29 October 2013

Frimpong gets it wrong on racism

Despite my desire to see Frimpong play in today's match, he wasn't named to the squad, after which he promptly put his foot in it by tweeting, in response to a follower's question about why he wasn't playing, "Sometimes I wish I was white and English #realtalk".  Sigh. While I'm hoping that he was just being glib about the issue, it's
fiendishly hard to be glib about anything as complicated as race and racism, especially in light of the tempest Jack Wilshere found himself in regarding who should play for the Three Lions or Jack Jebb's four-game ban for racist abuse. It's even harder to say anything sophisticated or nuanced on twitter, so putting this issue in front of a 21-year old and asking him to leave no wiggle-room for misinterpreting his comments is a fool's errand. That said, Frimpong looks foolish for having stated himself so carelessly, and I again hope that this again proves to be another molehill made into a mountain.

Let's use a few statistics to refute Mr. Frimpong's claims, if only for a moment to acknowledge the gravity of the racism row. According to census data released 27 March 2011, 3.48% of England's population is categorized as "Black/African/Caribbean/Black British" (report available by clicking here). At the risk of making broad assumptions about the racial identities of men I've never met, contrast that against the demography of Arsenal's first team, which is 27% black. Gibbs, Sagna, Frimpong, Walcott, Oxlade-Chamberlain, Sanogo, Diaby, Gnabry, and Zelalem can all authentically claim some degree of blackness. Fudging our math if only for the moment, this means that Arsenal's first team is almost nine times blacker than England as a whole. What's more, when fit, five of these men rightfully have earned and can expect to start more games than not (let's not get into the glut on the right wing with Walcott, Ox, and Gnabry).

While the following has nothing to do with the current squad or manager, one of the first black players to appear in the Prem was Viv Anderson, who made his Arsenal debut in 1984 after playing ten years for Nottingham Forest. In other words, then, Arsenal seems more than comfortable with the idea of ethnic diversity. Bringing things back to Arsène, here's a manager renowned (or infamous) for bringing players for far beyond England's shores to play for Arsenal. It's ironic to then suggest that he's somehow opposed to playing someone because of his race.

Sure, the departure of players like Alex Song, Gael Clichy, Ashley Cole, or Gervinho have lightened things up a bit, as has the chronic inavailabilitiy of Abou Diaby. Still, the suggestion that Frimpong isn't playing today because he's not English or because he's not white is beyond ridiculous. Let's hope that Frimpong had tongue planted firmly in cheek and the the subsequent reactions from been overwrought. Society has come a long way from the days when Anderson saw lesser players named ahead of him and had bananas and monkey-chants shower down on him when he did play—but those days still plague us, as I've discussed previously, here and here, for example. The real shame of Frimpong's gaffe is that it will make the next racist incident easier to racists to get away with, as they and their defenders can say, "every time something doesn't go their way, they just cry 'racist'". It's just another version of the boy who cried wolf.

Come to think of it, maybe Manny should be made to read that story and complete a worksheet or two on how the story relates to his comment.

It's probably closer to the truth to suggest that Frimpong just isn't quite good enough to feature for us. Had we drawn a lower-tier opponent, things might be a bit different. As it stands, though, we'll face a sterner test from Chelsea, and Frimpong is one of few odd men out this time 'round. Unless his ill-advised tweet really blows up in his face, he's bound to get a chance to prove his critics wrong—on and off the pitch.

Right. Well, there's a match to be played. Let's hope Frimpong has learned a lesson about what's worth saying and confine his tweets to "good match today" or "check out my new shoes". The deeper issues deserve a forum bigger than 140 characters. #realtalk.