Source: The Guardian
The victory against racism won’t come when nobody feels able to voice racist abuse, but when nobody thinks of doing so in the first place.
I wasn’t surprised to see white people allegedly shouting racist abuse at Raheem Sterling and I don’t blame racists for holding those beliefs. We all discriminate, consciously or subconsciously. To be angry at a few people is a distraction. When it happens, the problem is not that people shout racist abuse, it is that they want to shout racist abuse. If every racist who came to football was silenced, football stadiums would still be full of racists. Racism is everywhere in our society, it is inside every one of us.
The next day Sterling turned the spotlight on to how the media portrays young black footballers, compared with how they report similar stories about white players. It was right of him to do so, and it has started a debate on black representation in the media.
But we can’t just focus on particular groups, on trying to get more black people into the police force, or running football clubs, or into journalism. Talking about what any one section of our society has to do to combat racism just stops people outside that group asking difficult questions of themselves. We keep looking at symptoms and not treating the cause.
I compare it to a cold. When we feel symptoms of a cold we take tablets and suck sweets, and it makes us feel better for a while. But we haven’t found a way to treat the cause, and sooner or later it will come back. With racism it is exactly the same.
For a number of years I have been saying that we have to broaden the argument, to go back to the cause of racism, and black people have to stop feeling we are in the position we’re in only because of white people. Originally slavery was about economics, not about racism. Slaves were sold by their own people and traded like goods, bought by those who wanted someone to work for them for free. Then once human rights were recognised they had a problem, because it is clearly wrong to enslave a person. It was then that people started to talk about how certain races were born with a manifest destiny to undertake physical labour and to be enslaved. Racism is a legacy of slavery. For 200 years Western education spread around the world, through colonisation and missionaries, and that is what the world has learned.
The same message is still being taught, and the media plays a major part in that. We as a society view different groups of people based on the way they are reported. We read about Muslim grooming gangs, Jamaican Yardie gangs or Nigerian conmen, but when a group of white people are guilty of the same crimes there is no reference to race. If a Muslim commits a murder we cry terrorism even before we know their motivation, but if a white person does it he’s a lone wolf. Subtly and subliminally we have been given a negative perception of Nigerians, Jamaicans and Muslims.
People have been taught not just to have a negative perception of black people, but to have a belief in the superiority of white people. Their behaviour is the result of centuries of indoctrination. In times of stress, like the period we’re living through in Britain today, people look for ways to communicate their superiority over others.
There is a problem in this country with how the black community is perceived, but also with how it perceives itself. In our culture those born into the working class and into inner cities face a lifelong struggle for opportunities, and if you’re also black it’s compounded. Entire communities feel disenfranchised. Instead of black footballers talking about the discrimination they have encountered, or black actors saying that they can’t win an Oscar, they need to use their profile to talk about how hard it is for a black person to get respect and opportunities for their children.
That’s why I’m not a big fan of the black sporting role model. What we’re saying to young black people is that they don’t have to think, to study, to pass exams; they just have to sing, to run, to jump, to fight. The role models Boris Johnson and David Cameron had at Eton were politicians and captains of industry; they grew up believing that anything was possible. The black community campaigns to get more opportunities for black football managers or black actors, but they want respect for their role models without demanding it for themselves.
Every day, without a racist word being spoken, people are suffering from racial discrimination. I talk about invisible banana skins: the quiet denial of opportunity and equality. But because it’s invisible nobody is concerned, and because they’re not celebrities nobody is interested. The only fight worth fighting is to give all children equal opportunities regardless of race or gender, to judge individuals on their qualities and not their backgrounds. The victory won’t come when nobody feels able to voice racist abuse, but when nobody thinks of doing so in the first place.
John Barnes is a former international footballer. When playing, he was regularly subjected to racist chants, jungle noises and monkey gestures. Bananas were often thrown on to the pitch. Between 1980 and 1999, he played for England, Liverpool, Watford and Newcastle.