Those in power are enabling a whole culture of racism

CROYDON COMMENTARY: The overt racism that was witnessed following last Sunday’s Euro 2020 penalty shoot-out did not come as any surprise.

This week, the nation has been shocked by racist abuse directed at Marcus Rashford, Jadon Sancho and Bukayo Saka following England’s loss against Italy in the Euro 2020 football final.

Support: Bukayo Saka is comforted by Gareth Southgate. Within hours, he was a target for racists

The players missed penalties in the shoot-out and immediately faced a torrent of racial abuse on social media.

For many people of colour, such as me, this was devastatingly easy to predict.

The hate targeted at these players was another stark reminder that our English identity remains based on our ability to perform and assimilate to a certain standard.

If Sancho, Rashford and Saka had scored, they would have been lauded as champions and patriots,  just as they had been when England played their way through to their first tournament final in 55 years. But because they missed, “fans” now challenged their human dignity and Englishness, with some comments even telling the players to “Go back to their own country”.

This quick U-turn from some England fans reflects a wider issue faced by people of colour daily.

We are always aware that we will never be seen as English enough despite having set up a life here. This constant worry about having our identity challenged is wearying as we feel we must work doubly hard to be seen as English by others.

Although Britain has become more inclusive over the last couple of decades, there is still pressure on young children from minority ethnic backgrounds to ascribe to a certain type of Western identity.

Racist assault: three pupils were attacked on their way to school in Croydon on Monday

This was a pressure I felt as a teenager.

I avoided discussing certain Hindu ceremonies and celebrations with my non-Asian peers. If they ever came up, I would brush them off as “a weird Indian thing”. I was obsessed with fitting in with European beauty standards and persistently asked my mum for a blow-dry to make my hair permanently straight.

Looking back, I’m so glad that my mum said no. The fear of being seen as different was so internalised that I have only recently realised how much it dominated me when I was at school.

The events following England’s Euro defeat also reinforced how racists use any supposed mistake made by an ethnic minority as an excuse to punish and abuse everyone from that race.

Aware of this, many black people used social media after the game to advise other black people to leave pubs quickly and to get home as soon as they could. They predicted correctly that the result would lead to a spike in racist hate crimes over the next few days.

Taking the knee: some overly entitled Tory MPs seem to think this is ‘gesture politics’

Here in Croydon, three black pupils were assaulted on their way to school on Monday morning. The prospect of white people facing attacks after a white player misses a penalty is unimaginable, but black people and other ethnic minorities are constantly aware that we are collectively being scrutinised for any misstep.

The burden of this can be trauma-inducing.

Saka’s tears after the game reflected the immense expectations that are placed on public figures of colour to deliver perfectly.

At just 19 years old, Saka faced the pressure of taking his first penalty in a major tournament final. Sickeningly, he also needed to score to protect himself and others from racist threats.

Seeing how public figures like Sancho, Rashford and Saka are treated when they make a mistake is detrimental to the confidence of all people of colour. It reiterates the notion that when we get things wrong, the mistake will be pinned on the colour of our skin.

This fear can be trapping. As an Asian woman, I feel uncomfortable taking up too much space or trying something new without confidence that I can do so without error.

Young people of colour are not helped by the fact that some individuals who work with young people hold racist beliefs themselves.

A children’s football coach was arrested because he sent a racist tweet to Marcus Rashford. A school staff member once told my brother and his South Asian friend that they were too dirty to enter the school bus driving them back from rugby practice. The staff member allowed the rest of the team, who were white, on to the bus without a problem.

My brother says that he is frequently called a “curry muncher” and “curry boy” by his classmates. The most heart-breaking thing about hearing this was that my brother had accepted these attitudes towards him as inevitable.

My brother’s experiences reflect a wider problem. If those in positions of power are not consciously anti-racist, a whole culture of racism is enabled.

Succinct: Not much has been seen or heard from Priti Patel since Tyrone Mings’ devastating tweet

Tyrone Mings, another member of the England squad, used Twitter to point this out to the Home Secretary, Priti Patel. He wrote, “You don’t get to stoke the fire at the beginning of the tournament by labelling our anti-racism message as ‘Gesture Politics’ and then pretend to be disgusted when the very thing we’re campaigning against, happens.”

The football pundit, Gary Neville, also questioned the hypocrisy of Boris Johnson’s response to the racism that the players were facing: “The Prime Minister said that it was okay for the population of this country to boo those players who were trying to promote equality and defend against racism.”

It has been encouraging to see the messages of support for the players and to see people rallying around the figures who are holding politicians accountable for their behaviour.

However, the reaction from certain Conservative MPs is a clear indicator that the party of government needs to do more. Rather than listening to the genuine concerns of people of colour, some Tory MPs chose to respond with tone policing and dismissal. On Tuesday, Andrew Rosindell, MP for Romford, told Mings to “focus on football, not politics”.

