Yes, Black Lives Still Matter

by | Dec 6, 2020

Here we go again, then, and it couldn’t even last until kick-off on the first Saturday that supporters were allowed back into matches. Millwall and Derby County players took the knee in support of Black Lives Matter before the start of yesterday’s match at The Den, just as they have done fairly routinely over the last few months, only for this particular moment to be filled by Millwall supporters living down to everybody’s preconceptions of them.

On the one hand, and with the clarity of thought that only hindsight can offer, it feels like something of an oversight that this subject didn’t seem to be addressed anywhere when it was first confirmed that supporters would be allowed back into matches. Such was the excitement at the prospect of this happening that no-one seems to have paused to consider what would happen when players took the knee in support of Black Lives Matter in front of crowds. If they did, we can only presume that the prognosis for what they thought would happen when players took the knee before matches in front of fans was wildly optimistic, considering the political atmosphere in this country of the last ten years or so.

None of this means that players shouldn’t be taking the knew before matches, of course, or excuses what happened at The Den yesterday afternoon. There has been considerable flimflam swirling around social media from apologists for racism on this subject, though, so let’s take a moment to consider where their arguments are coming from. Black Lives Matter originated in the United States of America  in response to the 2013 acquittal of George Zimmerman, a neighbourhood watch volunteer who fatally shot Trayvon Martin, an unarmed black teenager, in Florida.

It is true to say that one of its three co-founders declared that she and another co-founder were “trained Marxists” in an 2015 interview, but even this warrants further examination. How one becomes a “trained Marxist” is just about anybody’s guess, considering that Marxism is a social, political and economic theory rather than an obscure sub-division of the Territorial Army, but that hasn’t stopped those who would seek to discredit any anti-racist message from seeking to discredit it. As the writer Femi Oluwole previously told a shrieking Carole Malone on Jeremy Vine’s daily Channel Five show, “the arguments pushing to make this about the organisation are designed to weaken the push for racial equality.”

Since 2015, of course, much has changed, and the murder of George Floyd by a police officer leaning on his neck and suffocating him in Minneapolis in May this year, all captured on video and spread far and wide, resulted in an explosion of protest across the USA and subsequently the world. BLM may have been founded by people who self-identified as Marxists, but support for it has spread far and wide, and it is fundamentally absurd to presume that a movement of this nature would remain the same over time. There’s a case for saying that taking the knee every week has diluted the power of the message but this, of course, is a different matter to seeking to discredit anti-racist initiatives.

The “BLM = Marxism” trope began on the political far right in America, with comments from the likes of Donald Trump and Rudy Giuliani, and it doesn’t take an incredible imagination to understand the reason for this. As Miriyam Aouragh, a lecturer at the Westminster School of Media and Communication, told PolitiFact when they were trying to explain where this particular trope came from, “I am fairly convinced these are mostly attempts to smear anti-racist activists. I think in some media, ‘Marxist’ is dog-whistle for something horrible, like ‘Nazi’, and thus enables to delegitimize or dehumanize them.”

And its inherent absurdity is clear, upon the slightest inspection. For example, the FA, the Premier League, the EFL and Sky Sports – amongst many, many others – have been fully on board with this initiative. Is there a serious argument that these are “Marxist” organisations? Well, of course not, because the entire “counter-argument” is just a dog-whistle. In this context, “Marxist” has become another piece of far-right shorthand for “that thing you don’t like”, and in this case the thing that people didn’t like was demonstrating support for anti-racism. And that, whether the naysayers like it or not, is precisely how most of us are viewing them, this morning.

Amongst those naysayers this morning was the government minister George Eustice, betraying his origins within UKIP through equivocation. He told Sky’s Sophie Ridge on Sunday this morning that, “If people want to express their view in any particular way, that should always be respected”, all of which suggests that he has no issue whatsoever with people booing anti-racism, but there is a choice to be made, here.

You could listen to the thousands of writers of colour who have been trying to raise consciousness of the extent of racism in this country for years and years, both inside football and out, or you could listen to the Penzance-born MP for that well known racial melting pot, Camborne & Redruth. Your choice. We’ll just leave it at this: with his stupid and thoughtless comments this morning, George Eustice has undermined years of hard work to try and fight racism within the game, and to such a point that it’s entirely plausible that it was his intention to do so. Straight out the Trump playbook.

