Thursday, April 22, 2004

Rongate and Racism....

My goodness me, it's a sad story. Ron Atkinson was heavily involved in the pioneering West Brom team of the late 70s, with the so-called "Three Degrees." These were Cyrille Regis, Laurie Cunningham and Brendan Batson, three black footballers who were at the forefront of a revolution which has led to the current situation in football, where England recently put out a team in which six of the eleven first team players were black.

Now, Ron is citing this as proof that he's not a racist, saying "If you look at my track record as a manager, I was one of the first managers in the game to give black players a chance." Why is racism seen in such a black and white way (I can't think of a better expression.) I see the use of racist swearwords in times of anger as indicative of a different sort of racism, not the overt idealogical racism of, for example, the BNP, but an ingrained and unconcious racism. The former would mean not picking black players because of believing them to be inferior to white players, but the latter is still an incredibly destructive force. It's the kind of racism that means most people in adverts are disproportionatelty white, judges and the police force are disproportionally white. It's the kind of racism that comes from the fact that really massively stereotyped portrayals of people of other colours and cultures are only a generation or two old. And Ron comes from that generation. As David Brent says "racism wasn't bad then." This character in the office is a classic example of the "I'm not a racist, some of my best friends are black" kind of mentality. And it expresses it with full credit to the true origin of this kind of racism - ignorance. The lack of exposure to multi-racial cultural influences, the lack of direct exposure of people from different backgrounds leads to that kind of sloppy ignorant thinking. And early cultural influences run deep and define you for a long time if you don't work hard at it - they come out when you aren't in full control of your faculties, at times of stress or anger. The only way to deal with racism like that is education and exposure, but it'll only work if people want it to.

In a side note, it's interesting to report that the papers have reported the story with the exact quote slightly differently worded. The quote from the Guardian, which can be found in this article has a lot of credibility I think, not least of all because it sounds so Ronesque. It's also an incredibly damaging version of the quote, as if it wasn't bad enough, because there's a lot of brain processing and decision making needed to frame a sentence like that and then say it. It makes his position pretty indefensible, in terms of his claim not to be a racist. He's clearly a racist, but I imagine he doesn't know what that really means.

I suppose in the end, I feel a bit sorry for him, in the way that I often feel sorry for people that have done wrong by others as much as those whom they have wronged - because wrong actions are so often driven by a lack of good things, like knowledge, or sensitivity, or access to truth and end up hurting the proponent as much as the recipient.