"I am not going to stand up to show pride in a flag for a country that oppresses black people and people of colour…" ---Colin Kaepernick
American NFL player Kaepernick, in 2016, boldly refused to stand up during the national anthem in protest against the systemic racial subjugation and discrimination faced by the black people. Consequently, Donald Trump, then President of the USA, asked him to leave the country immediately and find a suitable place to live.
This created huge controversy and people from all over the world gradually started to support in favour of Colin Kaepernick. Even his signature mode of protest 'kneeling during the anthem' entered the scene with a renewed shape and vigour in 2020 during the police brutality and bigotry against a black man named George Floyd.
Cricketer Sammy, former West Indian Captain, alleged that he faced abusive remarks by his IPL teammates as they sometimes used to call him 'Kaalu' (Blackie), a very derogatory and insulting act indeed. Sammy brought this issue to the table right after the "Black Lives Matter" slogan has caught the imagination and psyche of the people worldwide after the heinous murder of an Afro-American Mr. Floyd.
Recently, in Bangabandhu Dhaka Premier Division T20 Cricket League, a familiar face of Bangladeshi cricket Sabbir Rahman hurled unspeakable smears to another decent cricketer named Elias Sunny. The sledging and 'inappropriate' words of Sabbir did not create that much stir in Bangladesh though he conceded fines later on. This type of incident is usual in the sports arena of Bangladesh; however, some events unnoticed, or the victims consume it knowing our long-habituated tolerance of racism.
Nonetheless, the recent occurrence that took place just after England's loss to Italy in the Euro Final shook the sympathetic and sensitive people of the world. Three young black players who missed penalties in the match deciding spot-kicks came under a torrent of racial attacks on social media. The monkey and banana emojis, racial slurs, abusive remarks on Twitter and Instagram targeted at and spelled against Rashford, Sancho, and Saka appalled every conscious people of the football world, and sensible football fans find it very disgraceful, disturbing, and heinous acts.
Footballing bodies are showing their concern over social media and their roles; Scholars and critics are blaming the colonial attitude of the English authority and people, and few players and the opposition party are accusing Boris Johnson and his home minister as Mr. Boris did not find anything wrong in 'Boo' sound of the English fans at the time of kneeling down of the players against racism while his home minister Priti Patel termed it 'gesture politics' before the start of the tournament.
But who is to blame then? The English have a long legacy of racism, and thus not a new phenomenon in England. The query is that if you cannot tolerate defeat with having a mood of 'grace under pressure', then why do you participate or come to watch football? Besides, the giant social media could have easily stopped those thin and fast-spreading abusive remarks if they were really concerned rather than thinking about their million-dollar profit and cheap popularity.
Time and again, racist comments have been directed at the black players as if black bodies are born to tolerate abuse just like a field of eternal torture. It seems like black people do not have any identity. The so-called white people have ruled, oppressed, and suppressed the black people for hundreds of years and still, they are rampantly doing so in a so-called civilized world-a pure visage of manipulation.
Marcus Rashford, the young English football hero who missed the penalty, echoes his guts '…but I will never apologize for who I am and where I came from'. Here, I can well remember Paulo Freire's book Pedagogy of the Oppressed where he writes "… Without a sense of identity, there can be no real struggle…”. And, the president of Chivambo once said 'A Luta Continua' during the armed struggle against the colonial rule that means 'The Struggle Continues'. So, people like Rashford, Sancho, or Saka-who missed penalty shoots- have to continue their fight against racism and segregation because under One flag, every citizen is equal.
Franz Fanon in his groundbreaking book Black Skin, White Masks weaves stories of the complex and inferior psyche formation of the black people under the colonial subjugation. He directly and aptly remarks that "It is the racist who creates the inferiorized." Being black means being inferior and hence a wrong life. Even big players like Rashford, Sammy, Elias Sunny are not out of them. Shame on us that skin becomes the defining factor of a person's identity and future.
Aime Cesaire, another Martinique and Fanon's teacher, in his book Discourse on Colonialism iterates with great conviction and utter disgust that civilization which inherently caters to racism and colonization is "already a sick civilization, a civilization which is morally diseased…". He laments that this crude dehumanization cannot create any healthy relationship other than the binary of superior (white) and Inferior (black), a sick, unhealthy, and narrow construction undeniably.
Yes, Boris Johnson, the prime minister of the UK, has shown his utter disgust and heartfelt sorrow and grief over the racist attacks on the black footballers. The UK football manager Southgate laments and bemoans: "I feel like my stomach has been ripped out this morning". Everyone is angered and frustrated over the continued lack of action from the part of the higher authority who are almost all whites. Everyone related to major football leagues is shell-shocked having experienced such an unwanted racist act by the English supporters.
Whatever, I contend that racism is an age-long problem. More or less every human being - knowingly or unknowingly, consciously or subconsciously – is racist. However, racism has its limit and boundary. Hence, we must not cross that tipping point by hurting and injuring the heart of the people. It's a daring dream to annihilate racism from this earth or the soul of human hearts. But we can surely be conscious, sensible, and empathetic towards black people while perusing vile actions or gibing racist comments. Racism is one of the highest forms of crime. We must dream and act to crush it.
Martin Luther King, in his famous speech – “I have a Dream” - expressed with absolute belief to lift and rescue the country "… from the quicksand of racial injustice to the solid rock of brotherhood." He dreamt of equality, justice, and freedom in a world of injustice. In another instance, B R Ambedkar, a social and political reformist of India, strongly rallied for "annihilation of caste" and chanted slogans for a just and compassionate society.
Henceforth, we must practice living a life without racism. A family must perform the duty first to teach children not to be racist. A school environment must be congenial and must foster and entertain diversity. Racial polarization and animosity kill society and its people as it never paves the way for justice and fraternity.
A defeat is just a defeat. Yes, sports have indeed become very competitive and business ventures. Not only money - national pride and identity are deeply attached to sports. For example, India means cricket, and Brazil means football. Hence, a defeat becomes a defeat for the whole nation, and it thus hinders national pride. Sensitive, egotist and crazy fans sometimes cannot endure the defeat of their teams and consequently involves them in violence, vandalization of national and personal property. Nowadays, supporters come with offensive racist comments targeting the players or victims on the social platform. These crazy fans never realize that how painful for a player to endure that defeat. They cannot see the suffering of the players. Being blind to the player's pains, fans show their anger and frustration in crude and vile ways.
Racism is incurable, but we can prevent it. We can raise consciousness against it all through the years. A nation must create equal rights for its citizens. Sometimes nations may fail, yet we people can practice the course of empathy and togetherness. We must know how to live peacefully as Nelson Mandela shouts out loud "Peace is not just the absence of conflict; peace is the creation of an environment where all can flourish, regardless of race, color, creed, religion, gender, class, caste, or any other social markers of difference.
The writer teaches English Literature at a Private University, Dhaka. Email: [email protected]