Britain is a tolerant country and a few football racists don't change that

15 July 2021

6:28 PM

15 July 2021

6:28 PM

The racist messages sent to England football players in recent days are shameful, but to suggest that the UK is a festering hotbed overflowing with racist thugs is a step too far.

Out of the hundreds of thousands of social media posts about the Euro 2020 final, only a tiny number contained racist words. Of course, this doesn’t mean we shouldn’t speak out against such abuse. What happened is indefensible and the culprits should be dealt with by the police. But the frenzied debate the messages have generated risk giving those responsible the attention they crave and which they do not deserve.

As well as failing to see the bigger picture here – that Britain, generally speaking, is a tolerant place to live – there is also a danger that the wrong people are being held responsible for the racist abuse directed at Marcus Rashford and other black players.

For the ‘crime’ of criticising those ‘taking the knee’, Priti Patel has been vilified and condemned by those – including footballer Tyrone Mings – who should know better.

Can Patel’s critics not appreciate a simple truth: that it is possible to think racism is abhorrent but also object to taking part in a gesture inextricably linked with a divisive organisation like Black Lives Matter?

As a mixed-race child growing up in Britain in the 1970s and early 80s, I am no stranger to experiencing racism. During my schooldays, I experienced a daily volley of racial abuse. Not online, not by some faceless bot typing words, but to my face, in my face. Every day. For years.

‘Just ignore it’, the teachers said; ‘don’t give them the satisfaction’, my mum told me; the dinner ladies tutted, ‘just walk away dear’. I imagine that Priti Patel’s views were formed by similar experiences of honing survival skills in the jungle of the school playground.

Society has thankfully changed for the better. Nowadays, adults would no longer ignore a child being racially abused. We are lucky that Britain today is a more tolerant, racially diverse society than it ever has been, and we shouldn’t lose sight of that.

Of course, racists are still out there, and always will be. But they are a dying breed and the vast majority of Brits hold their views in contempt. Indeed, you could almost argue that we’ve been so successful in driving out racism on our streets that social media is the very last hiding place for racists. That doesn’t mean that we should give such individuals a free pass to say what they like online. But it does show that the fight against racism is being won.

Marcus Rashford, Jadon Sancho and Bukayo Saka do not deserve to be racially abused and it is right to condemn those who sent unacceptable messages in the wake of England’s penalty shootout defeat. But let’s not lose sight of the fact that the vast majority of Brits were supporting England’s players of all races and backgrounds. It’s time we focus our attention on England’s Euro 2020 heroes – not the anonymous online trolls who speak for no one but themselves.<//>

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