Community, Diaspora and Immigration

John Barnes “What Is the Solution to Racism?”

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Former England footballer, commentator for ESPN and SuperSport

I did a piece in the Guardian today which received much interest from many people. A lot on Twitter, once again, accused me of playing the race card in football because I mentioned the lack of black managers (in passing) as a wider problem in society.

Let me say once and for all (probably not) that until we tackle the issue of racism in mainstream society, we cannot get rid of it in any other part of society – of which football is but one of many. I will mention football management once in this article, then move on to the real problem.

I am a failed football manager, and there are lots of different reasons why myself and other failed black managers do so (which is for a different time). But to satisfy those who say you were not good enough, like other black managers, let's work on the premise that they are right!

We may not be good enough which, if true, has nothing to do with the colour of our skin. So why then pose the question: Can black ex-players make good managers, and why should prospective future black managers be doubted because the ones before have failed, as if we are all the same?

Secondly, how many white managers have not been good enough, but been given longer to fail?

Why are the rubbish white managers given longer than the rubbish black managers?

I know if I, or other black managers, were successful we would still be employed so I am not, and never have, accused football fans of being overtly racist. What I have said is that they are (as am I) unconsciously racist, based on what life has shown us (me included) about the moral and intellectual capabilities of different groups of people.

So while they fully support their managers at the outset, when things go wrong, subconsciously, they question the capabilities of that person based on the perception they have of him based on what society has told them about people like him for the last 300 years and continues to tell them in the media!

The reality is that white managers of similar inadequacies to black managers are given longer to try to put it right! Why does this happen? It is not personal!

In many respects, it has nothing to do with colour, it has to do with the perception and misconception mainstream society has about a particular group of people.

If I was a white American coaching a Premier League team, I would be sacked before a white English coach, who is sacked before a white European Spanish coach, because of the perception of me as an 'American' in the Premier League, and my football intellect.

If you speak to Lorraine Rogers or Karren Brady about their experiences in a male-dominated industry, they, I'm sure, will tell you that they have been discriminated against because they are women.

When I say it's not personal, to take their experiences as an example, I mean its not personal against women per se, it's against a group of people who society has said are not capable to do that particular job… Who happen to be women. Society for hundreds of years has questioned women's capabilities in many industries. While you may say things have changed, you cannot redress hundreds of years of a particular perception in 10 to 20 years.

So, as a black person, it isn't necessarily personal towards me, it is the perception that society has towards the intellectual capabilities of the group I belong to as a whole.

Even individual racism doesn't necessarily exist. The fictional football racist, who can't spell his own name, has no job, ugly, fat, smelly, who racially abuses the rich, handsome, intelligent Thierry Henry, may feel superior to Thierry. However that is an inherent and subconscious feeling because, if he were to rationally think about it, even he would have to admit he isn't superior to him.

What he is actually saying is it doesn't matter about our individual reality Thierry, I belong to a superior group to you, which makes me superior to you.

Racism is understandable, because of the Western history we have been taught, which glorifies one particular groups achievements over "all" others!

So while, once again, we may say "Yeah, but that was years ago," it was only a few years ago that racial abuse, bananas being thrown on the pitch and overt racism was accepted – so why should hundreds of years of thought and policy be overturned in a few years? Because we now say "it was wrong" and "we are all the same".

Unless we explain why it is wrong, and why we are all the same, passing laws and charging people with racism isn't going to stop people being unconsciously racist.

If we look at diseases, we know to cure a disease we have to know and tackle the "cause" of the disease, not the "symptom" or else the disease will return and never be cured!

But what we do in our fight against racism is to tackle the 'symptom' (Suarez, Terry, Danny Rose in Ukraine, CSKA Moscow, Boateng in Italy and countless other incidents) which means they will continue to return, rather than tackling the 'cause' of racism, of which there are so many, which stare us in the face!

Racism affects us all in the same way in many respects, and I always try to stress that I am not pointing accusing fingers at any particular individual because the environment we have been brought up in has shaped our mode of thought about other people and, equally as important, about where we see ourselves in the racial hierarchy of this world.

To give you an example – and some people throw this at me all the time – black on black crime, black on white racism, black African football administrators giving coaching jobs to white European coaches!

Why does this happen? For the exact same reasons white society bases its judgement of the capabilities of 'some' blacks that is what they have learnt/been told about themselves for the last 300 years.

Once again it isn't personal or individual because, while the black football administrators in Africa are fully empowered personally and are, and feel as, adequate as their white European contemporaries, they don't feel the same way about people who 'look' like them (other 'inferior' blacks) because of what they have been told about themselves.

These are the people who either have elevated themselves or been elevated out of blackness.

Barack Obama, Beyonce, Denzel Washington, Rio Ferdinand and other superstar footballers have been elevated out of blackness. By that I mean when many older managers talk about me a lot of them say they don't see me as being black… they mean it as a compliment (unconscious racism?).

What is their perception of what black is, that I am not? Jeans down my arse and smoking a spliff? When pressed they may say they see me as just being normal. Is black not normal? If they say they see me as just like them, that is when I have been fully elevated out of blackness!

Me being just like them means that they see me on the same level as them. However, do they see the 'average' black man walking down the street as being 'just like them'? Probably not. And even if they do there is a huge difference between seeing somebody 'just like you' to seeing yourself as 'just like them'.

It's easy to see Obama, Beyonce and Denzel as 'just like you' or yourself 'just like them' but do you see an 'average' black person as 'just like you' or even less likely, yourself 'just like them'?

So when people say those above mentioned people transcend blackness, they are wrong!

I interpret 'transcend' as crossing over from one equal part, to another. That is not the case, they have been 'elevated' out of blackness. A lot of people will say, "I am not racist because", then list a host of reasons (best friend, married to, music, food, live next door to etc) and that gives me hope. But not for the reasons you may think.

Even if the above is true about you, it is because of the 'essence' of humanity, that we, deep down, unconsciously know about the equality of human beings that when we interact with others, we see that they are 'just like us', in many respects, to our surprise. We end up marrying, living next to, befriending different groups and convince ourselves that we see each other as equal. But what we have done is to elevate our partner, friend out of what the perception (understandably) we have of what being black is!

Until we see all black people in the same way as we see our black partners, friends, this (understandable) unconscious racism will continue.

There are degrees of racism, and we convince ourselves we have no tendencies, because we would never do or say what John Terry said, or Luis Suarez, or CSKA Moscow but the majority are (me included) are somewhere in between that and Mother Teresa, but we have to acknowledge and accept it.

We have to internalise our perspective and perceptions of others because in debates and discussions we will become defensive and afraid of being labelled racist, so will not admit how we truly feel, and absolve ourselves of any discrimination by pointing the finger at Suarez, Terry and CSKA Moscow.

This blog originally appeared on John's personal blog, and can be read here



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