Racism: Football in Black and White

December 29, 2018 By Kevin Omondi

Racism: Football in Black and White

Italians are an ‘odd’ people, at least as much as any of us are. Stereotypically, they are perceived to be unable to keep time; to be noisy, indisciplined, ‘individualistic’; they hold on too much to their children; their children are spoilt; they seemingly have this penchant for taking rules to be no more than suggestions. If you’re a victim, like me, of colonialists from North of the Alps, generally are indoctrinated to view their (the colonialists’) cultures as ‘good’ and that of Italians’ as ‘bad’.

Picking up an L in the Battle of Adowa, props to Menelik II, checked the invasion of the Italians and the forceful, exploitative and imperial proliferation of Italian culture on our continent. So except for a few hotspots in Somalia and Kenya’s Northern coast, there is a very small diaspora of Italian speakers and by extension their culture In Africa. Generally, Italian is barely spoken outside the country, condemning the peninsular to this insular, monocultural, highly provincial centre of Campanilismo – the attachment to one’s local belltower. This is one of the reasons the country is so charming: people often stay put, rooted rather than rootless. All over the country, even in a wee village caput mundi will be graffitied on walls, suggesting that this sleepy place is considered the capital of the world. The downside is that outsiders are treated as aliens if not enemies and a lot worse if they’re black; never mind their proximity to the ‘dark’ continent.

There are other reasons for their racism: pandemic economic misery for at least the last 15 years; a  political class that is absurdly ignorant; the nearly palpable sense of inferiority of many Italians and a prevalent and growing right wing, extolling the legacy of fascism and the adulation of the infamous Benito Mussolini (who was eventually executed by their grandfathers). The conundrum of Italian racism is that Italy, ever a country of contradictions, is also a place of remarkable generosity, beauty and hospitality. Admittedly, there are things they do well, elements of their culture that are ‘good’; yet, remain a country that is stereotyped as being infamously lawless, in which rules are often wilfully ignored, everyone is oddly very conformist in other ways: all wearing the same fashionable colour or eating the same food at the same festivals. Italy simply isn’t a country of eccentricity or a place where difference or diversity are accepted, let alone cherished.

Football is not politically correct. Much like a mirror, it offers a reflection of society- its norms, values and conformity and like a window provides others insights into others’ culture. The reality is there’s racism in football and there’s rampant racism in Italian football! This year, the Serie A adopted Boxing Day matches, another poorly adapted facet of English culture, if only to eschew the glories of the beautiful game in Italy, only to end up exposing the reprehensible aspects of some of their supporters- obscene fan violence and shockingly crass racism!

Inter v Napoli, in the capital. Even before kick-off, shirtless, bat-wielding Inter-and-Inter-associated ultras had already attacked Napoli fans, resulting in the death of one member of a pack of ultras- who was run over by an automobile; separately four Neapolitans were the victims of knife attacks. During the game, Kalidou Koulibaly, a black world class central defender of Senegalese descent and French nationality was the victim of unabated racist taunts from a section of the Inter crowd. Head coach, Carlo Ancelotti on three separate occasions asked officials to suspend the match as protocol demands, once they are informed of fan-based racial attacks.

The officials did not call off the match, instead, someone came over the stadium’s public address system, twice politely asking the fans to stop hurling racial epithets and making monkey noises at the Senegalese man they’d all paid to see play. SMH. The ‘Senegalese man they’d all paid to see play’ would be shown two rapid-fire yellow cards, dismissed when the game was 0 – 0. Inter would steal the match 1 – 0 in injury time. Koulibaly said this, after the game:  

I’m sorry for the defeat and especially to have let my brothers down. But I am proud of the color of my skin. Of being French, Senegalese, Neapolitan: a man

The Italian Football Federation hasn’t done nearly enough lot to stop racism if only going by the evidence that it is still highly overt in football stadia throughout the leagues they oversee. Italian culture is equally unaware and undismissive of this kind of behaviour. On this occasion, the federation flexed some muscle, Inter will play two home games in an empty stadium and a third sans fans in the ultras sections. FIFA, football’s governing body, disbanded its anti-racism taskforce, a little more than two years ago because the taskforce had achieved its objects- black players were no longer being hurled with bananas and banana skins in stadia. In effect, FIFA is comfortable with covert racism against black players.

Koulibaly’s trauma, sadly is not unique; the Italian FA’s complacency evidenced in the disproportional and tolerant treatment of the same scathing racism against the Biancocelesti’s Keita Balde’s attacks in Padova; Lazio, Roma and Juventus getting a slap on the wrist for attacks against Antonio Ruediger, now with Chelsea, and Koulibaly in the Coppa Italia, the Champions League and in Serie A. Mario Balotelli, Kevin Prince Boateng, Kevin Constant, Nigel de Jong among others have been other victims with little to no restitution and recourse for Juventini, Atalanta and lower league fans.

