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.
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.
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.
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.
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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