Just a week earlier, several politicians, including my own MP, Croydon South’s Chris Philp, were given a free pass when they allowed themselves to focus on football, rather than matters of state, as they tweeted selfies from Wembley while they enjoyed free tickets to the semi-final and tried to bask in the reflected glories of the England team.

And yesterday, during a Commons debate on racism, Zarah Sultana – the Labour MP for Coventry South – was told to “lower her tone” and was accused of “shouting” by Tory parliamentary under-secretary, Victoria Atkins.

This gatekeeping over who can speak freely on racial issues by white MPs, which excludes ethnic minorities who have lived experience of racial abuse, is as ridiculous as it is utterly unfair.

The only way to even begin to tackle racism is to understand what people of colour see and experience every day – it is essential that those in all positions of power pass the mic and unpick the unconscious biases that they uphold.

  • Sanjana Idnani is an under-graduate and trainee journalist who is undertaking work experience at Inside Croydon

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8 Responses to Those in power are enabling a whole culture of racism


  2. Paul Mark Ford says:

    Having reviewed the footage of the Sultana’s question and the response, just how patronising was it possible for Atkins to get?

    It’s far from outrageous to point the finger at Patel and Johnson as racists, given their actions. It’s more outrageous that someone could possibly defend them!

    As for lowering the tone, I think the Tories have done that already. Atkins clearly meant something different, but then saying what they actually mean doesn’t come easily to this cabal of the corrupt.

  3. Bob Hewlett says:

    I read with interest the article by Sanjana and whilst I do agree with the sentiments that surround what happened in and around the Euro 2021 final, the article is, in my humble opinion, a piece of rather simplistic journalism. Rather than pick apart the article, I would rather encourage Sanjana to delve deeper into the complex issue of racism. I would however warn Sajana that by delving, unfortunate outcomes and occurrences might well reveal themselves as I found out when I was fighting the NF on the streets in the 1970s and 1980s.

    There are facts that are undeniable (ask Professor Alice Roberts 1-4):-
    1. All humans born outside Africa now, in the past and in the future are descendants from the African.
    2. The Africans were the first pastoralists besides being the first hunter/gatherers, controllers of fire, inventors of the wheel, being the first Pharaohs etc etc. There is a healthy debate and supposition on whether how much, if any, was learnt from mixing with, in all contexts, with Neanderthals.
    3. There is no god, any god, no deity, we only pass this way once. What has this to do with racism? Think about it. As Marx put it, it is opium for the people.
    4. Once one has accepted that there is only one race, the human race and evolution is not a theory but a fact, one can move on to 5.
    5. Society is not divided by race or colour but by class. The Ruling Class and the Working Class in which the Ruling Class need the Working Class to survive and exist but the Working Class can survive and exist on its own. The Ruling Class knows this so it creates division via sexism, racism and superstition to name a few.

    All of which should be and must be educated to children in a secular and atheist environment.

    There is no easy way to solve racism, but maybe and hopefully the avenues like Inside Croydon are a positive start.

    Good fortune for the future Sanjana.

  4. moyagordon says:

    Racism is a complete mystery to me. You might as well be saying you don’t like people with big ears. Crazy. To be on the receiving end of racism is unpleasant. Luckily we have laws against it and they need to be strongly upheld. We need to stick up for each other be it bullying, discrimination. Ignore the people who don’t appreciate the value of life and shout out when you see them being a f**kwit.

  5. Chris Philp has studiously ignored the whole racist issue on his Twitter feed, instead preferring to quote tweet a dubious black American Trump supporter (presumably on the grounds that if he says it, it must be OK) and retweet GLA Tories attacking Sadiq Khan over the bloody consequences of the Conservatives decision to defund the police.

    No leadership from the “Justice Minister”, and no leadership either from Croydon Tories’ leader Jason Perry, who doesn’t tweet a thing (apart from that he’s upset about long grass in south Croydon). You’d almost think he doesn’t give a shit.

  6. Pat McCarthy says:

    Excellent article thank you

  7. D says:

    Thank you for this article!

  8. Nicholas Burman-Vince says:

    Many thanks and congratulations on this insightful piece what it is to be a person of colour within Croydon today. This piece really helped me, a white man in his 60s, understand the daily life of people in my community. I particularly like how you’ve put this in the context of the current government and provided examples in support of your argument. Victoria Atkins couldn’t be more condescending if she tried and clearly demonstrates the blinkered vision we’re dealing with. To speak with passion isn’t shouting. That Zarah Sultana was the only person of colour, out of 30 chosen to speak, shows just how deeply entrenched racism is in Westminster and how totally ineffectual is Speaker of the House, in standing up to this government.

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