British, Conditionally

Why are Black Brits only accepted when they win?

Hello friends,

Yesterday, my family and I watched England once again snatch defeat from the jaws of victory, this time in the belated Euro 2020 competition, As we drove back home, my daughter commented that she was just waiting for the racism, since the three England players who missed penalties were Black. She was right, and we didn’t have long to wait.

No matter how British those Black players were considered as the team played their hearts out to reach the final, for some, that came with conditions. Specifically, thou shalt win as a Black man or thou shalt not be British. Since the period of enslavement Black people have had to conform to white norms to be acceptable, and this suggests nothing has changed.

Within moments of the loss, the players’ social media feeds were full of racist comments, and banana and monkey emojis. Within moments, Black Brits were sharing their fears for their personal safety, as some riled up and liquored up disappointed white British fans started lashing out.

There’s a big movement to claim that Britain’s not racist; reactions like this are yet more evidence that it is. I take no pleasure in saying this, believe me. But this reaction is part of a pattern of Britain using and discarding Black and Brown people at will (and no, they aren’t the only historic or modern colonial power to do so). And it’s another example of Black people being held to higher standards than others.

Sure, highly paid football players SHOULD be able to take penalties - it’s part of the game! But if they miss, as England manager Gareth Southgate famously did a couple of decades ago, then attack their competence, not their skin color, and not their right to represent the country of their birth.

This is part of a bigger picture. (Isn’t it always?) It’s why some children of Black people invited to come from the Caribbean to work in Britain (who were actually British citizens at the time) are still fighting for their right to stay in the country their parents fought for and worked in. Google the ongoing “Windrush scandal” for more on this.

It’s why many Black Brits are ambivalent about their relationship with England and the UK. Check out “Brit (ish)” by Afua Hirsch for some meaningful thoughts on this.

And it’s why some Black Brits couldn’t bear to even watch the football, because they knew there would be a backlash if the team lost.

In 2021, no Black player should have to put up with this kind of treatment from England fans. These are human beings, many of whose contributions to the country goes way beyond what happens in a single match. Google “Marcus Rashford school meals program” for a stellar example.

I’d love to see our tech tools do a better job of weeding racist abuse out automatically. But, as always, social media algorithms don’t favor Black and Brown people.

Just as people often show you their true colors when they’ve had one too many, they do the same when they’re angry or disappointed. That’s why until Black and Brown people’s skin color is not a factor when bemoaning their failures on the pitch, I’ll continue to disbelieve anyone who says Britain’s not racist. It’s just not that simple. Yes, there are white Brits who know that Black and Brown Brits belong, but there are far too many of the other lot for us to feel safe.

When a Black Brit can miss a penalty and Black and Brown Brits feel safe to walk the streets afterwards, and when they know that they won’t face any worse abuse than their white peers, that will mean that Britishness no longer comes with conditions. But that’s a long, long way away.

I’d love to hear your perspective.

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Thanks for reading,

Sharon

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© Sharon Hurley Hall, 2021. All Rights Reserved.

Cover photo courtesy of Canva.

I am an anti-racism writer, a professional B2B writer and blogger, and co-host of The Introvert Sisters podcast. If you value my perspective, please consider upgrading to a paid subscription.