This Culture of Racism is not Cricket

Yorkshire Cricket at Scarborough – geograph.org.uk

I see Yorkshire County Cricket Club and the England and Wales Cricket Board are making headlines for a culture of racism that continues unabashed. We have multiple Asian and Black cricketers dehumanised and degraded, racist slurs casually used and racist action over a number of years. I actively resist the temptation to veer into flippant comment, as I see the inevitable hordes of criticism of the Asian player. Do I succeed? I’m not too sure. You be the judge.

White cricket players  and coaches habitually anointed Asian and Black players ‘Kevin’. This happened for years but apparently it was ‘banter’. It isn’t close to the worst behaviour. I will save you that.

I’m sure someone will read this, amused, and say these ethnic minorities, they just can’t take a joke. Aside from the fact that ethnic minorities cannot be lumped together, the common denominator in racism is racism itself. It normalises behaviour which dehumanises and perpetuates itself. These are symptoms of institutional and systemic racism.

I’ve seen so many news articles where the focus is on the men who engaged in racist language and actions. These pieces are sympathetic towards the perpetrators, focusing on them rather than on those bullied and targeted. I see no reference to the research evidencing the different far-ranging ways in which racism harms.

People were targeted not because of who they were but because they were not white and this was and remains acceptable. Is it uncomfortable to bring the focus to the hurt and harm this causes to the people targeted? The way it marginalises? The power dynamics that it creates that equate Asian and Black people with a dog? I’m quite sure it is. It is for me too.

Azeem Rafiq has described continuing to be failed at every point over and over on reporting his experience. We are now watching this happen much more publicly. This is again all too familiar too and not limited to cricket or sports. There is a higher standard for the Azeem Rafiqs and any other Black or Asian figure who speaks on racism and this distracts from actually changing things for the better.

Azeem Rafiq summed it up when he said:

“The lack of diversity demonstrates just how racism thrives across societal institutions; it’s about power, dominance and how it’s used to disadvantage those of us who look different.”

Azeem Rafiq has emotionally detailed some of his difficult racist and Islamophobic experiences to the parliamentary Digital, Culture, Media and Sport Select Committee and on social media. Common responses include: “How dare he?”, “He should be grateful he had the opportunity”.  And apparently he wasn’t “good enough”.

What would it take for Azeem Rafiq to be considered ‘good enough’ and worthy of the sympathy and empathy his fellow cricketers and other colleagues so casually continue to receive here? It is far from only Rafiq but many others who suffer thus, in and outside cricket, starting as children. They encounter problems as soon as they speak of their experiences.

I notice a column describing Azeem Rafiq as courageous and a hero. I’m not sure that is what Azeem Rafiq or others seek. A hero tag is inadequate and dehumanises in its expectation of perfection. Hero tags didn’t work out very well for the NHS and other care workers either. ‘Hero’ is a label loaded with  its own dehumanising, especially when it doesn’t mean change and better. Why is Azeem Rafiq going through all this? No, it’s not for money, fame or prestige. It is a costly and painful process: to be heard, because he has to and for some kind of justice. For the children, young men going through these systems now and in future. He will carry this pain even as he works to move forward, as will his family.

Apparently, there has to be someone to blame and for too many the only, somewhat comfortable, choice is one of the victims and in this case it’s Azeem Rafiq. By fighting for justice, he is labelled not only as ‘Kevin’ but as the problem. For many, the others who raised concerns are not worthy of attention now they have made Azeem Rafiq a trouble-making scapegoat.

A friend commented:

“This is appalling – and I think we’re only seeing the start of this. How can anyone regard this level of abuse as ‘banter’?’”.

I can think of few Asian people or Black people for whom this will be a surprise or unfamiliar. It is of course difficult for any ‘racialised’ person to speak on experiences of racism as they typically come with worse maltreatment. I say ‘racialised’ because we are talking about people who have been marginalised and seen only through harmful hierachical attitudes on race. People not truly visible, only vague outlines to be ‘othered’, seen as different in a way that means ‘less’.

These are familiar experiences and stories. Too many won’t speak on these, especially to a white person because of the very familiar tendency to minimise. Yes, including those well-intentioned people who consider themselves allies. Someone will always get angry and defensive or reference a non-existent ‘race card’ as though there is a power in being racially marginalised, despite all evidence to the contrary.

The norms of racism, institutional and systemic racism, are widespread and changing them takes effort. Of course, if you don’t experience racism, it is easier to deny and minimise  given it is a widespread norm. This is true of other marginalising experiences too. If you don’t experience sexism or homophobia, you are less likely to believe accounts of such experience. It is uncomfortable to accept and easier to lash out. We have most of us experienced some unfair treatment at some point, think of that and it dialled up and pause. Be human. Show heart. Break the cycle. This isn’t blame or shame but about the hurt created by doing anything else.


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