I want to talk about racism. It seems we all do after the appalling abuse Marcus Rashford, Jadon Sancho, and Bukayo Saka were subjected to by faceless trolls on social media following our heartbreaking loss to Italy in the Euro final on Sunday night. OK, let’s talk. Here’s my two pennyworth: What those guys had to endure on Twitter is beyond sickening. They went out to play for their country; played for it with passion; but came up short. Nothing whatsoever to do with their skin colour and everything to do with the fact Gareth Southgate had made the cardinal mistake of putting young, relatively inexperienced lads in an almost unbearable pressure-cooker atmosphere at the culmination of a grand finale. He made a massive strategic error, presided over an England squad that, however gallant, couldn’t come up with the goods on the night, in addition to setting up lads in their teens to take on a feat that should have been left to the likes of Kane and Sterling. Southgate shouldn’t get a knighthood, or else it compounds the understandable feeling this country is too eager to reward people for failure.
As a white guy, I’m quite happy to highlight racism emanating from my own ethnic group, as well as condemning it unequivocally. It’s a trait I undoubtedly share with publicity-seeking politicians and celebs like Gary Neville and Andy Burnham; as well as the Caucasoid, liberal, pearl-clutching Bidoofs that infest the upper echelons of Guardian News Corporation. Where, I strongly suspect, our traits sharply diverge is my willingness to also call out racism in other ethnic groups. Because you only have to sit back and absorb the current frenetic debate surrounding racism to see the increasingly one-dimensional character it’s taking on.
In short, what we have is an Orwellian dichotomy: black/brown guys good, white guys bad. In the eyes of many in the commentariat, you can only be a racist if you’re white. You can only be prejudiced if you’re white. It’s similar to the way sections of the media and political narrative took hold in respect of the Troubles in Northern Ireland. For them, Irish nationalists and republicans are the perpetually downtrodden minority, ever prisoners of a cruel and unrelenting Ulster Protestant culture founded – allegedly – on supremacy. Had these people spent the time in Northern Ireland that I have over the decades, they’d quickly come to the conclusion that’s about as far from the reality as it’s possible to get. Nevertheless, they’ve planted the seeds of misrepresentation in the minds of many and, if we’re not careful, the same problem with come to pass when addressing the issue of racism.
When one opines on a contentious subject, it’s always beneficial to rely on personal experience. So here goes: When I first started working in the health care sector back in the late 1990s, the agency sent us a worker with a Pakistani name. When she arrived, she was very Westernised, wore casual clothes and enjoyed traditional Western culture. As she had arrived to my place of work by public transport, I asked here where she had travelled from. It turned out she lived in a small village on the other side of Skipton – some 20 miles from the Bradford location we were working in. As it was unusual back then to hear of a person from an ethnic minority background living a rural existence (and still is to a large extent all these years on), I asked her what had enticed her to move to the relative calm of North Yorkshire. When she replied ‘my family’, I felt her story would not be a happy one. I asked her what had happened, only half expecting a fulsome tale. Astonishingly she was very candid. She had left her family in Dewsbury after she declared she was in love with a white man and wanted to marry him. After a period of both verbal and physical abuse, she fled literally in fear of her safety. She had cut all contact with her parents and siblings, started a new chapter in Cravendale, and would take work no closer to Dewsbury than Bradford itself.
I sat there during our break time fascinated – yet and at the same time appalled – by what I was hearing. Here was a British woman of Asian ethnicity, who had been subjected to familial intimidation purely because she wanted to marry outside her own ethnic and religious group. Is anyone seriously telling me her story is any less stomach-churning than what three black England footballers have encountered in the scatalogical anonymity of Twitter? If a young Pakistani girl goes to her father saying, “Dad, I’m sorry. I don’t want an arranged marriage with Nazir. I love Tom. We’ve known each other since we were at school and want to spend the rest of our lives together and have children”, and then has to spend the rest of her life looking over her shoulder in case she’s violently attacked or even killed by one of her own, are those responsible for instilling that fear any LESS RACIST than what we’ve seen since Sunday night?! If so, why!?
We know the potential danger many Asian (especially Muslim) girls take on when they go against the cultural or matrimonial grain in their own communities. But would the same characters bleating like stuck pigs about ‘the white man’s burden of racism’ ever cast a glance across at the prejudices coming our way from those in some ethnic minority communities? Of course they wouldn’t! Heavens above, they were quite content to ignore the industrial-scale grooming of (mainly) young white girls by men of Pakistani backgrounds for decades, lest they upset the crabapple cart of ‘multicultural loveliness’. Thus, we can hardly expect them to be proactive in avoiding their own hypocrisy now.
Where that particular lady is in 2021 is anyone’s guess. I’m hoping her dreams did come true in the way they did for journalist Ferzanna Riley. For if you want to look at the dysfunctionality (some of it grounded in racism) in many Muslim families, read Riley’s book about her childhood called ‘Unbroken Spirit’. Then attempt to come back and tell me racism is not a two-way street. Because there’s one thing I do know: If you perpetuate the binary viewpoint that racism is uniquely white-on-black, come back and survey Britain in another twenty years and see what a disastrous piece of societal work you’ve created. A place more embittered and fractured than we could ever imagine today. OK, so let’s have a conversation about racism. But let that conversation be all-embracing, not deliberately selective. I’m game. Are you?
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