Are we all racist?

Paul Ince is the latest player to weigh in on the Lukaku chant. The former Manchester United man doesn’t think it’s racist.

Clearly Paul Ince hasn’t picked up a dictionary (Oxford definition below).

  1. The belief that all members of each race possess characteristics, abilities, or qualities specific to that race, especially so as to distinguish it as inferior or superior to another race or races.
  2.  A person who shows or feels discrimination or prejudice against people of other races, or who believes that a particular race is superior to another.

 By definition the song is racist.

Attributing characteristics to a person or group of people based on their skin colour is racist. That doesn’t mean that the people who sung it were being intentionally spiteful, or even realised they were being racist. But the fact is that they were.

That shouldn’t be up for debate. And that is the problem.

Paul Ince epitomises the issue we have when it comes to discussing race. The tendency to distance ourselves from the word racism, because we don’t feel the parties concerned meant harm by it.

Now here’s where it gets mind blowing. A person is capable of saying something racist without knowingly being a racist.

We’re all a bit racist

It is my personal belief that we all sit on a racist spectrum. This might feel uncomfortable or controversial. But the quicker we can come to terms with this idea, the easier it will be to overcome the pain and suffering that accompanies racism.

In fact, in some weird matrix-type twist, it seems to be more offensive these days to be called racist than it is to actually be racist. Over to you, Trump.

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What I’m saying is that it’s OK to be racist because we all are. But it’s only OK if we do something about it. I’ll give you two examples to make my point.

  1. When it’s OK to be a racist

If you’re working on it.

I played for a football team where the manager made a racist comment. I asked him why he’d made the comment, and he held his hands up and said he’d be more careful in the future. Our conversation was productive, and in my experience he was far more careful in the future. It felt like he’d learnt something.

  1. When it’s not OK to be racist

When you refuse to do anything about it.

Once again a football manager made a racist remark in a team talk. He said that we were playing a team of black players who would be fast, but if we got under their skin they would turn on each other. I think it’s pretty obvious why that’s racist. In fact, it’s the perfect example of how someone is likely to hold both positive and negative stereotypes of race.

This time my brother took the manager to one side, and said he felt uncomfortable with the conversation. I hadn’t actually been present at the team talk and therefore didn’t want to be involved. My brother made this clear, but the manager for some unknown reason decided to pull me out of training and explain that his comments were made based on his own experience.

I was then subjected to an hour-long phone call where the chairman of the club stressed that the manager wasn’t a racist. It transpired that the chairman didn’t know what the manager had said. He hadn’t bothered to ask.

The strangest thing was that I had never actually accused anyone of being racist. In fact I hadn’t even wanted to be part of the conversation.

The whole saga ended up at a committee meeting where the manager didn’t turn up. My brother and I stressed we weren’t accusing anyone of being racist, but merely wanted the manager to accept that his comments were by definition racist. We decided to bring the dictionary to support our argument.

Instead of accepting our simple request, the club provided an alternative definition of racism from the eighth page of Google. It still meant that the comments were racist. They had obviously misunderstood both definitions.

In the end we left the club. I’m only sharing this to explain what can happen when you even suggest that what someone has said might have been racist. People put their fingers to their ears and start singing the classic old song ‘la la la not listening.

This is because we’ve been told that it’s unacceptable to be racist, without being given the right tools to tackle our existing condition.

So I’ll reiterate.

It’s OK to be racist (as long as we can work on it together).

It’s not entirely our fault. After all, we are all products of our environment. And only in the last twenty years has it become unfashionable to be a racist. So for most adults, racist phrases, ideas and stereotypes will be embedded in our minds. It’s the same for sexism, homophobia and most recently Islamaphobia.

If we can all accept this fact then it will be a hell of a lot easier to challenge ourselves to rise above stereotypes, be they spiteful or ridiculous.

By the way, the ridiculous stereotypes are harmful too.

Marina Hyde’s article brilliantly pointed out the insidious side of silly stereotypes. I highly recommend reading her piece in the Guardian.

In her thought-provoking column she raises the idea that those who sing supposedly positive songs about Lukaku’s dick, are probably also well aware of the negative stereotypes of black people.

It would be naïve to think that you could somehow filter out negative stereotypes, and only keep the positive ones.

So if someone says to me, you’re mixed race I bet you…(I’ve experienced all the supposed positive stereotypes that follow this set up)… I assume that they’ll probably be thinking all the negative ones too, even if they have the ‘decency’ not to mention those ones.

Suddenly you feel like you are on display for the colour of your skin. It’s highly embarrassing and deeply uncomfortable, even if you think you’re paying me a compliment.

It’s not the worst thing I’ve heard

The fact that the Lukaku chant isn’t the most hateful song is also irrelevant.

While it might be true, this sentence immediately suggests that it is somehow more acceptable or less racist.

It’s like a doctor saying you might have lost your leg, but you’re not the most disabled person I’ve seen. Bit insensitive.

The song is racist so please try to avoid excusing some racism. It sounds really ignorant.

It’s understandable that Paul Ince would be able to laugh off the chant. Especially when you consider the era that he grew up in.

But Paul Ince doesn’t speak for all black people, or anyone with an aversion to racism for that matter.

The people singing the Lukaku chant might be fond of Lukaku. I don’t know them, and I don’t really care.

What I care about is people ignoring the definition of racism out of ignorance or fear of being a labelled racist. It’s time we face up to the more uncomfortable side of racism, so we can have a more mature conversation.

In order to do this people need to know and accept what racism actually is.

Racist ideology and stereotyping is embedded within all of us. If we can understand that then we’ve got a better chance of overcoming it.

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One Comment Add yours

  1. I agree we all sit somewhere on the spectrum of racism, it’s only inevitable. We don’t choose our socialisation, nor do we choose who to spend time with especially as a child.

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