The 'R' Word


How do we actively challenge racism without burning out? (Credit-Unsplash)

There are times when I resolve never to speak of anything significant ever again. To live a life of small talk; to censure me into a makeshift kind of peace - a serenity purchased by surrendering me. Maybe if I wrap my words in bubble-wrap silence and carry them even more delicately than I do at present, I can skirt clear of the whole mess that is racism and earn my measure of tranquillity.


I had been trying desperately hard not to talk about it. It has become, for me, a little like the thing that shan’t be named because honestly, I find it petrifying. The idea that someone’s worth can be determined by another person is petrifying. May of 2020 was insane. Seeing a person, of any creed, dying live on television and then watching them die again and again and again online is bonkers. The need to argue that a person's life had value and that such a tragedy should never have had to happen in the first place was also, truthfully, just a little bit dehumanising.


The passing of George Floyd and the conversations I had in the months following, scared the aforementioned life out of me and I decided at a point that I didn’t want anything to do with the dreaded ‘R’ word. In my mind, any flirtation with the subject would simply serve to fan the blaze. I would have no truck with that, thank you very much! With just such an end in mind, earlier this year, I came up with a cunning plan. I would STFU, kick back and enjoy life. I was doing well too, nothing much was happening but I was fine with that because the small moments are moments as well (right?)… and then along came the Euro’s.



The England players Saka, Sancho and Rashford were subject to appalling racist online abuse. (Credit-The Times)

I’ve always liked football but I didn’t know how much I loved it until March of 2020 when we were all plunged into lockdown and it, by necessity, became one of the guiding lights of my life. If you’re not into football, and perhaps even if you are, that will probably sound ridiculous. “Guiding light” - what nonsense; I mean, it’s a bunch of men kicking around a ball for ninety minutes for god's sake! The whole thing is ridiculous. It shouldn’t be fun. But it is. At least, to me, because it’s a part of who I am.


You see, in my heart of hearts, I am still the working-class boy who spent every lunch and break time playing football, imagining I was a lot better at it than was the reality, knowing that, but still loving it anyway. I am still the little boy who grew up idolising the Cristiano’s and the Thierry’s and whose every waking moment was daydreaming myself into being the one and only Wayne Rooney. I am still the kid whose admiration was colour blind - whose imitations and daydreams were reserved only for the best; regardless of the degree to which their skin was melanated.


I earnestly thought nothing could ruin football for me - and I was right! I loved this year's Euro’s. I am incredibly proud of the three lions (all twenty-six plus one of them), and this has been one of the most entertaining summers of my life. That said though, I do have to report that my cunning plan has hit something of a snag.


"Our ancestors gave us, for our inheritance, a world that had been built on subjugation. The blame is theirs, the responsibility ours."

It now pains me more to be silent. I know now that my silence served only to fuel the very flames that I had sought to quell. When a person is invested in the world, as are we all, there is no such thing as inaction, only compliance. Making race a taboo subject, denied me countless chances to proudly wave the banner of all that I am. Silencing myself, meant also that I no longer had as many opportunities to learn about the wonders of others’ experiences. You can’t do anything with the elephant in the room if you’re busy fearfully pretending that elephants don’t exist.


In the end, it is just such a wariness that serves to build division. Race relations are frail - through no fault of our own. Our ancestors gave us, for our inheritance, a world that had been built on subjugation. The blame is theirs, the responsibility ours. Such chasms, like the ones that exist and those that threaten to come about, can only be bridged with uncomfortable, brave conversations through which the “other” comes to be regarded as the familiar: the brother, the sister.


I have learnt a lot more from a few moments of discomfort than I have from, near enough, a lifetime of comfort. If we are to carve for ourselves a more peaceful future, if we are to inch closer to the utopia Dr. King dreamt of, we must be prepared to contend with discomfort for a little while longer. Only conversation can circumnavigate the expanse between heads, thus paving the way towards understanding.


"Our lives begin to end the day we become silent about things that matter.” - Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.




Marshall is a self-taught student of psychology, hugely interested in diasporic politics and contending with the question of how we can all best function within an increasingly polarised society.


Disclaimer: All views expressed in this piece belong solely to the author and do not reflect the views of Demographica Limited as a company.


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