Diane Abbott, Luis Suarez, Ed Milliband, Alan Hansen and John Terry – it hasn’t been a great month for any of them, and not just because the Labour party is doing about as well as Chelsea and Liverpool are in the Premier League. They’ve all managed to get themselves accused of racism for comments of varying levels of offensiveness.
There is a fever for it at the moment. Who knows if it’s the recent landmark conviction of the killers of Stephen Lawrence, the racial undertones that surrounded the August riots or even the high profile outburst of the infamous ‘woman on the tram’, but race is a big talking point right now, and people are ready to condemn.
Making quick judgments about the scandals mentioned above, I would say that if the allegations are true John Terry is the most guilty- you simply can’t describe the words he used for Anton Ferdinand as anything other than despicably racist. Next up is Luis Suarez, because for all the talk about how certain words are more acceptable in Uruguay, he used someone’s skin colour as an insult, and that makes it a racist comment.
Of the others, Diane Abbott was naïve but fairly innocent when put in context with her first comment, and frankly, perfectly right with her second. Alan Hansen did nothing worse than show his age and Ed Milliband just needs spell check and a better spin doctor.
The debate surrounding the scandals has raised a few interesting issues though. Firstly, there have been plenty of people who have come out and sworn that Luis Suarez and John Terry, no matter what they may have said, ‘aren’t racist’. This raises an interesting point about how we view racism – it’s a though people feel that everyone can either be swept into one bracket marked ‘racist’ and one marked ‘not racist’.
The reality is that there are many people that probably flit between the two. People are usually so contradictory and quick to change their minds, that they might be a racist when they are in some moods, but not in others. They might treat people they know personally with respect, but have prejudiced views about their race as a whole. They might be fine about black people, but uncomfortable with Muslims/Eastern Europeans/Irish travellers. All to often, the lines are blurred.
The point about Suarez and Terry is that, broadly speaking, whether they are actually completely racist or not doesn’t change anything. They made racist comments, and they should be punished accordingly.
A good aspect of the scandals is to show how far we’ve moved from the bad old days of the 1970s and 80s. Now a racist comment by a public figure is almost universally accepted to be wrong. And that’s not political correctness gone mad, it’s a triumph for basic tolerance.
It might not be a bad thing to gain a little perspective however. The press have a motivation to create and fuel celebrity and political scandals. They get people talking and buying papers, and they fill up column inches very easily (hypocrisy noted). This is the driving force behind the more ridiculous of the recent ‘scandals’, which should probably never have been stories at all.
Even when the condemnation is justified, it’s worth remembering that we are just discussing the comments of one person, who in all likelihood is alienated from mainstream society and much less of a role model than they might like to believe. Especially footballers and MPs.
A celebrity scandal always remains shallow and basic. The big issues of racism are much more complex, more nuanced and more serious than anything John Terry has to say, and anything the FA does about it. And it’s worth remembering that.