Monkey Business

I was flabbergasted by the accusations of racist chanting at Tottenham Hotspur last week.

Well, it’s just that I wasn’t initially convinced that the monkey noises were anything other than their own primitive attempts to communicate.

Just wait until Spurs become fully Mourinhoed into the institutionalised 1-0 – that’ll teach ‘em.

I mean, one of the stand-out ironies of the latest outburst of racist sentiment at our football grounds is that the instigators appeared evolutionarily closer to the subject of their chants than the objects of them.

My own VAR on the sub-brownshirtist knuckle-dragging highlights a wider angle on foul play, though.

Everybody is outraged. I mean, who’d have thought that there was such a thing as racism in our enlightened times? Do me a favour, chaps – or have you all been comatose since, well, forever?

Well it doesn’t really surprise me. Our steaming, nutty and fibrous turd-chain of racist squeeze-throughs seems to be met by disapproval only when it is exposed in its rawest and coarsest terms.

If they’re not chanting it, then all is rosy in the garden. As long as it’s out of sight, it’s out of mind. Sort of sums up our consensus on racism, doesn’t it? We’re more outraged at the hooligan element for chanting and bringing it out into the open, than we are about the content of the outpourings.

It makes us uncomfortable, because it reminds us that for all our purported civilisation, we still haven’t done anything about it. Though that’s not to say we don’t talk about it at all. But mainly we drop a bucketload of sluice on those for playing the race card, or having a chip on their shoulder, when the subtle and more insidious aspects of prejudice are isolated. But make no mistake about it, it’s the under-the-radar institutionalised stuff that perpetuates the deep-seated inequality and oppression. A wise woman once told me that it’s not the nutters out in the street shouting and screaming that you have to worry about. They won’t ever change anything. It’s the clever ones in power, making everyday decisions who do the damage. They are the ones who keep the barriers to progress in place.

What was witnessed at Tottenham is simply the primitive manifestation of an attitude that has never gone away. While we have redrawn the lines of polite behaviour and etiquette, we’ve not addressed the fundamentals. And that’s probably because in general we expose and act on racism when it is expedient for us to do so, not because we find it morally repugnant. It’s become a topic of discussion that ebbs and flows, not something that we all feel.

That’s one hell of an indictment on who we are but not necessarily on what we’ve become. It’s really what we’ve always been. I can remember a school friend – the only black guy in our year group – being called a nigger and a coon.

By some of the parents.

I’m not going to bother qualifying that with words. Just step back and consider that for a moment from whatever perspective you wish. But don’t fool yourself that in many quarters people think any differently 40 years on.

I once told a friend that I thought that racism was a thing of the past and received a stern rebuke for my observation. The error of my ways was that I was witnessing only the performance of those who exercise restraint, because exposure is just another political tool. And of course, because from my position, I’d never lived it, so I could more comfortably draw a line under it. People are aware that their words can be used against them, but don’t be so naive to think that they would otherwise feel shame or be censured by many on moral grounds. In spite of the fine words, most don’t give the faintest of tosses. If they did, they’d have long since done something about it.

And bizarrely, the repressed racism can sometimes be almost worse for the victims than the explicit vocal vomiting. At least when it’s uttered, it can be challenged. For the most part, its articulation is kept under wraps with minority groups being sent to racist Coventry. It’s a racist resistance, characterised by occasional acts of sabotage.

But let’s return to the chanting and responses to it. So, what about the players themselves? Well, they express how they feel and quite rightly state that they should not have to put up with it. Everybody else weighs in to weigh up the pros and cons of walking off the pitch. Fair enough, right?

Well, hold your horses for just one moment.

That sounds like shoving the burden of responsibility onto the victims. They’re the ones who would have to live with the practical consequences of a walk-off and who would have to battle against the inevitable opponents of such decisive action, many of whom would hold powerful administrative positions. Note that none of the august ruling bodies have ever pre-sanctioned the vacation of the pitch.

No problem though for the pundits, who will sit on the sidelines with nothing personally at stake. Just another opportunity to mouth off and then safely get themselves off home once they’ve said their piece. After all, many of them were players themselves who did sod all to resolve the problem during their own careers. But then again, at that time they had something to lose.

And that is lamentably the reason why racism has persisted – it has never meant enough to enough people. It’s not been lived as a shared experience, so there has never been any real breadth or depth of solidarity. It’s an abstract concept for large sections of society. An appropriate topic for faux outrage and a platform for speaking out and personal profile-building. Nice for a byline: ‘Impressive of X to speak out against racism’.

Well, how about: ‘Bullshit of millionaire X for speaking out on racism that he knows exists every day but chooses to ignore until he’s put on the spot and has to trot out some bollocks’.

Has a better ring to it, but it would somewhat piss on the poser parade.

Amazing how those who seem so confident in self-expression on racism never seem to have achieved any leverage on the solution? It’s because they speak only when it’s hot, not when it’s not.

And that is when action and solidarity really matter. When culture reflects that race doesn’t matter. When people know it and feel it, without having to be told it. When the reaction of those bearing witness to the monkey chants would be shock at the senselessness and illogicality of it all, rather than jumping in and egging on the victims to sort it all out, as they look on from the comfort of their armchairs.

As for the walking off the pitch, well that’s a matter for the players and the players alone. Though let’s not forget that players have themselves not been too hot in standing up and addressing the matter when legal opportunities have presented themselves.

Maybe their solidarity is primarily with fellow players rather than fellow humans. Or perhaps that tells you more about the fear of how prevalent and powerful the ambivalent status is, from the perspective of those who know the intricacies of football best.

The most appropriate response to the chants will always come from an emphatic underscore of empty logic.

The attempted demonstration of neo-Nazi superiority at this year’s Bulgaria-England game was met with a 0-6 reversal – a comprehensive drubbing with 5 of the 6 goals scored by black or mixed-heritage players. You can’t really win the argument more conclusively than that.

But until then, we need to move away from vacuous blathering about the problem of racist chanting. The true adversary is racism itself that will continue in all aspects of our society, long after the final whistle.

We just need to recognise that to address it, a paradigm shift in self-identity is the order of the day. Being clear about who we all really are, rather than appropriating topics and for a momentary embrace and not just talking the talk, when it complements our personal agendas.

unsplash-logoMarkus Spiske

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