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Yasmin Alibhai-Brown: What's worse than racism? Complaining about it

White racism is still an evil, still around, and will, after Terry’s victory, be more active and shameless

Yasmin Alibhai-Brown
Monday 16 July 2012 09:59 BST

I've been trying to avoid the cloudburst, the torrent of questions and comments following the John Terry case. Broadcasters, here and abroad, wanted my reactions, so did readers, friends and people at the Leeds City Museum where I performed my one-woman show on Saturday, some of it about race and immigration. What did I think of the case? What of racism in football? And racism in Britain generally? Was Anton Ferdinand a fool for taking things so far? Did I admire Ashley Cole for standing by Terry? Why do we blacks have such a chip on the shoulder? They should sack all black footballers, nothing but trouble. (I leave out the insults offered by internet trolls.) Rarely one to opt for silence when such events occur, I did this time. Nobody was listening in the commotion and din of last week, as deafening as football matches. Introversion and reflection seemed wiser then.

The man I love more than chocolate responded differently to the verdict than me. That threw me too. Strong beliefs in equality, human rights and justice are ties that bind us tightly in our marriage. This time we didn't agree. Mr Brown is white, I am, well, brown. His views on race come out of a lifetime of activism and painstaking evidence gathering. In the 1980s, he published seminal research on discrimination, which influenced government policies. I trust his judgements on these matters and yet on this we weren't completely on the same side. I was disheartened at the acquittal and, though my husband is no defender of Terry's foul mouth, he was more upbeat. The trial, he said, showed how seriously Britons take racism and think it wrong. It mattered. Furthermore, English fans and players were genuinely shocked by the brute bigotry in Ukraine during Euro 2012.

Hmm, OK, dearest. So, we aren't as bad as Ukraine or Russia. (Maybe we should also admire ourselves for not being as sexist as Saudi Arabia?) Ferdinand, his brother Rio, and other black footballers will not find comfort in any of that. Nor can I.

The match, case and judgment revealed the fault lines and contradictions in our nation – fragmented and disjointed, more enlightened than it was right up to the end of the 20th century and begrudging that enlightenment, not as free of racism as it insists it is and apoplectic when reminded of that truth. As my fellow columnist Ian Birrell wrote on these pages, national connivance and denial obscure the reality of British racism.

To complain about the evil is today more "offensive" than to express prejudices and act on them. This case has reinforced that totally unjust deal pressed upon us people of colour and may have made racial prejudice cool and acceptable again. The black former basketball player, John Amaechi, tweeted: "Thanks football. You set the entire country back a decade. 'black c***' now officially OK to say". He's right. There is talk of black footballers now forming their own federation and taking action. Cole, who defended Terry, finds himself ridiculed and isolated.

The Ferdinand family has sought protection after getting death threats. It's what they get for having two amazing sons playing brilliantly for top teams. When our non-white competitors win medals for the country, they are highly praised, but always conditionally. For some recognition (not enough) they have to be prepared to be dumped on, never protest and know their place.

Last week, a number of journalists and public figures raised their voices against vicious internet invective. They were either Muslims or visible minorities, who, like me, are continuously abused, not for what we say, but who were are. I will not read stuff sent to me by these scumbags, but knowing it is circulating disturbs my peace and confidence. Which is what they want. You can survive virtual stalking, but how do you keep your aspirations and sanity when your life chances are still determined by your race and faith?

Police chiefs still haven't excised racism from their forces. Hardly any rising black or Asian officer survives that culture. The Coalition shows no interest in collecting data about the provable discrimination in schools, workplaces, housing, politics, private clubs, the NHS, the criminal justice system, sports, the arts and media. Why bother when virulent anti-immigration rhetoric and rules produce easy popularity? And anti-terrorist measures even more so?

Britain is a good country to be black or Asian in, better than all of the rest of Europe. It has come a long way since the 1950s. Inter-ethnic hostility, anti-white migrants and settlers, demented Islamists disfigure our society and are hateful. All that said and meant, white racism is still an evil, still around, and will, after Terry's victory, be more active and shameless than it has been. I hope I have convinced Mr Brown with this column if no one else.

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