Show racism the red card

Club Inclusion and Equality Officer Bill Badger attended an anti-racism workshop run by Show Racism The Red Card. Here’s his report from the event.

A couple of weeks ago I was fortunate enough to represent Walthamstow at an anti-racism workshop run by Show Racism The Red Card. It was hosted at Leyton Orient and although the event was aimed at teachers there were also representatives from Arsenal, Tottenham and Dagenham and Redbridge, so I was proud that the club could also there.

Most people are familiar with Kick It Out, who campaign against and are usually the first to respond to racial incidents within football. Show Racism The Red Card (SRTRC) is an educational charity, which use football as a vehicle to engage with kids in an effort to eradicate discrimination in all walks of life. They teach children about the impact of discrimination and prejudice as well as racism, to promote inclusivity.

Even though the workshop was aimed at educating children it wasn’t too hard to relate the messages from the workshop to football supporting adults. Like school-rooms every clubs fans are a diverse group of people that come together with a shared purpose. The culture and rules amongst fan groups develop more organically though and fans heavily influence the values that the club is judge on. I am proud every time someone tells me what a friendly and welcoming club Walthamstow is. As a community club, ensuring that we continue to be as inclusive and welcoming to all is an ongoing process.

There is a lot of focus on racist incidents in grounds at the moment because it is easily understood. People understand what is right and wrong and would recognise and condemn racist abuse when they hear it. It is harder to understand and appreciate the impact of non-abusive discriminatory behaviour. It’s never comfortable when our language and behaviours are challenged because it feels like we are being criticised and attacked. It is particularly hard when it is for using terms we’ve previously understood to be correct and we don’t understand why it is now wrong. We get understandably defensive because we think we are decent and fair people and so we can’t be the ones in the wrong.

One of the biggest barriers to eradicating discrimination right now is the idea that “political correctness” is a set of rules to be followed and anyone breaking the rules will be punished and condemned.

If PC stood for “Personal Consideration” of others it would be easier to understand and harder to argue that it was a bad thing. To treat others as we would wish to be treated ourselves means sometimes stepping back and not just hearing that they are offended by something but also why they are offended.

The focus on racism in football isn’t just because of the sport’s profile. The culture of our game blurs lines we wouldn’t cross in our every day lives. Football in England wouldn’t be the same without wit and the mocking humour that exists in dressing rooms and on the terraces. The jokes often sail close to the wind but they are all the funnier for it.

But for humour to be funny it should be sharp and original. Comments based on prejudice that is rooted in tired old stereotypes are neither and are as unfunny as they are offensive. Worse still they simply alienate and exclude groups of potential fans and players. It confirms that however friendly and welcoming we may appear, we still see them as different to “us” based on a sweeping generalisations.

Non-British and non-white players frequently have narrow, usually negative, personality traits applied to them in a way that doesn’t happen for white players. For instance, I’ve often heard black players and refs called the name of more famous black players (e.g. any bald black man is Ian Wright, any black goalkeeper is Shaka Hislop) even if the resemblance is minimal beyond skin colour. Lots of Non-Anglo-Saxon names are treated either with amusement or are garbled, merged and appropriated. It reinforces the idea that they are part of a group of ‘others’ and indecipherable from each other.

That results in players and anyone else in earshot feeling that they are seen only as part of a group, their individual personalities replaced by sweeping generalisations based on their colour or nationality. On the face of it that might not seem like a big deal because it is human nature for people to be grouped together. It is a different story if that group is constantly judged on broad negative stereotypes.

Different labels are applied black and white players that demonstrate the same traits. A black player is difficult – a white player is a character. A white player is passionate – a black player sulks. Through a combination of “othering” players and applying stereotypes to different groups, even sub-consciously, it is made harder for black and Asian players to succeed and easier to single them out when things aren’t going well.

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