BY EFFIE DEANS
The racist abuse suffered by the English football players who missed penalties was peculiarly stupid. The English football team is picked on merit. It so happens that a large number of those players are black. The manager’s judgement must be that these players deserve to be in the squad. If they underperformed other players would be picked in their place. It follows therefore that those players who were racially abused were in part responsible for England qualifying for the tournament and reaching the final. The racial abusers are therefore insulting the penalty takers who were responsible for getting England to the position where they could take the penalties in the first place. The abuse is therefore not merely wrong, but self-defeating.
The squad is picked on merit, so we can assume that without the players who were racially abused it would be a worse squad than it is at present. We can assume then that the racists would prefer a worse team to be competing. But to complain about people missing penalties while wishing for less talented players to take them is senseless.
The fact that the team is picked on merit and that people from all races, backgrounds and religions are picked on the basis of their talent means that the support for the England team reflects the population in England. Everyone is equally English no matter where their parents came from. This is quite unusual in the world.
In places like Poland, Hungary and Japan and others, it is only really possible to be Polish, Hungarian or Japanese if you were born there and your parents were born there too. In Britain we are taught to be wary of such an idea, but it was commonplace here too until recently.
The response to the abuse of the English players shows that the vast majority of people in Britain reject the idea that they were not really English. We also reject the idea that people should be hated, disliked or abused because of characteristics we were born with. We should be judged on the basis of our character, thoughts, morals and actions because we are responsible for these things. We ought not to be judged on the basis of our race, sex, age or physical characteristics because we were born with these and cannot help them.
But just as I am not responsible for the colour of my eyes, so too I am not responsible for where I was born or my nationality. To hate and abuse someone because he is black is therefore just as wrong as to hate someone because he is English.
Racism is clearly still a problem in England. But we may be hopeful that progress is being made. Sporting teams are picked on merit. There are laws to prevent racial discrimination in work and black people have demonstrated that they can reach the top in a variety of fields. More importantly the vast majority of people were horrified when the footballers were abused and condemned it. No serious thinker, politician or writer has tried to justify the racial abuse that occurred. Rather, ordinary people have sought to express their support for the black players.
But in Scotland it is still commonplace to hate people for sectarian reasons, for political reasons and for xenophobic reasons. These hatreds have largely been eradicated in England, but we still have work to do here.
It is routine on social media for Scots to be abused by Scottish nationalists if they describe themselves as British. I have never once seen a Scot abuse a Scottish nationalist because he is Scottish, but it is commonplace for Scottish nationalists to use hateful language to describe people who think we can be both Scottish and British at the same time. I am routinely abused simply for being a Scot who disagrees with the SNP.
Hating people because they are black, of Pakistani or Indian heritage is unacceptable in Scotland, but hating people because they have an English heritage is not merely acceptable it is routine. Even newspapers and media journalists frequently describe our nearest neighbour as the Auld Enemy. People make generalisations about English people, being arrogant, condescending, snooty or always talking about England during football matches, that would be completely unacceptable if they were made about any other country. Imagine criticising people from Pakistan by making generalisations about their character. But we make generalisations about English people and have stereotypes about their character that we simply would not dare to make about anywhere else.
This is sometimes dismissed as banter and good fun. Everyone hates England after all and wants them to lose. But a number of incidents have shown how this banter can quickly turn nasty and violent.
Sporting rivalry is perfectly reasonable, but Australia and England can maintain a keen sporting rivalry without ever expressing that they hate or dislike the other’s country. England cricket fans do not all hope that Australia loses whenever it plays someone else, nor I suspect did Germans support first Ukraine, then Denmark and finally Italy in a desperate hope that their sporting rival would lose. Germans did not buy the football shirts of England’s opponents or dance in the street in delight when they missed a penalty, because Germans have learned that hating people because of their nationality or where they were born or their religion is not merely unpleasant it is dangerous.
Some idiots, thankfully few in number, made racist remarks when a black footballer missed a penalty, but in Scotland there were loud cheers from those watching on TV, who then went out on the streets to celebrate that the goalkeeper had saved his kick. While there was condemnation of the racists who insulted him and hated him because he was black, there was no condemnation whatsoever of those who hated him because he was English. But he could no more help that he was born with black skin than that he was born in Ealing. But in Scotland while it is wrong to hate people because they are black it is still quite acceptable to hate them because they are English. Indeed, it is only because of this hatred that so many of us can’t quite bear to live in the same country as Bukayo Saka.
The excellent Effie Deans writes at Lily of St. Leonard’s here.