So I sat down to write this, and it struck me how open to cheap point-scoring I feel. “White bloke who’s been to see Liverpool play once, and only been to the city twice, moans about racism in football and how he feels there’s no bond between him and the club anymore.”
Well, fine. But there are two points here; one considerably briefer than the other. Firstly, I can choose to be offended or angry about anything I feel like. (That’s it for brevity).
Secondly, the sheer amount of time I’ve followed Liverpool F.C., multiplied by the huge lumps of emotional energy I’ve expended doing so, justifies me holding an opinion on the recent Luis Suarez/racism kerfuffle which is as valid as many other people who have gleefully contributed their two penn’orth on the subject.
You see, I used to dial my own phone number as a small boy and pretend I was talking to my hero Kenny Dalglish about what kind of game he’d had the day before. I cried my eyes out in 1985, watching live pictures from Heysel Stadium, as much for the dodgy penalty Juventus won by, as for the rioting the telly showed.
I watched live pictures from Hillsborough, appalled. I drank so much throughout and after the European Cup final of 2005 that I only developed a hangover at lunchtime the next day. As a football fan your life is signposted by the big games or signings, and sometimes insignificant results stick in your head too.
(I told you that was it for brevity – and this incessant persiflage is something you’re going to have to get used to, central as it is to my dubious charm.)
And, so to Suarez. Racist Luis Suarez. Because that’s what he is. He had an argument with an opposition player and verbally made reference to his opponent’s race. The word “argument” is crucial here. Because excuses have been milling around, like a tedious coat-hanger salesman at a slightly-out-of-his-league cocktail party, from the beginning of this unpleasant saga; from LFC fans, around the “blogosphere” (as I believe you modish young things refer to it) and out of Liverpool FC themselves. The main excuse seems to be centred round Suarez’s use of the “friendly” term negrito. Now, it may well be culturally acceptable, in Uruguay, as a term of endearment for a friend. But Suarez wasn’t being matey with Evra. He was arguing with him during a match between bitter rivals. And as the always-sensible Michael Rosen writes in his piece,
“…no matter what kind of codes Suarez was using at the time, there can be little doubt that he changed the nature of the 'conversation' (euphemism, I know) by introducing 'race' into it. And this is the key. Why does a white person do that? What possible purpose is there for a white person in the middle of a confrontation (for whatever reason) suddenly to say that the other person is 'black'. It can only be part of the business of trying to get the upper hand. In other words, the white person reaches for the hierarchy he is part of, (the racist hierarchy,) and pluck the trump card from the pack: the one that says 'inferior' (in his book).”
So he used Evra’s race as a crude cudgel to attempt to verbally beat him into defeat. Racist.
At which point, those arguing his corner throw up the next excuse. “But…Suarez has a black grandfather”. Well, here’s the thing about racism. It doesn’t make sense. It’s ludicrous. Cognitive dissonance is neatly bypassed. It doesn’t matter if Suarez’s grandpops is Norris McWhirter or Chuck D. A racist can justify anything without worrying about dichotomies.
At the risk of lurching clumsily into a David Cameron-esque “I met a black man in Plymouth” anecdote, I worked with a racist once. Really, I did.
I didn’t know he was one at first. They’re cunning like that, you see. He didn’t even have a t-shirt saying so or anything. But he let it slip, either on purpose (thinking I might be sympathetic – or, just as bad, willing to indulge him) or by accident.
There he was, on his lunch break, staring intently at a tabloid picture of Serena Williams hitting a tennis ball at eight-hundred miles an hour, wearing some kind of tight Lycra one-piece outfit (Ms. Williams, not him, obviously).
“You’re having a good look, mate”, I said. “Like her, do you?”
“Too muscular for you?” (This was back in the days where I wasn’t even aware of my own meek acquiescence to the enormous pressure of society’s objectification of women.)
“Nah. She’s a nigger.”
I’d like to say I put the fucker on a hook for it. I’d love to say I gave him a lecture and suggested he never speak to me again. But I didn’t. I just walked away, stunned and confused. Because here’s the thing: One of his workmates has a black wife. They’ve got mixed race kids. And the racist is friends with them; good friends, going-out-as-two-couples friends. It doesn’t make sense. None of it makes sense.
Anyway, I kept talking to him. I had to work with him, after all. The questions I keep asking myself, though, are “Would I rather he’d said nothing? Is a racist who keeps his racism to himself still a racist? Is that even possible? Ultimately, if it were possible for someone to be racist only and entirely within their own head, does it even matter?”
So Suarez has a black grandfather. But he used Evra’s race as a crude cudgel to attempt to verbally beat him into defeat. Racist.
Yesterday Luis Suarez and Patrice Evra had a chance to sort this out – if not for good, at least as far as stopping the nonsense and the excuses and the shit-flinging. An end to the stupidity of the t-shirts sporting Suarez’s face, worn in solidarity by the Liverpool players (“How did Glen Johnson feel?” some people asked – we don’t know; in the sense-free zone of racism, maybe he thought his mate couldn’t be racist because he wasn’t racist at HIM, or just because they’re mates). An end to the examination of culturally-specific phrases. An end to the utterly foul spectacle of the victim of a racist insult being booed for being the victim of a racist insult (as happened, too, when Chelsea fans booed QPR’s Anton Ferdinand for the crime of being racially abused by John Terry).
But no. Suarez wouldn’t even shake Evra’s hand and at least display the PR equivalent of keeping his racism to himself.
Today, as I type this, Kenny Dalglish and Luis Suarez have said sorry for the non-handshake.
But not for Suarez’s racism and not for defending Suarez’s racism.
It’s still being defended, therefore, and this is how it stays embedded.
Racism is alive and well, and no amount of eight-match bans or “Kick it out” flags paraded before games are likely to make any real difference, unless every instance of racism is challenged and no longer condoned out of a need to put your football club above your humanity.
It’s never just helping your team to gain an advantage. It’s never just that most execrable diplomatic-bag-for-bigots, “banter”. The argument is never over just because a racist says “I didn’t know” or “I didn’t think it was racist.” Patrice Evra decides. And so Suarez and Dalglish, and everyone connected with the club including the fans, should accept that; be apologetic, stop arguing the toss and walk on. Most likely without me.
And I don’t know why, specifically. Maybe it’s me that’s changed. People do, sometimes. Maybe that’s just what has happened with Liverpool and me. I’m not getting anything much out of being a “supporter”. I don’t care who wins football matches these days. The Sky Sports subscription has been cancelled.
I think it’s simply that I feel I can no longer associate myself with any individual or organisation that publicly defends racism. From what I’ve seen from LFC message boards (and in an article by former player Nigel Jemson), the indignant defence of Suarez, Dalglish and the club coupled with plenty of rhetoric along the lines of “Evra’s always been a wanker – maybe he brought it on himself”, means I would be betraying myself to be counted as one of their number. And if asked, I will say I used to support Liverpool, but I don’t associate with racists. It’s said you mellow as you get older. Fuck that. I’m more militant than I ever was.
At the end of the Manchester United versus Liverpool match, my wife spotted the score. (I’d been absent-mindedly following it myself – old habits etc.)
“You lost then.”
“Yes – they did”, I said. It felt like a tiny gesture, but absolutely the right one.
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