A few seconds after the footballer Bukayo Saka missed his penalty shootout in Sunday’s European Championship final, with Italy’s victory, an atmospheric change that devastated England. The weeks of celebration and national spirit that had apparently brought the country together as the tournament progressed were wiped out. floods of racist comments towards the three blacks: Saka, Marcus Rashford i Jadon Sancho.
When I went through Saka’s Instagram account after the match, I felt like I had been transported to an England 50 years ago. The comments were full of monkey and banana emojis, he was told to “get out of my country” and even referred to using the word n. As dismayed as it was, none of this surprised me. It’s just a reminder of the culture of unaddressed racism that prevails in England.
During the match, blacks had joked on social media about the potential for racism that England would lose. There were funny tweets instructing blacks to evacuate pubs and close their doors if Italy won. We all made these comments jokingly, without waiting for us to wake up to the racist reality the next morning.
After England’s loss to Italy, football fans posted violently racist comments on players ’social media; their campaign to end child food poverty – instead of devoting more time to “perfecting his game” in a WhatsApp message to other MPs, and a mural of the player in Withington, Manchester, where he lived, was vandalized.
As expected, this racism was met with ironic messages of almost ridiculous irritation from Prime Minister Boris Johnson and Home Secretary Priti Patel. Johnson spoke of how “terrible” the abuse is and told racist fans to “be ashamed of themselves.” Similarly, Patel took to Twitter to “condemn the violent minority that assaulted” the players. Both Johnson and Patel do not see that they are directly responsible for fostering this environment and how this racist response reflects their government.
It is extremely difficult for someone to take their words seriously, given their long history of antagonism and racial insensitivity. Johnson is the same person who did it compared Muslim women to “mailboxes”, described black Africans “Piccaninnies” with “watermelon smiles” and claimed that the problem with Africa is that Britain “no longer rules.”
Patel, herself the daughter of Ugandan and Indian refugees, is no better. He spent the past summer labeling the Black Lives Matter protests as “fearsome.” implementing some of the most draconian immigration policies and arming the police with greater legislative powers without taking a single step to address the institutional racism that pervades the force.
Looking specifically at this week’s racist episode, Patel has directly sparked the flames of racial resentment in recent weeks through his calculated comments about players who have gotten on their knees. After football fans were booed by the English team for kneeling in protest against racism, Patel felt compelled label kneeling as “gestural politics” and openly defended the right of fans to boo. Now he seems to be trying to distance himself from the same people he did a few days before. Frankly, it’s too late.
Unfortunately, this racist reaction had to take place for England, once again, to face the sad reality of real racism that it desperately denies. Racism in this country has been documented since time immemorial, but our society refuses to acknowledge its existence or to seriously debate ways to combat it. This was perfectly demonstrated by the UK government discredited report on race and ethnic inequalities, published in March this year. In that controversial report, racism was downplayed and the UK was touted as a “model for other white-majority countries”. The report’s chairman, Tony Sewell, even refuted the notion that there is evidence of real institutional racism, stating: “We no longer see a Britain where the system is deliberately manipulated against ethnic minorities.”
If so, how do we account for this week’s racist attacks?
In recent years, the British government has fabricated a cultural war around “true” English values, with debates over statues of slave traders and flags. For Johnson’s Conservative party, this is nothing more than a campaign tactic. However, as we are seeing with the rise of racist hate crimes, these contrived cultural wars have real and dangerous consequences. So Johnson and Patel’s lukewarm response to the actions of racist football fans this week can only be seen as hypocrisy.
Instead of making performative statements against racism, those in power should self-reflect on their actions, or lack thereof, and be responsible. This need for action also extends to social networking organizations that reap great benefits, but fail to implement effective safeguards against the hate speech unleashed on their platforms. The issue of racism can only be addressed once there is full and frank recognition of its existence at the institutional level and an acceptance of complicity by those responsible.
As the old adage says, the fish rots from the head. Racist attacks on English team black players are a more complex issue than the sporadic vitriol by a minority. Racism is endemic to our society and is the result of our historical failure to address fundamental social and political issues. If this conversation only fades from the news cycle and national dialogue after this week, we won’t have learned anything.
The views expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the editorial stance of Al Jazeera.