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This post in-part takes its name from a book by the late Whiteness Studies academic Ruth Frankenberg (1993) and is the final of three that will discuss Whiteness, women, and racism.
Chapter III: Your Problem but not Your Problem
Despite women’s investment in football, at least socially, in terms of Women’s Football (much better than the men’s game in my opinion), it was interesting to observe the reactions of White men that positioned themselves as progressives when I challenged the national response to racism in the game. When we realise that ‘football hooligans’ all have jobs across sector, I would bring people to consider this is not just a working-class issue, as football is a game that transcends socioeconomic lines. This post isn’t necessarily about the violence White women have commited against me but is certainly their problem, and they could have a deciding voice of how White men act at football matches. When we consider racial hiearchies, I am reminded of the gendered components of colonialism where White men are at the top of that hierachy followed by the White woman. In spite of White women’s complicity in those histories of racism (Ware, 1992), logic dictates that White women’s privilege will have some sway when White men act in hostility to people of colour. That said, still today I find White women all too happy to take on misogyny / patriarchy but not racism / White supremacy. In this blog, I will start with a Twitter encounter where I dared to say there isn’t a “racism-in-football-problem” but a more societal issue of White supremacy. Until we start thinking about White supremacy as a political system, just as women have done patriarchy (DeBeavoir, 1949; Friedan, 1963; Davis, 1981; hooks, 1991; Adichie, 2014) and others have done class (Marx and Engles, 1848; Chomsky, 1999; Tom Nicholas, 2020), we will never solve this racism issue.
When I challenged the concept of “racism in football” in July 2021, a local BBC journalist claimed I could make it both about ‘racism in football’ and in society. The problem with this is, dominant media discourses have already stitched it all up by relegating racism to specific spaces somewhat divorced from a global system of violence. At this time as well, I saw the term ‘football hooliganism’ being used as double talk for ‘working-class thuggery’. However, to understand how football got to where it is today, we need to know how football was not originally made by the working-class.
Much alike my favourite sport cricket (Tre Ventour Ed, 2021), football started as a sport for characteristically ‘English gentlemen’. It was made for the rich by the rich to really celebrate themselves. Their game by their rules. When the working-class started to advocate for players playing for money, in its day (so the late nineteenth century), it was thought controversial. Yet, the rich controlled the boards and they could afford to play for free, taking days off for matches. The proleterians could not. Here, then you see that it came down to money, where a game made by the wealthy for them and their friends was then changed forever by working people, no less than mill and factoryworkers.
Actions that society most associates with the working-class majority today – including public fights, vandalism, brawls, and riotting in Britain are not new phenomena but has a long history going back to even before 1900 uncoincidentally coinciding with the construction of London Metropolitan Police Service in 1829 (Storch, 1975). Following the signing of the Armistice in November 1918, for example, so-called ‘race riots’ took place in no fewer than nine port communities between January and August 1919 (Jenkinson, 1996: 92). However, media footage and pictures of British riots before the Second World War have rarely been seen by the public but “…individual memories of civil disorder [in those days were] surprisingly widespread” and when riotting did happen, “governments often denied they had, and censored the newsreel pictures” (Forbidden Britain). Historically speaking, these uprisings grew out of a response to state-sanctioned violence frequently mass unemployment and poverty. Under the threat of poverty, homelessness, or even death, groups will attack shops and other structures to acquire food where “the turbulence of the colliers is, of course, to be accounted for by something more elementary than politics: it was the instinctive reaction of virility to hunger” (Ashton and Sykes, 1967: 131). Yet, the male violence that occured at the England v Italy Euro finale football match in London July 2021 has a precedent going back to the days of Walter Tull where his biographer historian Phil Vasili writes:
“In 1919, working-class Britain was in a rebellious state. Whether the war created the mood of revolt among workers – sometimes taking a horribly distorted and misguided form as we saw with the race riots – or merely speeded up the process that had been years in fermentation, is not for debate here. The fact is it happened. Families, individuals, veterans were changed by the war, including Tull, his eagerness to enlist souring to a hatred for carnage.”Vasili, 2010: 229
On the morning of the final, I saw evidence of local Northamptonians heading to the pubs to get their fill as early as 8AM before the game that evening at 8PM (@cllrjameshill). In London, however, White (let’s be honest of course dominantly heterosexual cisgendered) patriarchal violence, was in full swing on Leicester Square, described as a “fanzone for thousands of England fans” before even two o’clock. Furthermore, according to Hutchinson (1975), “riots, unruly behaviour, violence, assault and vandalism, appear to have been a well-established, but not necessarily dominant pattern of crowd behaviour at football matches, at least from the 1870s” (p11). Whilst football today has united people across racial and class lines, many Black men of my dad’s generation (born 1971) would not find themselves anywhere near a match when they were my age or even as teenagers purely for the fact that these crowds were frequently racist and the risk of violence was significant. Today, while racism in football is largely in response to the actions of White people against Black players, there is a further history of White racism against Black fans too.
