Among the barrage of “niggers”, monkey emojis and “go back to Africa” slurs, this breed of abuse is nothing new in a country that vehemently denies being racist. The vitriol comes as no surprise when Boris Johnson, our own Prime Minister, has called Black people “piccaninnies” with “watermelon smiles”.
Johnson initially refused to condemn fans that booed players for taking the knee to highlight racial inequality and discrimination, as his spokesperson said he was “more focused on action than gestures”. And yet, the morning after the match, Johnson tweeted that the “England team deserve to be lauded as heroes, not racially abused on social media. Those responsible for this appalling abuse should be ashamed of themselves”.
Prince William also tweeted that he is “sickened by the racist abuse aimed at England players after last night’s match”and that “it is totally unacceptable that players have to endure this abhorrent behaviour”.
Interestingly, however, he made no such public statement when the Duke and Duchess of Sussex accused members of the Royal Family of making racially-fuelled comments. It is a resplendent reminder of the echo chamber within social media and that real allyship and activism starts with uncomfortable conversations at family dinner tables rather than posting arbitrary Black squares and sharing the outcry-du-jour on Instagram stories.
Black football players have the duality of being expected to sing the national anthem to celebrate Queen and country, and shortly after take the knee in a symbolic gesture against racism. The irony that colonisation initiated by this country is the perpetrator of racial injustice is a reminder that to simply survive in this country as a Black person is to be well-versed in cognitive dissonance. We live at the conflicting juncture of being Black, but also being British.
To state the obvious, not all white people are racist but to quote the famous American essayist and activist James Baldwin, “I don’t know what most white people in this country feel but I can only conclude what they feel from the state of their institutions.”