Meanwhile, it took the club itself until the middle of this morning before releasing a statement on the matter, and it was a somewhat surprising to see that they made no specific reference to what, exactly, had happened, and no reference whatsoever to banning those who were involved in this. There were only 2,000 people inside the ground and all of them were season ticket holders. Identifying and banning those involved at this time would be about as easy as identifying and banning people could be, and if Millwall fail to do this, their self-image as a club with a decent record on community involvement and anti-racism initiatives will be damaged. And if racists feel sufficiently emboldened to behave in such a way even when they’re so easily identifiable, it doesn’t really say much for the success of the club’s previous anti-racist actions, does it?

After the match, Millwall manager Gary Rowett said that, “The players have released a statement together and said they don’t support it [taking the knee] as a political message”, a statement which can easily be mis-represented, as I just did by leaving the words “but support anti-discrimination” off the end of his sentence. See? That’s how easy it is to twist the truth should you wish to, and it’s why anybody in the public eye has to be unequivocal when discussing this subject – they’ll twist your words and use them against you if they possibly can.

But it is worth remembering that The Den was not the only place where this booing was audible yesterday. It was also  heard at both West Ham United and Colchester United, as well, while Burnley supporters felt so strongly about it that they paid a considerable amount of money to pay a plane to fly over Turf Moor prior to their match against Manchester City last season in order to explicitly say it. This sort of racism is not unique to Millwall. It’s everywhere, at the moment.

For white people, of course, this is an abstract conversation. For all the “we’re the real victims here” caterwauling of the far right, white people are exceptionally infrequently the victims of racial prejudice or profiling, and never the victims of structural of systemic racism. For people of colour, though, this simply isn’t the case. With that in mind, you probably shouldn’t be reading the words of this white, middle-aged nobody and focus instead on the instead words of current Millwall player Mahlon Romeo, who gave his thoughts on yesterday’s incident last night in an interview with the South London Press. Try telling him to his face that racism is a shibboleth, a figment of people’s imagination.

Today’s game, to me now, has become irrelevant. The fans have been let back in – which the whole team was looking forward to. But in society there is a problem – and that problem is racism.

The fans who have been let in today have personally disrespected not just me but the football club. And what the football club and the community stand for. What they’ve done is booed and condemned a peaceful gesture which was put in place to highlight, combat and stop any discriminatory behavior and racism. That’s it – that’s all that gesture is.

And the fans have chosen to boo that, which for the life of me I can’t understand. It has offended me and everyone who works for this club – the players and the staff.

I’m speaking on behalf of myself here – not any of the other players – I want to make that very clear. This is the first time I feel disrespected. Because you have booed and condemned a peaceful gesture which – and it needs repeating – was put in place to highlight, combat and tackle any discriminatory behavior and racism in general.

I’m almost lost for words. I don’t know how they thought that would make me feel. I don’t know what they thought taking a knee stood for. But I think I’ve explained it simply enough. I feel really low – probably the lowest I’ve felt in my time at this club.

It’s something I can’t wrap my head around. People will have their beliefs and views, which everyone is entitled to. I’m not trying to stop or contain – but if your beliefs and views oppose a positive change in society then don’t come to a football ground and spread them around.

If it’s negative, don’t think you can come to a football ground and this is the place where you can spread hatred essentially.

We can’t do it forever and we’ve spoken as players about it and with the people upstairs. There was a statement put out by Millwall – we’re going to take it until the end of the year.

We’ll start the year afresh and when we do that there will be things afresh which will combat racism and any discriminatory behaviour and will be positive change – not just for the football club, but for society.

I’m here with Paul and Dean from the community, and I’ve seen first hand their work – I’ve been a part of it plenty of times. All the good work they do in the community has really been undone and attacked with what some fans have done today.

A lot of people don’t know and appreciate how much Millwall do and have done in the community. It’s a lot, more than most other clubs. It’s vital for this community. Today fans have come here and basically fucked it off.

Any time I come to play football I always give it 100 per cent. Especially playing for Millwall, it’s a club where you have to give 100 per cent if you’re coming on or your name is in the starting team.

I’ve been here a long time now and I’ve grown up here, not just as a player but as a person. There’s been times when mentally maybe I didn’t have to play. As an example – I’m not looking for sympathy so don’t get me wrong – I buried one of my closest friends who also used to play for Millwall and then I came to play a game and the gaffer said if I wanted to get my head straight that option was always there. But I chose to because I wanted to play. Because I wanted to give 100 per cent.

Even now I know there are a lot of players injured and even myself, I’m taking local anaesthetics to play in games and give 100 per cent.

When fans are booing a peaceful gesture to highlight racism, it naturally makes you ask yourself ‘why am I putting myself through this?’ I’m sure not all Millwall fans share the same opinion – it’s a small collection. But if we’re being realistic it made me feel very small and it made me feel personally disrespected.