Another subject that seems to elicit responses disproportionate to the offence caused is racism, particularly very public racism, and so I approach this article with caution, aware it’s likely to garner a certain kind of unthinking response. It’s a sensitive area, so I’ll set out my stall now to avoid accusations of defending racism or racists. I am not, and will not.
I’ve so far avoided writing about the fate of Bolton’s Zaire-born footballer Fabrice Muamba lest I pre-empt his demise and as a result seem crass and unfeeling. Thankfully, due to the efforts of medical staff both on the scene of his collapse and later in the ambulance and hospital, he is making a remarkable recovery. Although considered the national game, and even though it made front page news for days after the event, there are sections of the public who couldn’t care less about a football related story. For those whom this passed by, here is a quick summary of events:
On 17 March 2012, during a game against Tottenham Hotspur, the 23 year old Fabrice Muamba suffered a heart attack on the pitch. After receiving lengthy medical attention with the game paused, and while tens of thousands of fans looked on concerned, he was transferred to hospital with his outlook not looking good. His heart had stopped for well over an hour and he was, effectively, dead. For me, I’m sure like many others, comparisons with Mark-Vivien Foe, who died during a game for Lyon in 2003, were inevitable. Muamba’s condition slowly improved in the following hours and days, and it now looks as though he will make an eventual recovery, although it is unlikely he will ever resume his sports career.
The response from the wider community of professionals and fans within football was warm and supportive, with cross-club expressions of good will. One of my favourite moments was the placing of a Manchester United scarf – an object I, as a Liverpool fan, might normally be expected to spit on – with the message “one game, one family” outside the Bolton ground. It summed up much of my feelings about the incident.
Inevitably, as the world isn’t lacking in mean-spirited idiots, not everybody echoed those sentiments. Liam Stacey, a student from Pontypridd, took a different view. He used Twitter to post messages of a racist, vulgar and threatening nature to Muamba and to those who expressed their understandable revolt. This is where I risk the greatest chance of being mistaken. I only read his exact words second hand, as no decent publication (the only kind I read), or this website, would repeat them, and they appall me. But, I can’t help but feel some of the resulting public outcry far outstrips the seriousness of the crime.
When charged at Swansea Magistrates’ Court, Stacey pleaded guilty to posting the abusive comments and was sentenced to 56 days imprisonment. It seems, on the surface, a fair judgement, but part of the magistrate’s closing statement set me thinking. “I have no choice,” he said, “but to impose an immediate custodial sentence to reflect the public outrage at what you have done.” Since when has the legal system paid heed to the degree of public opinion of a crime? If it did, the lynch mobs would be out to hang all paedophiles and child murderers. Justice should be even-handed, regardless of what the public think.
In addition, the University of Swansea, where he was studying biology with the aim of becoming a forensic scientist, have suspended his studies, saying he was “not welcome” on campus, and that his attendance may be a disruptive influence on other students.
A quick opinion poll I conducted amongst friends turned up a variety of opinions on the subject. Some thought it lenient, or at least not extreme. Others thought he was being made an example of, and that it would make others think twice about committing a similar crime – a common misconception of how criminal justice works, hence why countries with the death penalty, such as the US, actually have high murder rates, rather than it acting as a deterrent as you would expect.
The short prison stay, eight weeks of low security incarceration, probably with Sky TV and other home comforts, seems inconsequential to me. Far more damaging, and by far the best punishment for this kind of idiotic crime, is the permanent stain to his reputation. A very public humiliation, using the same media tools he used to spread racial hatred and abuse, is the key to dealing with racist morons. Embarrassment is a powerful tool.
In regards to his seclusion from university, I have my reservations. Rehabilitation is necessary for any criminal, and lack of employment opportunities after a prison sentence is one of the major factors in reoffending. This action by his alma mater risks seriously stunting his entire future – a potentially longer and more severe punishment for what is, when you get down to it, a small and twatty crime.
It would be nice to think this was an isolated incident, perpetrated by a single moron, but apparently this kind of behaviour is catching. Manchester United fanzine, Red Issue, sparked further controversy with a cover which could easily be taken as mocking the Muamba situation, with the headline “Grief Junkies Run Riot” and tasteless comments such as “I’ve tweeted my condolences just in case,” and “Is he dead yet?”
