Modern racism has many battle cries. The brutal and unprintable language of the explicit white supremacist; the racist police officer screaming “stop resisting” as they brutalise the compliant and petrified ethnic minority in their custody; the corporate boss working to uphold the unwritten colour bar by claiming their company only hires “on merit” and doesn’t do “box-ticking”; the coded shrieks of “woke”, “political correctness” and “virtue signalling” from the media and political class; and, yes, the boos in the football stands as players kneel in a symbolic gesture of anti-racism.
The one consistent in each of the above is the people who make excuses for them. The excuse being offered for those booing players who take the knee is that they are, of course, “not racist” as “taking the knee is supporting Black Lives Matter” and “Black Lives Matter is a Marxist organisation intent on destroying our way of life”.
Excusing racism – no matter how obtuse it may make one sound – is a critical part of racism. From drapetomania (an 1851 era pseudo-scientific mental diagnosis for why enslaved Africans ran away) to “George Floyd died of a drug overdose not the police knee on his neck for nine minutes” to the Tony Sewell-led British government report on racism, history is riddled with those who excuse racism. They do it because there is power, platform and profit to be found in excusing racism.
There has never ever been an anti-racism movement – as far as it pertains to black people – that has proven popular with the majority of society on a sustained basis. And the backlash to these anti-racism movements is always dismissed as “not racist”.
From resistance to slave raids to the revolts of enslaved Africans, the civil rights struggle, the African liberation movements, the pan-Africanist movement, economic enhancement endeavours, doing-for-self, diversity movements, marches, petitions, standing up, sitting in, taking the knee… every single step, gesture, move, act or reaction to anti-black racism has been met with the relevant equivalent of boos. On a good day. Bullets and bombs on bad days. Genocide on the worst of days.
Attempting to “educate” the booers and their apologists about the difference between Black Lives Matter organisations and Black Lives Matter as a slogan, a principle and a stone-cold fact is a waste of my time. For I do not believe I would be attempting to enlighten naive or ill-educated people. I would be attempting to convince racists – and I am confident I would have more success convincing my kitchen table.
It is a revelation about the extent of racism in our society that in a nation as football-loving as ours, some England fans and leading national politicians – including 10 Downing Street – would rather England’s players be demoralised by boos than to see them take a stand (or a knee) against racism.
I was so moved when England manager Gareth Southgate wrote an extensive article about what it means to be an England player and why they take the knee. His words, his clearly understood, clearly defined, principled and unapologetic anti-racism and positive and inclusive patriotism made me proud to be an Englishman and an England fan.
It would have been easier, more popular and less of a headache for him to embrace the racists and their excuse-making apologists by scrapping any anti-racism signal. Like every person of integrity Gareth Southgate stood by his principles even when it was not convenient to do so. The man is an exemplary leader and it is no surprise that England are getting their best results in a generation under his leadership.
Gareth Southgate is living proof: opposing racism and embracing diversity creates better results for all of us. Excusing racism creates good results only for the excuse makers.
Nels Abbey is a writer and media executive based in London. His debut book, ‘Think Like A White Man’, is out now