I’m not an avid football fan but I do support a local team and I do get involved in the rapture of world tournaments. The finals of Euro 2020 on Sunday 11 July revealed the underbelly of racism within this country. Three young, brave black men have been subjected to the vilest racist abuse. But this isn’t anything new – it happens all the time. Anyone who understands the dynamics of racism will have held their breath as each one of them stepped up to the line to take the penalty shot. We knew what was coming…
As the mother of a black man of similar age to those players, I held my breath. And that moment came to pass…and now, here we are. And I’m exhausted. I worry for those three players, that they can cope with the intense media pressure, remembering that they are also coping with the racist abuse alongside it – how, in the blink of an eye, they have been demoted from national heroes, to by many, zeros – and worse, denigrated because of the colour of their skin. I not only worry for them, I worry for all those young black men, like my son, who have seen this play out before their eyes. What are they internalising from this? That they are not accepted for the colour of their skin? What of their mental health? The fact that some of the people that they know – teachers, work colleagues, line managers, their peers – share the same racist sentiments that are abundant online – posting and liking comments? But it’s not just the potential impact of mental health, there is the real worry of physical safety – will there be racist abuse shouted in the streets? Will there be a backlash of racist attacks? We know that there is a long memory regarding football. People still talk about the 1966 world cup final, so this ether will no doubt rumble on in history.
It is important to recognise that this isn’t just about football. It happens in workplaces all the time. The racism may be more subtle, more implicit, but it happens. People of colour are praised in the glory moments but ignored, vilified even, when things go wrong. So yes, I’m exhausted but I go on.
I am proud of the work that my colleagues and I do at Included. The impact that we create. The commitment that we have to promoting real change around inclusion. It can be challenging, especially with clients who say they want to change but there is rhetoric rather than action. That’s exhausting against the backdrop of the daily impact of racism on myself, my son and people of colour in general. The daily weariness of getting on with life. The strength comes from small things. I am blessed to share the same birthday as Nelson Mandela. He was imprisoned the year I was born, released in my 27th year. I take strength from his courage and endurance. So, I push aside that exhaustion and, in the words of Maya Angelou, “And still I rise”.