Former Liverpool star John Barnes says society is to blame for racism problem that football just can't shiftJohn Barnes, the former England international who endured racist abuse during his distinguished career, admits he is “not surprised’’ by the latest ugly incidents because football reflects a society taking time to shed ingrained prejudices.By Henry Winter, 18 Nov 2011http://www.telegraph.co.uk/sport/footba ... shift.html
“I’m not condoning what Sepp Blatter has said or John Terry, if he’s proven to be guilty,’’ Barnes said. “I think Blatter should resign over many things, and this is just one. But those thoughts are based on stereotypical views drummed into us over a long period of time. People have been told for 400 years since slavery that black people aren’t as intelligent as white. White players always said to me: ‘You can call me ‘a white so and so’, I don’t mind’. But that’s because society has indoctrinated us over the past 400 years to think that that’s like saying ‘you handsome so and so’. That’s why white players aren’t offended. They’re empowered. Black people aren’t empowered; 99 per cent of black individuals would be offended being called ‘a black so and so’ because we’ve had 400 years of being dehumanised.”
“We don’t know whether the allegations about John Terry and Luis Suárez are true. What we do know is that it’s happened before. The words they are alleged to have said have been said in the past year but it hasn’t been reported. Now and then there’s an incident and people are surprised. I’m not. I know it’s there. Any black player knows this. We’ve played against players, got into an altercation, looked him in the eye, he’s not said anything, but you know he’s thinking “you black ----’. He wants to say it but doesn’t because he knows he’ll get into trouble. That happens very often. When I played they actually said it. They called me n----- to my face. It happened in training, in matches. Any black player of my generation had it. In 1984 with England in Brazil, I had it with the National Front.”
Four years later, the then Liverpool winger was targeted by Everton fans at Goodison Park. “I had bananas thrown at me and monkey chants at West Ham and Millwall five years before that Everton game but because it was a high-profile match everyone took notice. It had been going on for ages. There wasn’t a game in the Eighties when you didn’t get racial abuse as a black player. I got racist abuse at Liverpool when I played for Watford. Then I played for Liverpool and didn’t get it. If I had played for Everton against Liverpool then maybe the Liverpool fans would have racially abused me. A lot of people are jumping on the bandwagon now about Blatter, saying he’s wrong – and he is. But if you want to have a South African-style Truth and Reconciliation Commission, get in every manager and player who is over 40 and ask them: ‘Say you have never used the N-word?’ Most won’t be able to. Much more than 75 per cent of people back then in the Eighties would have.”
“But people could not get under my skin. I’m a middle-class Jamaican boy and where I was brought up in Jamaica [in a wealthy military household] I was not meant to feel second-class. If I was brought up in England, I’d possibly see things differently. Ian Wright dealt with racism differently to how I did. Racism’s still a big problem in football. Racism can be invisible. How many black managers in England are there? Two. Black managers are given very short periods of time because people don’t believe they are up to the job. That’s racism. It’s not just a white thing. Look at the hierarchy of black African football who believe European coaches are better than black African. They treat black coaches with disdain. There’s this black dynamic of not feeling good enough.”
“We are all racist to a certain extent. We all make presumptions about other people based on their colour, culture or ethnicity in variable degrees. We judge people even on their accents. When Eric Cantona said what he said about trawlers and seagulls, he’s a philosopher because of the French accent. It sounds intelligent. If Paul Merson said it in his Cockney accent, we’d say he was talking rubbish. Race, for me, should be social and cultural, rather than the colour of your skin. Anton Ferdinand would have more in common with John Terry than he does with some West African from Nigeria. John Terry will have more in common with Anton Ferdinand than a Slav from Eastern Europe who happens to be white. Racism is such a complex subject.”
So what’s the way ahead? “Football can do nothing about getting rid of racism. Society has to [do it], through education and people understanding why they feel the way they do. Prejudice is a problem all over the world. I’m surprised when I see black people in the higher echelons of society. I know the most powerful man in the world is black [Barack Obama] but 400 years of indoctrination into thinking about a group of people as inferior is not going to change overnight. There was the human rights movement in the 1960s and yet 20 years ago we were still being racially abused – and it was accepted.”
Now 48, Barnes does see hope for the future. “My children don’t get racially abused. There’s a new British culture; those from 10 to 25 now identify with each other, whether black, white, Indian, Chinese. Black kids once upon a time would hold on to their West Indian or African identity because of their parents. Black kids now are British. Indian girls are wearing miniskirts and going out dancing. White kids are listening to black music. We are going through a transitional period.’’ Leaving the unreconstructed likes of Blatter behind.