This footballer thought it was ok to dress up in Black face to attend a Christmas party. Ordinarily, this is pretty wrong and racist. However, this story is worse because it happened during a time of heavy debate about whether football will ever stop being racist.

The facts are footballers, football fans and football journalists are all from society. Thus, until society rids itself of the cancer of racism, sadly, no amount of kick-out discussions, debates or therapy will rid football of the tumour of racism. 

The question is more accurately to what extent are football and the media racist? Well, in a week when Raheem Sterling was racially abused by Chelsea’s football fans and once again he felt he had to shoulder the burden of speaking out against the systemic racism in the media, society now has a great opportunity to look in the mirror, find the answer and solution to this question. 

We can use this instance of Black face as a case study for the issues football and society must tackle and how we can move forward. 

Robson’s Story

Sky News has reported that 20 year-old, Dundee footballer, Jamie Robson has been disciplined by his club after pictures were published on social media of him at the club’s players party. 

‘He wore an umbrella hat with a hi-vis vest while holding two cardboard signs, one which said “buy 1 get 5 free!” and the other reading “cheap as chips”.

In a statement issued a statement on Wednesday, the club said:

“Dundee United can confirm Jamie Robson has been disciplined in relation to his actions at a players’ social event earlier this month.”The player’s actions were potentially offensive and, with the club’s support, he will undertake some diversity and inclusion training.”

Robson has since said:

“I want to apologise for any offence I have caused, and I have also apologised to the club for not adhering to the standards expected.”

Sky News

#AntoineExplains

There are many issues with Robson, his fellow players and the club’s behaviour; much like the football landscape.

Robson most likely did not apply such a large amount of black paint to his face without help. So, at what point did one of the other players, the team management or anyone connected with the club say, “Mate, why are you wearing that? Don’t you know it’s racist?” 

Robson has said, that as soon as he was told his costume would offend some people, he removed the face paint. However, he was obviously not made aware of his offensive behaviour before someone else had taken a picture to proudly post on social media. 

I have previously written about the history of Black face.
Moreover, I recently presented a documentary about the Black pete controversy in The Netherlands ie annual Black face.

However, I will once again, briefly, elaborate further on the different instances of Black face that we have seen in recent years and why this one, in particular, is a reflection of a bigger issue in society.

In terms of Black face, there are essentially threes types:

  1. Black face costumes to parody and ridicule a Black stereotype ie criminal, rapper, Rastafarian or hustler immigrant
  2. Black face costumes to denigrate a prominent black figure or celebrity. In modern times, Colin Kaepernick, Serena Williams and Ray Rice has been subjected to this.
  3. Black face worn out of some misguided sense of appreciation ie “I like this Black celebrity or film character, I want to dress up as them to impress my friends”. For instance, last year French World Cup winner, Antoine Griezmann, made this racial faux pas whilst dressing as a Black basketball player. This was despite Antoine being apart of a French national team that has the highest number of players from African heritage outside of the African national teams.  

Last year and today, the actions of Griezmann and Robson have been described bt some people as ‘banter’ and the outrage against their costume choice as ‘PC culture gone too far’. However, Robson’s Black face was type 1. This poses the question of, is this how he views his fellow Black players or Black people in society, are we just just street hustlers in his mind? Robson would not be alone in this thinking.

During the world cup The Apprentice star, businessman, Lord Alan Sugar, tweeted this image of The Senegalese football team. A team that was also the only team with a Black manager. 

Alan sugar, The apprentice, Alan sugar racist tweet

Both Lord Sugar’s tweet and Robson’s outfit are troubling example’s of society and the media’s stereotypical narrative about Black and immigrant people’s role and contribution to society. For too many people Black people are a joke, only fit for banter or can be pigeon holed into a stereotypical box, despite our individual stories, successes and lives. 

This dehumanisation of Black identity, is a factor as to why Black people continue to be abused in society and by some football fans. This racist harassment is indicative of a lack of respect for said black athlete, person or people in general.

Is this an inherit issue with football or more so a specific group?

Well, in Britain and Europe most people will struggle to find a Black footballer or Black person that decides to dress as a stereotypical or generic white person for their Christmas or Halloween parties. Or that will racial abuse a White footballer from the stand or on social media.

Thus, the repeated occurrence of this racist faux pas by White football fans, journalists, commentators and media outlets, highlights a greater issue in wider society when it comes to combatting racism. 

In short, too many people remain silent before, during and after these instances. Just as too many people like Piers Morgan refuse to acknowledge the systemic issues. First, here is why this silence and denial matters.

Before: Open and sometimes frank communication, coupled with better education could have prevented instances like this from happening. As the old saying goes, if we do not tell people history some people are damned to repeat it. As a society we need to be more open to listen to people’s grievances and discuss together how to find solutions. However, it has to be said that a lot of the time it is simple Black people wanting to live a life without being racial abused. 