Are we, as a society, becoming overly sensitive to public outrage, or is it just a matter of having the means – via social networking and 24-hour news access – to express our opinions? Either way, these incidents seem to occur with tedious regularity. They make me just want to grab the whole internet community, shake some sense into them while telling them to calm the fuck down and get some perspective. I’ve never believed the idiom sticks and stones may break my bones, but words will never hurt me. Words can hurt, deeply, and they usually take longer to heal than many wounds. That’s why the correct response to hurtful, or incendiary words, is to use words in response.
Let’s start with first principles: I abhor racism in all its ugly, vulgar forms. Don’t mistake me, this isn’t a Sepp Blatter ‘I’m not racist, some of my best friends are black’ preamble. I genuinely loathe it, and this article isn’t in any way intended to defend racist behavior or language. But the ruling by the FA in the racism row between Liverpool’s Luis Suarez and Manchester United’s Patrice Evra has triggered off my incredulity circuits, and I have to point out the illogicality of it.
A reiteration of the facts, for those unaware of them: the alleged incident took place in the hotly contested game between the teams at the beginning of October at Anfield. Evra claimed that Suarez used a racial term ‘at least ten times.’ Suarez has consistently denied this. Other than Evra’s personal assignations, no other witness or evidence has come to the public knowledge.
The FA ruled that Suarez had racially abused Evra, and the applied punishment was an 8-game ban and a fine of £40,000. This was despite Evra’s written statement that he did not consider Suarez racist, and the FA accepted, in their opening remarks, that Suarez was not racist. Also in the balance was Evra’s history for claims of abuse of this kind. In 2008 he received a four game ban after an altercation with a groundsman at Stamford Bridge after it was alleged he had made a racist remark.
Despite the tightly closed doors, the information that has come to light is that Suarez used the word ‘negro’ or one very similar. The FA has taken its time ruling on the case due to the unusual cultural angle that, in his native language of Spanish, similar sounding words are common, such as negrito, which are not racially offensive.
The 2003 edition of Collins English Dictionary defines racism as:
1. (Sociology) the belief that races have distinctive cultural characteristics determined by hereditary factors and that this endows some races with an intrinsic superiority over others
2. (Sociology) abusive or aggressive behaviour towards members of another race on the basis of such a belief.
Evra, in the process of the hearing, has freely admitted to abusing Suarez in Spanish and, according to some reports, when Suarez tried to put his hand on Evra, said ‘Don’t touch me, you South American.’ By doing so, he has himself admitted to a form of racism. It’s a serious social misconception to presume racism can only flow in one direction: from white to black (for the record, Suarez is of mixed race – his grandfather was a man of colour.) Racism in this context is the use of terms with the intent of belittling another based on their racial background. Referring therefore to his South American origins is no better than referring to Evra’s African origins. Just because Suarez has paler skin doesn’t make it less racist, like some kind of politically correct Top Trumps. It’s either racist or it isn’t. If so, a punishment no less harsh than the one handed to Suarez should also be doled out to Evra.
There is a taboo around the ‘N-word’ like a police cordon with a ‘do not cross’ tape, but it’s just a word. Context is important. You would not expunge all uses of the word from literature prior to the time it became an unacceptable term, just because social attitudes have changed. It would be acceptable to use the word in the context of a discourse on language use and change, where you might be quoting or discussing the use of the word. If Suarez had actually used the word, it would be acceptable to use the word in this piece about it, although I probably still wouldn’t as out of good taste I decide not to do so. But whether or not he said it and meant it in the context of intending racial abuse is what is under debate.
Racism is a cooperative concept. The first part comes from the express intent of the user, and if they mean offence by their use. The second is in the degree others take offence to it.
The problem is that the FA cannot be seen as soft on the issue of racism. A few weeks ago, FIFA President Sepp Blatter caused uproar when he seemed to suggest in an interview on Fox Soccer, that racism was not a problem within football, and all issues should be settled with a handshake. The FA was quick to denounce Blatter’s remarks as wrong and unrepresentative of their opinions. This is the first case to come under review since then and the degree of punishment is undoubtedly designed to reflect this difference to FIFA.
