Yasmin Alibhai-Brown: Rio was right, but he'll pay the price

Monday 22 October 2012 10:12 BST

Four cheers for Rio Ferdinand. The disagreeable Chelsea football captain, John Terry, called QPR player Anton Ferdinand a "f***ing black c***" during a match last autumn and was fined £220,000 and banned for four games. That's all folks, some pocket money taken and a bit of time off to swig champagne for breakfast.

Anton's brother Rio, of Manchester United, took on Terry and broke an unwritten rule: complain about racism and suffer dire consequences. Sayeeda Warsi experienced it when she was deputy chairwoman of the Tory party and spoke out. They banished her to obscurity.

Rio Ferdinand was not picked to play for England suspiciously soon after standing up for his brother. Wounding internet missiles will have rained on his head since refusing to follow orders and don a Kick Racism Out of Football T-shirt to show how fair and fine the game in England is. (It only is if compared with Serbia and Ukraine – which isn't impressive). Rio's protest was against "gesture anti-racism" and the abysmally lenient "punishment" meted out to Terry. Furious Alex Ferguson says Rio has embarrassed him and will be dealt with.

But The Kick it Out campaign has hit the rocks. Some football fans still behave like animals when they watch black players. As Reading's Jason Roberts tweeted: "People expect us 'to put up with it'. Those days are gone... We DEMAND to be treated with respect... we are not asking..."

Will the demands be heard? I don't expect so. We are living in times of remarkable complacency as well as rising new racism, the first negating the second with grim determination. The Olympics may have proved ours is a multiracial, winning nation. However, people use the good news to go into denial about the continuing disadvantage and discrimination, or even worse, blame victims for not shutting up for an easy life or bringing their pain on themselves. Racism is redefined in such extreme terms that it leaves out almost all common experiences of racism. Fewer discrimination cases are taken to tribunal too, I think, because the environment has become so terrifyingly hostile. The police talk the talk, that's all. The Higher Education Statistics Agency confirms that qualified black graduates are much less likely to get jobs than white graduates. If they get jobs they are likely to earn less.

When the Home Secretary extradited Babar Ahmad, Talha Ahsan and Abu Hamza to America, the country sighed with relief. Abu Hamza is a proven villain, but the other two were held for years without charge in a country which claims it honours the rule of law. Ahsan suffers from Asperger's syndrome, like Gary McKinnon, who, thank God, has been spared the American justice system. Theresa May spoke about McKinnon's human rights but, it seems, the Muslims have no such rights because they are not "human".

To belong in Britain we must not question these double standards and iniquities.

Many will hate this column and come for me. Let them. When courageous black footballers speak out, the rest of us cannot remain cowed and silent.

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