Tuesday, June 28

The time has come for football fans to cheer as players kneel | Football

IIt was in the League One play-off final on Sunday that I experienced it for myself. We were getting ready for the game, going through the now familiar pre-game ritual of players kneeling, when there was a roar at Wembley. A part of the crowd, not nearly half but much more than an isolated pocket, was booing as loudly as it could. After a few seconds of shock, I started clapping, as did other people. It was the only thing I could think of to do to drown out the noise, but it was too late.

The booing had happened before, in the FA Cup final and in the final matches of the Premier League season. It happened again on Wednesday night, when England faced Austria at the Riverside. The expectation must now be that it will continue. The boo is not shy or half-hearted, it is a clear and vocal protest, and it signifies an important moment.

That would be: an important moment for whites. On the one hand, there are people who boo a symbolic call for racial justice. I don’t have the precise figures, but I’d say these boo-ers were white. On the other hand, there are also many other white people, myself included, who will hear this noise and be shocked. You will be surprised because you want to believe that England is not a country where people agree to uphold racist values. To a large extent, they can get away with thinking that way because thousands of people haven’t made it explicit at once.

Blacks, Asians, or people from other ethnic minorities might lean into wry laughter at such a confession. Racism is not hidden from people of color. However, it has been hidden by and for whites. What the kneeling boo does is make it very clear to everyone that some white people in England are against anti-racism. That is a racist view, and it is time for those who consider themselves anti-racists to make their feelings heard with equal force.

Now a quick quick detour to the cover story that some people (on Twitter, most likely) will argue: that this boo is somehow a political protest; that it is not about attacking anti-racism but about some failed attempt by a political party. For the record: Black Lives Matter was blocked by the Election Commission from registering as a party because it was “likely to mislead voters” into thinking it was in league with the Black Lives Matter movement, which it was not.

Crystal Palace's Wilfried Zaha stands up as others kneel in Leicester in April.  He feels that kneeling is not enough anti-racist action.
Crystal Palace’s Wilfried Zaha stands up as others kneel in Leicester in April. He feels that kneeling is not enough anti-racist action. Photograph: Tom Jenkins / The Guardian

Kneeling, meanwhile, is not related to this non-existent party either. This point has been clarified, painfully at times, by everyone from the players to the Premier League boss and, on Wednesday, also by Gareth Southgate. It is a silly fig leaf and if you are the type of person who wants to hide behind it then I have a self harm deal with the UK’s largest trading partner that I would like to sell you.

Wilfried Zaha does not kneel. His reasoning for doing so is because he feels that it is not enough of an anti-racist action. And this is where whites come in. Anti-racism, even for those who sympathize with the cause, has become comforting and passive. It’s taking a quick mental inventory in which you go over your opinions and decide: yes, I’m not a racist. However, the activists are clear: this is not enough. To be anti-racist is to act against them, to speak up when it happens in your home, your pub, your office and your country.

Such has been the nature of white racism until recently that it tended to be something that was said quietly, among an understanding public. Now, we see that people no longer feel the need to keep quiet. They will be loud in their racist beliefs. This is the time to respond. If you are at a soccer game and the players are kneeling, you should cheer as hard as you can.


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