As I do not doubt that there is racism in women’s football (there is racism at every level of society), I wonder why women’s sports (especially football) is not associated with violence. Heck, other men’s sports do not have these connotations attached. We do not see it in cricket, nor do we see it in rugby to these extremes or tennis. Looking at the conversations in what happened following the game, it seemed to me that people were trying so hard to divorce this male violence from the rest of society, as if it is only specific to football. I would argue this is Britain’s soul, an unfiltered and grandiose example of the gendered racial privilege that comes with being a White man in the UK. It is very easy to stigmatise the working-class in this instance and call them “thugs”, but when we know football unites across class divides, it would do us well to consider how lots of the perpetrators were also probably middle-class as well, with jobs that permeate every level of British society: from accounting to education to sports, unions and more. That while it is incredibly easy to scapegoat them as there are histories of working-class responding with riots against state violence (no less than sports riots), we must think about how for some reason, football in particular, turns lots of men feral.
I was talking to one family member who claimed this is where men get to claim their base instincts, that violence seems to come naturally. I would need to think more on this, but it must be said that many social settings condition violence out of us, from school to the workplace. Even so, that in schools violence is punished, many students (especially boys) being placed pupil referral units. Whilst society brutalises in many ways, the pugilistic scenes we are witness to at football matches is one that is considered unsavoury by most. Men gathering together at the football … does this flick a switch? In the late nineteenth century, polymath Gustave LeBon writes about what he called “the collective mind” (1896: 2) whilst another scholar later states “the natural crowd is the open crowd; there are no limits … it does not recognise houses, doors, or locks and those that shut themselves in are suspect” (Canetti, 1962: 16). Football matches may be an apt site to discuss what the psychology profession now calls ‘crowd theory’ which was further developed on by psychologist Neil Smelser analysing the American ‘race riots’ in the first half of the last century (1962: 253, 260-61).
In my last post, I talked about ‘Karen’ in relation to racist middle-aged White women that harrass Black people minding their business. Yet, one does not see White women congregating like this together in mass as instigators of violence, where if at all in my experience violence from White women has been more individualistic or covert. Though, if women friends/colleagues disagree and know more, I’m happy to be put right from their personal experience (and do more reading). Rioting, however, is frequently often hypermasculine (Gary Younge in: DDN, 2020) and so is the violence around football. The role of White women in racism can be more insidious but my encounter on Twitter with this White man comes after my many encounters with White men that think they know more than Black people about racism.
Both White men and women are complicit in White supremacy as aggressors and bystanders. To keep this on topic, every time a White woman watches a White man’s racism but stays silent, they are as bad as they are really showing how White supremacy is the symptom and racism is the problem.
Now, you have three entries. Have a think on them.
Adichie, C.N. (2014) We Should All Be Feminists. London: 4th Estate.
Ashton, T. S., and Sykes, J. (1967). The Coal Industry of the Eighteenth Century. 2nd ed. New York: A. M. Kelley.
Canetti, E. (1962) Crowds and Power. London: Gollancz.
Chomsky, N (1999) Profit over People. New York: Seven Story Press.
Davis, A. (1981) Women, Race, and Class. London: Penguin.
DeBeauvoir, S. (1949) The Second Sex. London: Vintage.
[DDN] Double Down News (2020) Black Lives Matter & The Question of Violence | Gary Younge. YouTube [online].
Forbidden Britain (1994) Riots Episode 3 [via YouTube]. London: BBC 2.
Frankenberg, R. (1993) White Women, Race Matters. MI: University Press.
Friedan, B (1963) The Feminine Mystique. London: Penguin.
hooks, b (1991) All About Love: New Vision. London: HarperCollins.
Hutchinson, J. (1975) Some aspects of football crowds before 1914. In. The Working Class. University of Sussex Conference Report.
Jenkinson, J (1996) The 1919 Riots. In: Panayi, P (ed) Racial Violence in Britain in the Nineteenth and Twentieth Centuries. Leicester: University Press, pp. 92-111.
Le Bon, G (1896) The Crowd: A Study of the Popular Mind. London: T. Fisher Unwin.
Marx, K and Engels, F. (1848/1967) The Communist Manifesto. London: Penguin.
Smelser, N. (1962/2011) Theories of Collective Behaviour. New Orleans, LA: Quid Pro.
Storch, R.D. (1975) The Plague of the Blue Locusts: Police Reform and Popular Resistance in Northern England, 1840–57. International Review of Social History, 20 (1), pp.61-90
Tom Nicholas (2020) Whiteness: WTF? White Privilege and the Invisible Race. YouTube.
Tre Ventour Ed. (2021) 22 Yards of Whiteness: ‘You Don’t Have to be Posh to be Privileged’. YouTube.
Vasili, P. (2010) Walter Tull, (1888-1918), Officer, Footballer: All the Guns in France Couldn’t Wake Me. London: Raw.
Ware, V. (1992/2015) Beyond the Pale: White Women, Racism, and History. London: Verso.
