Sunday, December 5

If we only think of racism in cricket, Azeem Rafiq’s tears will have been in vain | Hugh muir

Days after Azeem Rafiq revealed the torment he faced as an Asian player, the situation at the Yorkshire cricket club looks no better.

His account, of being ostracized, of being referred to by the P word and by names he knew to be racist codes, of the complicity of teammates, of coaches, of the tasteless attempts by prominent figures to discredit him, now it lives as a shameful historical testament. A few years from now, it could be the moment when your eyes were opened and things got better; more than a missed opportunity.

In giving evidence in parliament, Lord Patel, the club’s new president, said he should echo the impact of the Stephen Lawrence case and its aftermath. Some have questioned that claim, wondering if it makes a false equivalency. Lawrence was brutally murdered by racist street thugs. Rafiq, despite all his tribulations, is alive to tell his story and expose his abusers.

But it is not a false equivalence. As a reporter, I sat down during the Stephen Lawrence investigation and covered the aftermath; and what I felt was overwhelming relief that there was finally no place to hide for those seeking to dismiss or denigrate the experience of being black in Britain. A Britain that offered shamefully unequal service, protection and life chances to people who looked like me. The blankets were removed, the dirty clothes exposed to the sunlight.

I imagine that after Rafiq, an elite athlete who discovered that all the skill and talent in the world couldn’t make up for the fact that his skin is brown, recounted what happened to him, today’s Asian teammates feel a bit how I felt then. . At last, there is our truth: in technicolor, in public and recorded in the public record. A Lawrence moment indeed.

Roger Hutton, Lord Patel’s predecessor as president, said events prove the Yorkshire cricket club worthy of the institutionally racist label. I would go further. I would say that what we have here is a textbook example of what happens when an institution fails to fulfill its duty to its employees and to society in general.

In conveying his definition of institutional racism after the Lawrence investigation, William Macpherson referred to collective failure and “processes, attitudes, and behaviors that amount to discrimination through unintentional prejudice, ignorance, thoughtlessness, and racist stereotypes that harm ethnic minorities. “. In Yorkshire, a culture prevailed, unwelcoming and exclusive for those born outside the county, and for cricket-crazy minorities within the county itself, to the point that Asian players felt they had to create their own clubs and leagues.

There was a negligent culture that allowed a strong individual to set the tone. I have covered similar cases of discrimination in the military, where there was usually a middle-ranking figure, perhaps a sergeant, whose racist behavior gauged attitudes within the unit. Others would follow this openly racist trail, either because they had the same mindset or because of their own advancement or self-preservation. Within that prevailing culture, some people may have privately supported victims of discrimination, but were also cautious about taking a vocal stance.

Apply that to Yorkshire. Consider the role within that rotten and neglectful structure of an abusive senior protagonist, Gary Ballance, who became captain in 2016, at which point Rafiq says his troubles really escalated. Since then, Ballance has apologized for at least part of his alleged behavior.

Consider the accounts of the players who were there at the time, when Rafiq says the abuse was open and frequent. Some, like Joe Root from England, say they don’t remember any abuse. Rafiq says they are good men, but so normal was the abuse that it probably did not register with them. People “didn’t think it was wrong.” That sounds. Racist institutions are rarely clouded by smoke; more often they are filled with air of invisible toxicity.

Consider the way Yorkshire, when faced with formal complaints, initially investigated and downplayed their severity, and sought exoneration, just as Scotland Yard used to do. It is worth remembering that part of the discriminatory process highlighted in Macpherson’s definition involves the institution fiercely defending the status quo and pointing its weapons against those who seek to change it.

Among the figures Rafiq singled out were media commentators seeking to undermine him, to lessen the impact of his complaints. I once had a figure close to the Ministry of Defense who privately warned me not to write supportive stories about a black soldier who had complained of discrimination on the grounds that, “entre nous,” he was not a victim, just a complainer. and incompetent. It’s funny, I said, so why did they promote it, praise it, and use it to boost recruiting? That’s where that negative spin operation ended. Those who have turned against Rafiq have fared no better.

Clearly, the game of cricket has to take a hard look at its structures. But let’s not pretend it’s just about cricket. Here we see elite athletes in elite structures who behave with the same decency as thugs on a main street. Talk to minorities in all kinds of professions, at all levels, and they’ll tell you that those who marginalize them often sit in courthouses, boardrooms, sales rooms, and newsrooms. Rafiq is not a model of virtue, but despite all his recognized flaws, he is a man who rose to the top of his profession and discovered that even there the air was toxic.

Also think about team building. In sports, teamwork is essential, but the same is true in commerce and industry. What is clear is that in Yorkshire, building a successful team did not mean bringing together diverse talents and backgrounds, but instilling physical or cultural homogeneity. To be selected and accepted, do what we do.

So it’s no wonder that at age 15, teammates forcibly poured red wine down the throat of this young Muslim man. He subsequently drank with his teammates because he felt he had to. How many other minorities, in other fields, find that they have to contort themselves, perhaps lose themselves a little, to be part of the team?

In Yorkshire, alleged abusers have been named and shamed. Already more accusations are emerging on other teams. But if this is to be a watershed moment, surely it is important to recognize that the pattern of behavior described by Rafiq is not just about cricket, Yorkshire, or misbehaving athletes. It is about what still underlies our society. Rafiq held up a mirror. The task now is to decide how to change what we see.

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