Not long after the judgement was made, England Captain and Chelsea man John Terry was officially charged by the CPS (Crown Prosecution Service) with using racist language during a game. Because the initial complaint was made by a member of the public rather than the player whom he is accused of abusing – QPR’s Anton Ferdinand – the case first goes before the courts rather than the FA. The maximum penalty should he be found guilty is a fine of £2,500. A pittance to a man who earns a reported £150,000 a week, but it would also reflect badly on his reputation. Could the FA, if they want to be seen as harsh but fair, then allow him to represent his country as Captain with that kind of black mark on record? If they do, then fair is not what they are and Luis Suarez is being used as a scapegoat.
I have always refrained from writing about Richard Littlejohn basically because I don’t know where to start. I tend to try and avoid his awful column because for one thing, I like to look after my blood pressure, and for another thing I am never quite sure if he is real. I mean, is he not some sick parody the Daily Mail have concocted for us to make us froth at the mouth?
But there comes a point when even sticking both fingers in my ears and shouting “la la la” isn’t enough to help me switch off from something he has written.
Will just go back a step.
-pretty much anything that a woman does;
-socialists and communists and anything else that can be construed as being slightly left wing;
-people who make use of the welfare state and claim benefits of almost any kind;
…should I go on?
The Express is similar – I smiled to see that they believe themselves to be leading a “crusade” against the EU. I wonder if they would be so willing to use this word so lightly if they revised their history.
The Daily Mail hates France, unless they are talking about the parts the middle class expats enjoy. Its columnists like to refer to Sarkozy as a dwarf like Napoleon and they like to go on, and on, about how the French surrendered during the war. No, not the recent wars. We’re talking about the one which finished well over 60 years ago. They have recently taken up German bashing too.
But on the 18th November Richard Littlejohn surpassed himself, writing a very bad rhyme about both the French and Germans, but mainly the Germans. Here it is if you can stomach it. It is accompanied by a shocking cartoon, depicting Merkel among others goose-stepping. Basically inferring, under a veil of humour, that the Germans and EU are akin to the Nazis.
I have had to re-read it several times, which has been so painful on very many levels. I don’t understand how people can agree with him, and I don’t understand how he got paid to write such inflammatory crap. Although it’s supposed to be humour there is a very nasty undertone. Glee at economic worries? Veiled references to the war? Incitement of hatred, and fear of our neighbours? Tick tick tick.
I am actually full of admiration for Germany. Not at all for what happened during the war, of course, but how they have rebuilt themselves since. I was in Frankfurt recently – stayed overnight, had dinner at a restaurant and used the airport. I was so impressed, once again, with the people and the efficiency. They are so welcoming, so kind. One bloke on the bus appointed himself our tourist guide, although he didn’t speak brilliant English – he just wanted to point out the things he was proud of. Isn’t that great?
Another guy struck up conversation in the restaurant – he was stuck overnight with his tour group as his flight was cancelled. Did he complain? No, he just took it in his stride. No-one else in the group was heard to complain either. They just raised their eyebrows and laughed it off. It was refreshing. Can you imagine the grumps in a British airport hotel if a large group of people were stuck there when they wanted to be in Cuba?
So why is the press so anxious to stir up not so recent history and encourage its readers to hate, or be fearful, of our nearest neighbours? What is the point? Who does it help? And why oh why are they allowed to print such inflammatory stuff? Free press yes. Racist press, no thanks. The same article adapted to be about a minority group would be quite rightly slammed across the board.
So why is it still acceptable to be racist against the Germans and French? Covering up racism with a light sheen of humour (though if anyone really finds it funny then I will despair of my mother country) is wrong.
Living in France as I do, it is when articles like this come out that I am ashamed to be British, because thanks to the world wide web these types of articles are picked up on and translated, and even in France when journalists mention the Daily Mail they do so with a sneer. The fact that it is such a popular website does nothing for our already pretty tarnished reputation abroad – they are starting to believe that we are all like that, but last time I looked Britain and its people are tolerant and welcoming.
The Daily Mail likes to huff and puff about ‘political correctness gone mad’. Their recent articles on Europe show that they believe that vile rants about our allies are acceptable and to be encouraged. I hope the rest of the country isn’t listening to them, because articles such as this one by Richard Littlejohn aren’t politically incorrect (said with a smile and a wink). They are inflammatory, racist and bigoted.
We have a lot to learn from our European neighbours. It appears that tolerance is one thing. And, if this is considered humour, I would say that Richard Littlejohn could learn something about sense of humour from the Germans.