Booooo! As has become their ritual, England footballers got down on their knees this weekend. And as it has become their ritual, a section of the English fans, recently allowed to congregate at Wembley after the pandemic, took the opportunity to round up those for whom kneeling has become a statement, a gesture. of belonging, solidarity and a show of faith.
If you ask those who kneel why they do it, I am sure the reasons will be different. Some are black players who want to challenge the perception that their status as sports superstars protects them from the reality of being black in Britain, in a white-dominated country, in a white-dominated sport. They have always felt it; taking the knee allows them to articulate it.
Some are young black athletes who want to show that, whatever their own exalted fortunes, their existence within the bubble of elite sports does not blind them to the reality of what life is like for those outside that bubble, that they do not they can walk safely, that they cannot get a job, that they have no future, that they have police officers who put their knees to their necks.
Some are not black, but they bond day after day with these black men and want to support them. Some may have simply become part of the ritual and see no harm in it.
But I suppose the reasons for the boo are also innumerable. Soccer crowds stomp on the niceties almost like a matter of faith. It is an achievement when a minute of silence is observed and is completely predictable when an anthem is booed or a player or coach is abused because of their appearance or perceived inclinations. So this boo doesn’t take nihilists who go to international matches out of their comfort zone. But still, the booing episodes tell us something about where we are in Britain after Black Lives Matter, after George Floyd, in the middle of the pandemic.
One could dismiss this as a football bleacher thing, but I suspect it is the end of something that is happening more widely in society. I think we’ve reached the point in the race in Britain debate where a section of the white British establishment is saying, “That’s it. We’ve heard about his plight and George Floyd was terrible and yes, he may need a few more jobs and we can do it, but he keeps talking and makes us feel responsible and uncomfortable – we’ve heard him, but we’ve heard enough. “
Six months ago, Opinium pollsters asked people what they thought about BLM and were told that 55% of the adults surveyed believed that BLM had increased racial tension. Since then, Boris Johnson and the Spectator / Telegraph nexus, clearly recognizing the symptoms and benefits to them of fear and compassion fatigue, have played on those misgivings. The move has underpinned his cultural attacks and continues to guide his thinking on controversial issues such as freedom of expression and contested statues.
Indeed, true to form, just hours after the last outburst of boos, when others were searching the soul, the prime minister’s spokesman deliberately refused to condemn the boo. Of course you do: because where there are boos, there are votes, as far as he is concerned. A man who exploited cheap laughs with references to black “piccaninnies” and “watermelon smiles” couldn’t do anything more credible.
But this is where the reactionary force meets the resolved object.
Because, despite the boos, despite the attacks of the culture war, there is still no indication that those who want or choose to kneel, or those in society at large who believe it is correct to question the skewed narrative told through of conduits as statues in the public realm, a public realm which, by the way, we as black Britons and taxpayers help fund, we are ready to see their campaigns shut down and their momentum stopped.
Here the same and opposite message is: “I’m really sorry if you are getting tired of hearing about this, but the truth is that despite everything, you are just beginning to hear this. If you feel uncomfortable, welcome to our world – our lives are uncomfortable. You want to play, we want a total change. “
Alastair Campbell once observed that, as a publicist and activist, he didn’t believe a message would start to get through until it was heard at least 100 times. We have not reached 100, not even 50. We are at the beginning of that cycle, not the end.
Not everyone here is a combatant. Among those white players who kneel to support their teammates, there will be those who do not have very strong opinions, but simply see support, perhaps polite consent, as a decent thing. There were fans in the England crowd who tried to drown out the boos with their own applause. That’s not surprising either, as even for those who don’t have a strong opinion there is something unpleasant about seeing violence, verbal or physical, inflicted without a compelling reason.
Those players, those fans, represent millions of Britons, who don’t want to engage in the private indecency of social media denigration or the rudeness of public harassment.
Still, despite everything, things are dirty and will continue to be, because in reality, this increasingly furious and rebellious process is historically how change happens: in the face of the storm and the opposition. One cannot be more surprised that some football fans boo those who affirm or wink at racial justice than to wonder why America’s Deep South did not applaud Martin Luther King, why Margaret Thatcher linked Nelson Mandela to terrorists. and why the Victorian male system. he gave so little encouragement to the suffragettes.
Democratic politics may eventually facilitate social change, through votes and ballots, but before that, the struggle on the ground is heated, discourteous, and unwavering.
Those of us old enough to have seen spasms of fleeting protest in recent years can see that this is something different. Not a storm, but a tide. It is not another call to make and repair, but the demand for a generation of social and philosophical realignment.
So the turmoil will continue and the kneeling will continue and the boos will continue as well, as will the bewildered and agitated cry of people who feel the world is changing but have nothing to add other than the sound of fear and ignorance. It’s a horrible sound, no doubt, but it’s the soundtrack to the story.
The kneeling ones, the boos: they complement each other, but they are not the same. The players kneel, as an act of solidarity and strength. What is boo but a sign of weakness?
George is Digismak’s reported cum editor with 13 years of experience in Journalism