Last week, I did what most people do when furious about a hot topic. I took to social media to vent my anger for anyone who cared to listen. The triggering factor in this case was Conservative MP Priti Patel, who suggested the UK should use the threat of food shortages in Ireland as leverage against the Irish government in Brexit negotiations.
In 21st Century a British politician was advocating a re-run of the Great Famine that killed 1 million Irish people during the 19th Century. An inexcusable lack of ignorance that rightly caused anger across the Irish Sea.
Patel’s comments came months after Theresa May had to apologise for the Windrush Scandal that saw invited migrants to the UK illegally deported back to Caribbean – all under her watch.
It reminded me of those signs that would go up in B&Bs in the 1960s: ‘No Blacks, No Dogs, No Irish’.
And low and behold it took me seconds to find a story of the Conservatives even taking the rights of dogs away. Police dogs on this occasion with MP Christopher Chope objecting to tougher penalties to offenders who attack animals that serve in the police force. The same Christopher Chope who blocked a bill for upskirting to be a criminal offence.
I posted several clippings of that lowlight reel ending it with a picture of that infamous ‘No Black, No Dogs, No Irish’ sign. I captioned it ‘and people wonder how we had this’.
Post sent. Done. I didn’t think any more of it and off down the pub I went.
Less than 24 hours later, my phone is going off, ‘have you been speaking to Raheem Sterling?’. Two messages came in like this, then another and a fourth. I go to Twitter and see a statement from Sterling, then catch up on the fall-out from the Man City Chelsea game for context.
I see the video. Pure venom.
‘He’s saying Manc’, ‘he clearly says Manc’ were some of the tweets. I wanted to believe them. I still want to. But Sterling’s statement made it clear he knew what he heard. He heard what we feared was said.
He chose two stories from the Daily Mail, lining them up and highlighting the difference between the same narrative ‘young footballer buys house for mother’.
It should be positive right?
Except the angles differed in Sterling’s example with the negative headline saved for a young black Man City youngster. The difference was there to be seen and Raheem Sterling in one post had sparked a huge and important debate in football which will not be forgotten during the flurry of Christmas football, this won’t go away.
And rightly so. There has long been a narrative in football about black footballers that has slowly fed into the consciousness of the football fan that in truth shouldn’t make what allegedly happened at Stamford Bridge a surprise.
In fact, going onto the social media accounts of footballers who raised the question, ‘is Raheem right?’ only reinforced the theory that football has a problem. ‘People of his kind always play the race card’, ‘why is it always black players who have an issue?’, ‘This sounds like Sol Campbell’ were just a few of the comments.
I’m mixed race and lived in Wolverhampton for most of my life. I honestly can’t recall a blatant and aggressive racist incident that I was subjected to. But this hasn’t meant I haven’t felt prejudice. I remember occasions where I turned up to court in a suit covering a case for the Express & Star and staff assuming I’m a defendant and pointing me to the solicitors’ office.
Or the number of times I’ve been in a pub and asked if I sell weed and then the classic from taxi drivers ‘where you from?’ ‘I’m from England’ ‘no, where are you really from?’.
At this point, someone may be going ‘is that it? That’s not racist’. I’m lucky they are casual comments but also sadly built on a stereotype of someone of mixed race. So ask yourself where does that stereotype come from?
In all of the above examples I laugh it off, but I have felt for a good while now that the industry, in which I used to trade and still have a great passion for, has departed its moral compass in search for cheap clicks and provocative headlines.
This was always going to have an impact on society and while it’s not a new problem it is very much a bog problem.
Going back to those comments on the Sterling debate, the underlining message in those messages is ‘what about white people? Aren’t we discriminated against’.
The answer is simply yes. Sterling highlighted an issue of black people viewed in a negative light by a media industry that needs to reassess how it has allowed itself to reach new lows. The black community is just one of the vulnerable members of our society who are victim of a negative view that has been allowed to shape the narrative of 21st Century Britain.
Women (of all colours and age) are suffering this too, as are the working-class, the Muslim community, the traveller community and the LGBT community – these are to name a few. All are targets because all do not have the strength of voice of the most dominant section of our society, which is white middle-class and male.
And no this isn’t inverted snobbery or racism, I’ve nothing against white middle-class men. This is highlighted because anything outside of that white middle class male voice is considered niche. Take for example BBC presenter Steph McGovern. She’s one of the best in business, and yet because of her north east accent she has suffered prejudice in the past for sounding too working class. Steph made the point earlier this year if she was posher she’d earn more – is she wrong?
This is as much of a debate about the share of voice as much as it is about racism. If the media voice is not reflected equally by our society how can it reflect our society equally?
Perhaps the saddest thing is that at one time or another is we’ve all been guilty of regurgitating those prejudicial narratives – even without realising.
I know for a fact football fans up and down the country have sang ‘sign on’ to Liverpool and Everton fans, where do you think that stereotype of Scousers come from? Football fans are hardly reading the latest ONS figures.
There’s conscious racism like what was allegedly aimed at Sterling and there’s unconscious racism that is preyed upon by those in seats of power. Farage and Trump to name two. Regardless, we can only hope that Sterling’s comments have allowed people to pause and question the information fed into them each day.
Perhaps then we will view the greenshoots of common ground that has seen the UK hideously divided for the past two and a half years.
That’s the beauty of football it crosses all social hierarchies, religions and race. It unites more people than it divides.