Racism isn’t limited to the racist Serie A and the lower Italian leagues. The English have been proud of no longer throwing bananas at black players until Arsenal’s P.E Aubameyang was attacked by a Spur’s fan at the Emirates in the same manner. The fan has since received a lifetime ban from football. John Terry, Chelsea’s long-serving, highly regarded captain, racially abused Anton Ferdinand– no fine! Rio Ferdinand, called Ashley Cole, Terry’s witness during the trials and inquests into the incident, ‘choc-ice’, referring to a man who’s black exterior isn’t in harmony with his white interior identification. Rio- fined! The FA also fined and banned J Terry despite his acquittal in the magistrate’s court. Remember, Chelsea fans singing that they’re racist and kicking out a black Parisian from the tube in the buildup to their UCL loss to PSG? To bring it even closer, our own (black) London correspondent knows better than to put on the Blues Jersey and use public transportation when West Ham fans are in town. A lesson, needlessly learnt the hard way. Luis Suarez against Patrice Evra; Malkay Mackay and Ian Moody of Crystal Palace, with their mutually racist, sexist, homophobic texts, but still garnering the appalling support and camaraderie with the League Managers’ Association. Ron Atkinson, live on ITV, called Marcel Desailly ‘a fucking lazy thick nigger’! He resigned from the broadcaster and left The Guardian.

Lest we forget, Mesut Oezil resigned from Der Mannschaft because Reinhardt Grindel (the president of Germany’s football governing body, the DFB) and his adopted countrymen are racist! The French struggle to see colour in the face of success. But in failure blame the brown and black among their ranks. Only God knows what atrocities Manchester City’s best player thus far, Raheem Sterling committed against the tabloids in the UK. I’d wager, it has everything to do with the colour of his skin: black! And a black footballer, in their racist bigotry shouldn’t be extremely talented, successful and wealthy. The propagation of racist sentiment against black players by the media can neither be ignored nor wished away. They have an agenda against Sterling and people who happen to look like and be as good as Raheem. An agenda the Jamaican-English star has tried to laugh off without success.

The tabloids aren’t exclusive in their hateful mirth against players of colour. Welcome, social media, especially the Twitter, more specifically, football twitter. Word! Thank God you and I are in football twitter and not in the rest of the toxic, extremist spheres malignant of that online space, or are we? Abuse. Abuse is part and parcel of football. I dabble. Especially against English match officials who should be allowed onto the park with their guide dogs and canes. Despite the gloss and glam that is the corporate image of most of these football clubs the world over, there isn’t and won’t ever be any pontification or sanitization of the pure hatred and vitriol poured out on Twitter.

Football remains one of the last holdouts for regressive thought. It is informed by and reflective of our own cultures, of which racism and sexual bigotry are part and fuelled in part, by irresponsible former players-turned-pundits, journos and trolls. Abuse, trolling, issuing of death threats to innocent family members of players and fans all coming to the fore, in football twitter, blurring the line between good humour, banter, and the limits of free speech as a fundamental human right. From the comfort of the dark spaces, both within and without our physical selves, a black tweep, calls out the disruptive player power and influence of, and only as an example of Paul Pogba, a fine specimen of a player, with a dour attitude that must have in part led to the sudden yet expected demise of a psychopathic manager’s tenure at Old Trafford. The abuse against Pogba is racist and persistently racist at that! In the same vein, because we are fans of some Italian team, for whom we are merely consumers of products that they offer, we degenerate ourselves and sink into the folly of either trying to sanitize or pass the blame to other similar racist elements. A rather ‘Italian’ sentiment- sweep the dirt from our houses and leave barely outside our front porches, for someone else to deal with, so long as ‘my’ house isn’t dirty.

Is there ‘Black on Black’ racism?

No! I think not. Instead, we suffer under the burden of internalized racism- that yoke of oppression, in which we the racially subordinated, believe and accept a racial hierarchy that dismisses people of colour to the nadir of the races. It is through that mental colonization that we accept and/or are complicit through the commission of inaction against white racists and stereotype and negatively distance ourselves from negative generalizations that are occasionally confirmed by other black men, generally in sport and specifically in football.

So the next time, there is a bad result, which for Arsenal fans will be as soon as tonight, before you go ham on your keyboard en route to your claim of glory, by virtue of your access to the interwebs, be careful! Laws exist; footballers are only human; common sense and decency are a virtue!

Say no to Racism!

Special thanks to Tobais Jones’ The Dark Heart of Italy and @Nigerianscamsss and James Milin Ashmore and Billy Haisely.

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