My favourite TV show - my favourite television series at the moment (since 2016) is The Hollow Crown, the BBC's adaptation of Shakespeare's history plays. It's an unparalleled television experience that makes Game of Thrones look like a garden party. My favourite place to go - I spend most Saturdays at the cinema, enjoying the art of storytelling. Film to me is what life is about. The person that doesn't engage in stories only lives one life. The person that reads, watches, writes, lives many. My favourite city - I don't feel that I'm at all that well-travelled and compared to my academic friends, I feel like I've lived in a bubble. From the few places I have been, I don't think I can choose just one. Mississauga, Canada (2018) was marvellous. I also grew up visiting my paternal family in Birmingham. I love Birmingham, it's like London without all the faffing about. My favourite thing to do in my free time - I live for films. I love watching old films, specifically films released pre-1970 where many were filmed in monochrome. I spend a lot of time at the cinema, even going to special event screenings of old films. My favourite athlete/sports personality - again, I'm an old soul. I don't think I can choose just one, so I would have to go for the iconic West Indies cricket team of 1980/81 that left Botham's England in the dirt. WI 5 - ENG 0. My favourite actor - Despite him doing some absolute oddballs these last few years, Robert DeNiro is still my favourite actor, being in some of the best films ever made, incl. The Godfather Part II, Once Upon a Time in America, Heat, Goodfellas and more. My favourite author - until recently my favourite author was Kathryn Stockett (The Help). However, I've come to reflect on the problematicness of this book. I think I would have to choose the late Andrea Levy who was voice to a whole generation of Black British Caribbeans through books like Small Island and Every Light in the House Burnin'. Truly a marvel who gave a voice to the Black British working-class and an inspiration to me as well. My favourite drink - It's been called an old man's drink but I'm an absolute sucker for a pint of IPA. If we were to go to the supermarket, I would go for Goose or Greene King. I guess it shows I have been spending too much time with my grandfather! My favourite food - curry goat, rice and peas with mac n cheese. Nothing else comes remotely close. It's the dish I grew up with. My favourite place to eat - Grandma's House. See above^^^ I like people who - who don't accept things at face value. Challenge themselves and their establishment. Ask the difficult questions and don't roll over. Many of my friends are activists and it shows, either through their writing as artists or taking it to the streets at anti-Brexit protests (for example). I don’t like it when people - claim to be authorities on things they know nothing about. Stop stroking your ego and step back. It's okay to say "I don't know enough about this to comment." I would actually think more of people if they did this. My favourite book - one of my favourite reads in the last few years is Carrie Pilby by Canadian novelist Caren Lissner. A charming young adult fiction story about a young woman trying to find her way in a world that doesn't relate to her. My favourite book character - I don't read enough fiction to answer this question genuinely. Recently, I'm inclined to go with Jaime Lannister from George R. R. Martin's A Song of Ice and Fire the series of books that went on to "loosely inspire" the American HBO television series Game of Thrones (2011 - 2019). My favourite film - Midnight in Paris, about an American writer stuck in what's called "Golden Age Thinking", the idea that a different time period is better than one you are living - and I don't think there's a person living that hasn't had this thought. However, when I do look to history, I think this is the best time to be people of colour; a woman; lesbian, gay, bi or trans; less able-bodied; the further back in history you look, the worse it looks for people who are not able-bodied White, straight men. My favourite poem - In recent years, I found Button Poetry where I was introduced to Canadian poet Sabrina Benaim. Her poem 'Explaining Depression to My Mother: A Conversation' struck a chord and continues to strike a chord to this day. My favourite artist/band - Bob Marley. If he had lived he would have been Prime Minister of Jamaica. Writer, artist, poet political activist, revolutionary. Legend. If he lived today, he would be standing alongside Jeremy Corbyn, Bernie Sanders and Alexandra Ocasio-Cortez in solidarity. And as we fight COVID-19, I'm sure he'd have something to say! Every song is mega, and Natty Dread (1974) is one of the best albums ever made. My favourite song - London Bridge (1980) by The Mighty Sparrow is certainly one of my favourite. Written in time of of unrest in England, this is a commentary on English history and society. What's more, this is calypso music from my maternal grandparents' country, Grenada. Caribbean music is battlefield music and The Mighty Sparrow is one of our countrymen sticking it to our former-colonial masters in a way that's jovial and lively. My favourite art - I'm partial to Vincent van Gogh's Sunflowers. Its stillness reminds me the world isn't all fast-paced and sometimes we have to take a moment to reflect. My favourite person from history - one of my favourite historical figures is Black mixed-race footballer-turned-soldier Walter Tull. It is safe to say I would not be where I am had it not been for Walter Tull. He is a testament to what can be achieved, irrespective of hostile environments. Moreover, not only is he a testament to all men but is a role model to Black men in 2020. Not only was he one of the first Black footballers in England, he was the first Black officer in the British Army at a time when it was illegal for "men of non-European descent" to lead White men. Walter is part of Black history, Northampton history, but above of all, my history and I am extremely proud of that.