Wednesday, June 23, 2021

Now is the time for football fans to cheer when players take the knee

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After some England supporters booed the anti-racism action, this is an important moment for white people

It was at the League One play-off final on Sunday when I experienced it for myself. Before kick-off, observing the now familiar pre-match ritual of players taking the knee, there was a roar across Wembley. A section of the crowd, not nearly half but much more than an isolated pocket, were booing as hard as they could. After seconds of shock I started to clap, as did a number of other people. It was the only thing I could think to do to drown out the noise, but it was too late.

The booing had happened before, at the FA Cup final and at the final matches of the Premier League season. It happened again on Wednesday night, when England played Austria at the Riverside. The expectation must now be that it will continue. The booing is not shy and not half-hearted, it is a clear and vocal protest, and it signifies an important moment.

That would be: an important moment for white people. On the one hand you have people booing a symbolic call for racial justice. I don’t have the precise figures, but I’d say those who were booing were white. On the other hand you also have a lot of other white people, me included, who will hear this noise and be shocked. They’ll be shocked because they want to believe England isn’t a country where people are fine with holding racist values. They can largely get away with thinking like that because it hasn’t been made explicit at volume by thousands of people at a time.

Black people or Asian people or people of other minority ethnicities might be inclined towards a wry chuckle at such a confession. Racism is not hidden from people of colour. It has been hidden by and from white people though. What the booing of the taking of the knee does is make it very clear to everyone that some white people in England are against anti-racism. That’s a racist view, and it is time for those who consider themselves anti-racist to make their feelings heard just as loudly.

Now a quick cursory detour . . .

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