THE LUIS SUAREZ AFFAIR
Mickey Blue Eyes
If there's one thing as sickening as the Luis Suarez racist language episode it's the attempt by some to take football-chauvinist advantage of it. In reality, football is the least of it. The episode prompts the question: how short are our memories?
Firstly, the evidence made public by the Football Association has Suarez bang to rights. Liverpool Football Club haven't much room for complaint, especially since they won't appeal the eight match ban. If their case had any substance they would surely pursue it to its logical conclusion. They chose not to. Therefore, Suarez is guilty. That's the way our legal framework functions. Period. Justice tempered with mercy is available through the appeals system. It may be imperfect and sometimes it may be corrupt but it usually works. In this case it seems to me to have worked well and fairly. Suarez sounds as though he was trying to demoralise an opponent through jeering at his skin colour: why else refer to it, not once but several times? What possible relevance does it have? Had he owned up and said something like, "I'm deeply sorry. I did say it in the heat of the moment and I was completely wrong to do so. I have no excuse. I sincerely apologise to Patrice Evra and everyone for the offence I have caused. It won't happen again," he might have received less visceral criticism. Instead, his club has continued to "hint" he's innocent. Well, it won't wash.
But let's be clear about this too: we Evertonians have nothing to gloat about. Nor has any other football club. Nor has British society. Nor has any society, for racism is a curse of human nature that lurks not far below the surface. We are a badly flawed species who seem to need hate and scapegoats as much as we need love and lovers. To re-appear, all racism needs is an appropriate set of individual, group or national circumstances. All racists are inadequate cowards, just as racism in all its forms is organised cowardice. There is no class boundary to it and there is no immunity except for personal character. We can argue the sophistries as long as we like - a current example is the utter absurdity of "American exceptionalism" - but it always boils down to a wish to intimidate or to bully or to blame individual or social inadequacy on an easily identified innocent target. Skin colour is the most obvious but it also extends to religious and other social groups. You don't have to delve far in history for examples of genocide and pogrom almost everywhere in the world.
At root, the biggest enemy of humanity is ignorance and lack of genuine democratic education. All racism springs from those miseries, sometimes manufactured that way by politicians and their media. Still, strength of character and self confidence remain the main determining factors. If those are absent the gutless perpetrator almost always needs a scapegoat. This extends to every level of society and very often is at its worst in mainstream media. You need only examine their attacks, often disguised, on immigrant communities, asylum seekers and our minimal welfare system. In fact this country is as institutionally racist and hypocritical as any other. Small wonder it leaks through to that bastion of popular culture, professional football and its chauvinist worst.
It isn't so long since we had a real problem amongst Everton supporters with a small gang of north Liverpool BNP Nazi thugs. They ruined the last year or so of our first black captain, Kevin Campbell. On one particularly ugly occasion they abused the black wife of a London-based Everton supporter. There were other horrible and shameful incidents. Generally it got so bad the club had to react by issuing leaflets asking for tolerance; there were also PA announcements telling the cowards they weren't wanted at the club. But they had already infected many naive and vulnerable youngsters. Thankfully the worst of it has gone, but believe me it is still there ready to stink the place out at the first opportunity. Thankfully too a group of Evertonians got together and made a small presentation to Kevin Campbell to thank him for what he did for us. It wasn't all bad news, though the experience made many of us feel thoroughly ashamed. No, we have no cause for complacency.
We might as well address the question of humour and racism while we're at it. Often, like patriotism, racist humour is the last refuge of a scoundrel. In fact the only time humour is acceptable in this context is when it is an unequivocal attack on the evil. Racists should be depicted as the narrow forehead, gutless, fascist thickos they are. Anything less leads inevitably to the kind of poison manufactured by the late Bernard Manning and Franky Boyle, though in Boyle's case it is mostly a race to the lowest common denominator. Anybody who claims it's "only a larf" should be subject to the same kind of treatment day in and day out. See how they respond to being called "honky" or "poor white trash." See if they think it "funny" then. It's a safe bet they'll reconsider matters pretty sharpish.
The roots of "colour" racism date back three hundred years to the industrialised slave trade, though there was nothing new about institutionalised slavery. In the seventeenth century version it was necessary to label the victims as inferior to justify development of the disgusting, rotten business. In Britain there was scarcely a community or part of culture which didn't profit from it, including even organised religion seeking "converts." There is too a sound historical argument the Industrial Revolution couldn't have gained ground so quickly without cheap black labour to fuel King Cotton in the United States and thereby mass-manufacture industry in Britain. Compensation would run into trillions, which is why the West has never formally acknowledged the slave trade as a crime against humanity. After industrialised slavery was abolished the attitudes lived on in warped versions and still haven't evolved out, hence the nonsense of apartheid and fascist racism. Prior to the slave trade, being black had no special significance except maybe as a kind of romantic aesthetic mystery. Shakespeare couldn't have written Othello in the way he did were it otherwise.
The city of Liverpool is no more or less racist than any other British or Irish city, though naturally there are local conditions that mean it manifests differently and mostly (but not only) in north areas of the city, which are overwhelmingly white. The same kind of social pattern is almost modular throughout Europe and the Americas. Throughout Britain recent racist murders and legal cases illustrate how far we have to go to be rid of the curse.
So, given history, football was never going to evade the horror, not even when it became obvious black footballers are at least as good as white players. For racists, there was no irony that arguably the greatest footballer of all time, Edson Arantes dos Nascimento - Pelé - is a black man, nor that most teams these days couldn't function without gifted black players. For the lunatics there was only temporary inconvenience until their target had a bad run of form. Then they could be dubbed "lazy" or some other weasel term. Inevitably, some players looking for an edge would weaken and do what Suarez did. He won't be the last.