windrush scandal and the ongoing failure to pay compensation to those who were affected by this, or to their families after their death.
  • A Prime Minister who has got away with using terms such as “letter boxes” to describe Muslim women who wear Burkas or “watermelon smiles” used to refer to Black people and many, many other overtly racist remarks – and actions.
  • The appalling response to the Grenfell disaster with many still without decent permanent homes more than 5 years after the fire.
  • The whole Prevent programme
  • The handling of the pandemic which, because of the systemic racism, has had a disproportionate impact on racialised communities, not only because of being more likely to be in poorer areas, overcrowded homes and doing low paid work, but even when in well paid jobs, e.g. doctors, more likely to catch and die from covid-19
  • Ongoing divide and rule tactics, eg referring to the white working class falling behind because of teaching about white privilege (ie to “suit Black and Brown children”.) To say nothing of how divisive it is to even think in terms of a white (code for British) working class that is separate from the Black, Asian, Eastern European working class – and as though the Tories really cared one bit about them.
  • The Establishment’s failure to investigate Islamophobia in the Tory Party while piling attack after attack on Labour under a left wing leader for antisemitism.

As well as this list of overt “othering” if not overt racism, we must note and address the way language is used. What lurks behind Keir Starmer saying, in a political broadcast, that we are or can be “the best” – “the best place to grow up in and the best place to grow old in” (from 3’25”). This is no innocuous, motherhood and apple pie statement

It would be much better to end the notion that England (or Britain) is somehow “best”. What is wrong with being one of the best? And what is being said when – as in this broadcast – the words are concluded with Keir Starmer next to the Union Flag? What is the message being conveyed about other nations with this idea that we are – or certainly should be “the best”– that “others” are inferior? And that the people who come from these places that are not “the best” must therefore be inferior?

And along with the notion that Britain is – or should be – “the best” there comes the inevitable sense of entitlement leading to a fury when this is thwarted.

There is much that needs to be done but these events have exposed the hypocrisy at the heart of government and in the press. We have a right-wing press overwhelmingly controlled by a small number of billionaires. We have seen countless stories published linking Islam and Muslims with terrorism, while, e.g. using different words for white people who commit heinous acts such as school shootings. We have seen countless front pages expressing disbelief in the stories of need, anguish and more experienced by migrants and asylum seekers and no compassion for their plight, their desperation, and the torture that many have experienced, or left in fear of.

This and much more is what led to the racial abuse and if the government and the Opposition and the media choose myopia over awareness then it is clear that they are actively supporting a system and that that system is racist to the core.

And this is an example of what it means: A young teenage girl was in floods of tears at school. She had called out some boys at school for their racist abuse against the England players. They turned on her and screamed that “she is a P**I slag and should f**k off back to her own country because this is not her country”  (note that the school is treating this seriously and supporting her).

Menawhile the solidarity continues: this petition on Change.Org to ban racist fans for life has already passed its (already doubled) target of 1 million signatories. I do not agree with the lifetime bans it calls for because I dare to believe that no one is irredeemable but I get that this is an expression of disgust as well as of solidarity.

If we want to transform this, we need to rebuild opposition to the racist system that we have and not only pay attention when manifested in its most overt forms; without that, little will change however much people who want to do good want this.

For example, we need to really teach our history – taking responsibility for the bad as well as credit for the good. For example, be honest about what colonialism was like for the people that lived under its yoke – share events from their perspective or get students to imagine for themselves. Ask whether coherent administration and extensive rail networks make up for the Bengal Famine, the massacres and the incarceration of those seeking independence and the wealth that came to this country , leaving the overwhelming majority of indigenous people impoverished.

And here is David Olusoga again – this time arguing that “The England team have exposed the lie of the government’s culture war

And we need not only to Stand Up Together Against Racism but to Stand Up Together against this pernicious government and stand for a society where all are valued, all treated with respect and dignity, a society without obscene discrepancies in wealth. Black and White Unite and Fight – for our NHS, for an end to austerity, for decent and free education, child care, social care, for decent wages and for much, much more besides.

There is a world to win!

 

Comments (8)

  • Heather Skibsted says:

    Fantastic article Leah – all true

  • John Bowley says:

    A fine and factual analysis by Leah Levane.

    I have observed Leah being squeezed out by once progressive organisations, inclusive of our Labour Party, which have little useful to contribute themselves but which have regressed into the establishment which is a lot of the problem.

  • Tony Graham says:

    Brilliant!

    One of the things that racists can’t abide is the way that the flag and the idea of the English nation is being redefined and challenged by these superb black players both on and off the pitch. I’ve never seen so many windows in which the flag AND Black Lives Matters posters were exhibited side by side. That, surely, is a whole new ball game.

  • Kay Green says:

    Thank you Leah! And let all of us continue to thank the BLM movement. It really did wake up a huge, nationwide reaction against racism. I also like your rejection of the lifetime ban idea. There’s so much anger around, and it’s justified – because of poverty, because of shortage of health and social care, because of racism, and the way racism means those problems fall so very heavily on particular communities – but we mustn’t waste that anger on revenge against ignorant individuals. We need to stoke it and polish it and use the energy to disempower those who callously benefit from all the discords amongst us. The ‘three lions’ have made clear that they know who the real enemy is. Racism, sexism and classism exist because they are useful to the super-rich ruling class. Fighting those evils absolutely does mean fighting the supremacy of billionaires, administrated by the government of millionaires.

  • Graeme Atkinson says:

    Johnson is a pig ignorant, chundering racist oaf. Patel is a thoroughly nasty piece of work who would pull your ventilator plug out to recharge her phone. Both have created the climate for the monstrous and violent racist events since the weekend. The refusal of the England players to meet Johnson is a magnificent expression of opposition to racism and to the Tory attempts to climb on the bandwagon of their achievements. They deserve every praise for that.

  • Wendy Patterson says:

    Thank you Leah – an excellent article and call for action

  • Miriam David says:

    This is a very stimulating post Leah. Thank you. You based the introductory part on David Olusoga who is an excellent historian and academic who has written profusely for The Guardian and presents programmes on the BBC. I agree that we should be fighting to change Labour Party policies and politics on racism, linking the diverse approaches to antisemitism and racism. I am horrified that the Labour Party advocated zero tolerance for antisemitism with a whole panoply of activities. In principle, I disagree with zero tolerance but if advocated fro one kind of racism which antisemitism surely is, why not the same or similar approach to racism against Black people or Muslims (ie Islamophobia) and indeed to misogyny and violence against women(VAWG). Officials of the Labour party, as far as I am aware, have yet to express such strong approaches as zero tolerance against racism, such as in the example you cite of racism against the 3 young Black footballers who did not score penalty goals. Moreover, no such principled approach was made last year in support of Black Lives Matter, or taking the knee in football! And where in all the debates has any principled stand been made about VAWG or sexism and misogyny. I could go on…

  • Doug says:

    As much as it is heartwarming to see the backlash the reality is less encouraging
    It started with the abuse online of the young German supporter in floods of tears at the England game, the response was to organise a Crowd Funder that raised over £30,000 which went to a charity of her choice
    The Red Tory Labour party is responsible for racism in this country having sold out to their funders
    The sooner we get our party back the better, never has for the many and not the few been so true

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