19 March 2015

So, about this racist tweet against Welbz...

Amid all of the build-up (and letdown...) around the Monaco match, we might have looked past a more-ominous issue: a week prior, after Danny Welbeck scored the winner against Man U in the FA Cup, a 15-year-old tweeted out some vile abuse against the man. On Monday, the lad was arrested and then questioned on suspicion of racial abuse before being released on bail until 13 April. This side of the pond, we have our own racism-row after white college students were caught on video gleefully chanting how there will never be a person of a certain skin-color in their fraternity. Immature hijinks or ingrained racism? Potato, potahto? We can slate Chelsea for certain fans denying entry to a train in Paris, but we should be wary of scapegoating when racism lingers and skulks along the edges of our society in whichever country we live.

As for the Man U fan responsible for the offending tweet, I offer a few theories in ascending order of likelihood:
  1. He's an actual, card-carrying, and committed racist who meant exactly what he tweeted (those with a strong stomach or high tolerance for racism can click here to see the most-offensive tweet). In this scenario, the 15-year-old knew exactly what he was doing and has a long, dedicated history to racial bigotry.
  2. He's a boneheaded twerp looking to prove to his mates that he can offer 'top bantz' but crossed a few lines. He may have misread the taunting and schadenfreude over the racist incident in Paris when a few Chelsea fans prevented a black Parisian entry to a train while chanting "We're racist, and that's the way we like it."
  3. He's a stupid, immature teenager seeking attention on social media because this is what 15-year-olds do. There are plenty of 15-year-olds who are more than willing to say precisely what shouldn't be said just because they're 15. 
Whichever of these or other explanations ultimately prove out, however, it's clear that there's still a deeper problem plaguing us. Yes, the boy has been arrested, and he may very well face jail time (as much as seven years, if I understand the relevant statute correctly). If theory #1 is correct, well, is jail-time justified? More than likely, it would only harden the original attitude, proving to the kid that white men are singled out while black men are given a free pass.

Even if theories #2 and #3 are the more-relevant ones, we still have a serious problem on our hands. It would be all too easy to scapegoat this particular 15-year-old as if he's an isolated racist, operating on his own terms and independent of any societal supports. Sadly, that's not the case. If anything, this kid is little more than a scapegoat, someone whom we can punish and exile and thereby reassure ourselves that we've purged in a meaningful way the scourge of racism. If we ruin this kid's life (for what I hope we all agree is an egregious, atrocious, hateful act), what will it do in the long run to cure deeper societal ills? Little, if anything. That's the problem with scapegoats. Sacrificing them at the altar assuages our guilt but also assures us that everything will be A-OK. Clap this kid in irons, apparently, and racism is cured.

Somehow, though, it seems as if we'd be treating symptoms but not curing diseases. If this kid believed that it would be fun to tweet something racist, that reflects something deeper than his own mindset. If reflects a broader, more-systemic problem that permeates far beyond one kid's over-reaction to his club's loss in a hotly-contested football match. At some level, he believed that his tweet would be retweeted and favorited, proving to his mates that he was bold and edgy.

This kid—and I continue to repeat the term deliberately—has, through his blatant blasphemy drawn attention an issue that is elusive and electrifying, but this should not blind us to the far-more nuanced and pernicious forms of racism that whittle away at our souls, regardless of colour (be it kit, skin, or soul). As paradoxical as it may seem, then, I thank this kid and those Chelsea fans in Paris, for offering us a chance to examine the issue. The mistake would be to focus on them as the disease itself, rather than as superficial symptoms of that disease.

Perhaps more than most English clubs, Arsenal has a history of looking past skin-colour to the quality of the player or the quality of the person. Let's not then hone in on one conveniently obvious instance of racism while ignoring or overlooking the more-subtle and pervasive forms that slide and glide under our radar on a daily basis, whether it be who gets paid what, who gets pulled over and who doesn't, who gets arrested and sentenced.

I therefore thank the kid for his egregious and extreme offense to common decency and hope that it provides us all with a chance to scrutinize all of the moments in which we carelessly or callously run rough-shod over the superficial differences that separate us.

I apologise for getting a bit overly preachy.

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