During: Often our reaction to racist or prejudice behaviour is after the fact. However, society must find the courage to challenge people as they enact racist behaviour. In terms of football this challenge should be from:

  • Players need challenge their fellow players and fans to change their behaviour. However, by this I do not mean it is Black player’s job to try and change society. All players should be speaking out and educating their fanbase. This is the same as in society. 
  • Fans need to challenge and confront their fellow fans racist, sexist or homophobic chanting. 
  • Journalists need to highlight, denounce and speak up against the articles written by their fellow journalists that perpetuate racist stereotypes, beliefs or potentially incite racist, xenophobic, sexist or homophobic behaviour. 

After:  Most people will denounce racist instances after the fact. However, there seems to always be some people who will find an excuse to try and defend or dispute the claims of people of colour. Although, when there is video evidence, most people struggle to defend the blatantly obvious.

For instance, Piers Morgan had to denounce the Chelsea fans behaviour towards Sterling. However, this is both easy to do and a great way for a person to build ‘brownie points’ in their ‘I can’t be racist because I denounce obvious racism, I have a black friend or a like a handful of Black sports people that everyone else also likes” excuse account. 

However, the true test of how much a person cares, emphasises or is willing to learn is shown how they react when they cannot see the obvious racism ie the institutional racism. For instance, Piers Morgan invited former footballer Clarke Carlisle and Daily Mirror reporter Darren Lewis to speak about racism in the media. However, Piers proceeded to arrogantly tell two Black men, why they were wrong about racism in the media, despite them have valid examples. It was singlehandedly the most patronising interview I have seen for a while. 

Sadly, Piers is both the voice of many people and their opinion leader. This is why it is deeply troubling that Piers did not want to admit that The Daily Mail too often pushes a racist and xenophobic agenda for clicks and views.

Why was this widely held belief, so unbelievable to Piers Morgan? Maybe, because he writes for The Daily Mail, thus in his mind, most likely if he was to admit his employers use racist propaganda, this admittance would make him guilty by association.

However, he is guilty by association because he only began to admit he somewhat understood the racial undertones of the press about Raheem Sterling, when Gary Neville and Jamie Carragher, two white footballers gave their support to Raheem, whilst debunking Pier’s examples of press equal treatment. 

This, speaks volumes of how hard it is for Black people to speak on issues of racism and change certain people’s mind. In this case, despite Piers having two Black men on his show, it was not until Piers watched a video of two White men talking about racism, then Piers somewhat began to understand. Somewhat!

On the other hand, I will admit there will be grey areas and some people will understand better than others. However, my view point is we can all learn to listen and take the time to understand. 

So, to what extent is football or the media racist?

As I said, football is a reflection of society. The media is both a reflection and influencer of society. Therefore, if football is to be free from the cancer of racism, society needs to be free first. In order, for that to happen the media needs to stop influencing the impressionable minds of the uniformed. 

Many people in Europe and especially Britain, will live a life that does not involve them meeting, engaging with, forming friendships with or even working with significant numbers of people of colour. This is not their choice; it is just the demographics of the country. 

Black people are only 3% of the British population. Thus, the majority of White British people’s knowledge of the black community is informed by how the media portrays black people in films, TV and in news reports. 

However, the media does not have to say “black people are (insert a negative description)”. It merely needs to write about a prominent Black figure such as Raheem Sterling and put a negative tone on their activities. This will make some people generalise Raheem Sterling, Stormzy, J Hus, Beyonce, Lady Leshurr, Jay Z, Pogba, Lukaku or any prominent Black figure as an example of how all Black people behaviour, due to their lack of other examples or real life interactions.

Yet, regardless of our demographic, we are all individuals and should be judged as such. However, often this is not the case for people of colour.

For instance, imagine if every David Attenborough documentary you watched only showed you examples of Kuala Bears as ferocious man killers. It would make most people very wary before interacting with a Kuala bear due to what you have seen in the media. This is the power of the media when it comes to its impact on representation and people’s knowledge of other communities. 

In this case, the repeated dehumanisation, stereotyping or denigration of Black players and people creates fertile ground for racism, ignorance and bigotry to grow on social media and in football grounds. 

So to answer the question; to what extent is football or the media racist? Too damn much! The cancer of racism in football might be in remission. But, let’s not celebrate until society, football and the media are cured of this illness. Otherwise, we will be doomed to repeat this circle over and over again. 

With that said, there are many other solutions, but the examples I have listed are the basic solutions we can all try to do.  Although, the complexities and intricacies of racist thinking and institutions will not be solved overnight. We must remember that this is too important an issue to simply give up or stay quiet. The far right is gaining support all over Europe.

By Antoine Allen

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