I’m not a football fan – I’ve only been to a few matches and I’ve never grasped the off-side rule and, frankly, if someone explains it to me I’m asleep by the end of the very long sentence.
But I have been interested in this latest argument about FIFA’s boss and rascism. It’s made me think about rascism and how it affects us all.
Sepp Blatter has said that racist remarks on the field of play should be dealt with at the end with a match with a handshake and various other comments. Listening to a debate about this on Five Live, I listened to a female caller and a male caller argue the issue.
The woman, talked about her children, of mixed race, who suffered abuse because of the colour of their skin. For her, dealing with such comments, even if said in the heat of the football match, was something serious which should be stamped on strongly.
For the male caller, it was a storm in a teacup. He talked about playing in football matches where things were said in the heat of the moment which would never be said in the office, in the pub or elsewhere. The emotions and adrenalin of the match caused such things to happen. He said, as a man with dark skin, he’d said things that he’d never ever say in any other environment. He said it was not rascist.
The woman countered, saying that things said in the heat of the moment, off the cuff, often revealed what someone really thought deep down. So such comments had to be punished.
I thought about this carefully. I applied it to myself. What do I think?
I have many friends whose skin isn’t the same colour of mine. I don’t think of myself as rascist at all. Just as I don’t think of myself of homophobic – I have many gay friends. Frankly these friends are my friends and the rest is irrelevant.
But I also believe that everyone has prejudice in them and it’s dangerous to think otherwise. If we think we’re immune we may not recognise when something we say or do hurts someone else.
I’m reminded of two things that sometimes pop into my head unbidden and when they do I mentally slap myself for being so stupid.
One is seeing a gold coloured old Mercedes or BMW with a black man driving, of any age, and the words ‘drug dealer’ come into my head. Why is that? Where have I got that message from? I have no idea, no memory of where this comes from. I know it’s not real, it’s not logical and I feel ashamed to even allow this to pass fleetingly through my mind.
Another relates to groups of Irish travellers, who visit each year in Swindon. As soon as I see a group of caravans I think ‘mess, criminal damage, petty pilfering’. I know why these thoughts come unbidden into my head, because I’ve written many stories from residents who do feel those things.
However, I have had a group of travellers move on to land near my house – nothing was stolen from me or my neighbours. There was mess and I can’t say I liked them being there. But they caused me no personal distress.
Should something we might not always be able to control be punished?
One of my children, while at pre school, refused to hold another child’s hand because she thought that child’s hand was dirty. These children were three at the time and the other child was black. I was called into the school about this matter. I was horrified that my child thought such a thing. I apologised to the child’s parent and explained to my child that this was wrong. Even though I knew she didn’t mean to be rascist. And rightly so. Years later, my child cannot believe she ever even thought such a thing.
When any of these things happened to me – or happen to me – I berate myself and remind myself that it’s unacceptable even though it’s not deliberate.
So overall, I have to agree with the mum in the argument. Things said in the heat of the moment may be rascist , and may well pop out of the mouth without the brain being engaged, but it’s still not all right.
And the moment we don’t act to stamp it out, we’re allowing rascism to creep in under the radar.