Another day, another racist incident in football, another hashtag, another batch of allegedly concerned people who are going to do precisely nothing about it.
In the latest incident of racism in football, Athletic Club forward Iñaki Williams says that he was racially abused during a match at Espanyol. A number of things happened, including MARCA coming up with a “Enough” headline, and somewhere, somehow, the hashtag #todossomosInaki popped up. The head of LFP, Javier Tebas, has said enough, as well. And all of that put together, just like with all of the other incidents that have predated this one, will amount to nothing, because the people with the power to solve the problems don’t really care. Yes, they care about the appearance of caring, which matters in the meaningless way of gestures. But white people talking about racism is usually designed to make white people feel better. It doesn’t do anything to fix anything at all.
The Camp Nou has had its racist incidents. There was also a row in which Sergio Busquets stood accused by Marcelo of calling him a monkey. Lip readers were brought in, lots of bandwidth expended to no conclusion. Umtiti claimed that he was racially abused, and the offending player didn’t admit it, but said in essence what happens on the pitch, stays on the pitch. Racism is part of football. It exists in a way that black players worry about, in a way that affects their transfer decisions, in a way that hurts their souls and steals their humanity. Even the most well-intentioned white person has absolutely no idea what that is like.
Being attacked for what you are is the worst kind of powerlessness. If someone calls you an asshole, you can resolve to stop being an asshole. When someone makes monkey chants at you, there are lots of options, none manageable. Though it’s easy to suppose that racists would say you can solve the problem by going away from wherever they are. Because racists aren’t going anywhere. Racism can’t be fixed, like something broken. There are incidents where a child learns racism, then goes out into the world and discovers that what they have learned is wrong. There have to be. But usually, a racist learns it, learns that it works, teaches everyone they can to be racist, and stays racist. And racists go to football matches, in every league in the world. And as we already know, they act out. And we are appalled. And we talk about it. And nothing happens until the next incident, and the process is repeated.
The fundamental problem with racism in football and how the game tries to deal with it is that the people with the power to find a way to resolve it won’t, becuase there’s money involved. Racists buy season tickets, and shirts. Racists travel, and fill the coffers of clubs. Racists bring money to the game. But the people who suffer from racism are essentially powerless. Yes, they could walk off the pitch. That would make the racists happy, though. So it’s a win for them.
What if the whole team walked off? Well, you find me a team that has enough solidarity for that to happen. Teams are collections of mercenaries, drawn together by money, even more than the opportunity for success. Where is the room for humanity in getting paid? Teams bond in training, but how close are they, really? Clearly not close enough for the players to feel the kind of bond that makes their support of a black teammate unwavering, because teams never walk off when a teammate is abused. Athletic Club didn’t. So the player has to put up with it. What are his options? Where is his agency?
That hashtag should have been #todossomosracist because that’s essentially what is happening in a structure that accepts and tolerates racism. In one incident in Italy, and not for the first time, an ultras group claimed to not REALLY be racist, that they were just using monkey chants as a way of banter. Boy, what fun. Racists do what they. People sitting nearby don’t do anything. Officials hear it, and either pretend not to or just don’t do anything about it. There are protocols in place to deal with incidents, but they are never followed. Why? Money. Can’t risk offending a racist and their money.
You aren’t going to ever “fix” racism in football. If the 438 armband, t-shirt, banner, slogan, whatthehellever efforts haven’t “fixed” it, what makes anyone think this latest one will? At least my hashtag would call it like it was. Because standing by equals assent, verging on complicity. So the hashtag works. The game should embrace it.
We will know the game is interested in resolving matters when it takes steps to deal with it. Zero tolerance would be a good start. When there is an incident, and it is reported to the ref, the match is stopped and the pitch cleared. Done.
“But why should the good people suffer because of a few bad ones? I saved up to take a vacation to see this team, and now the match is over because a dozen ultras made monkey chants? How does that help me?” It doesn’t. It doesn’t care about you, just like racists don’t care about their targets, like the game doesn’t care about their targets. But it does empower matchgoers. If they don’t want the match to stop, don’t want to see their money wasted, it puts the onus on them to enforce a rule.
On my daily train line, there are designated Quiet Cars. No mobile use allowed, and conversations are discouraged. The signage is clear, but the responsibility for enforcement rests upon the users of the Quiet Cars. And they do. Regularly and with varying degrees of fervor. When people have something at stake, even something as simple as blather-free tranquility, they can band together. Why wouldn’t this work with racist behavior? In a stadium that contains tens of thousands of people, what is the impetus for them to want to preserve the thing they love in the face of a comparative few people? With nothing at stake, nothing happens.
Someone starts a racist chant, and people look over at them, many probably shake their heads and think, “What a shame.” But nothing happens, because there’s nothing at stake for them. The match goes on, their team maybe wins, then food and drink after the match. Yay for us! Too often, true empathy is impossible. #todossomosInaki is bullshit, because it’s an impossibility. True empathy means that you can understand, feel what someone else is feeling because you understand that position.
Football doesn’t have empathy. It can’t. And it won’t do anything about racism (hashtags and banners don’t do anything) until it costs money. Games stop, people stop coming to games because they don’t want to risk having their ticket money wasted. Racism has to be expensive. Right now it costs nothing, except to the people whose humanity was taken. Until that changes, nothing will.