Usually something ending in ‘ism’ spells trouble. It’s a trio of letters that often indicates some flaw in the human psyche. Racism, sexism, and tribalism are all negative traits while Trumpism is a collection of all three covered in a mop of hair, wearing a baggy suit while tweeting at 3am in between lines of sniff.
Recently one word that’s become just as hated as any of the previously mentioned nouns, is the term ‘multiculturalism’ which is now blamed for everything wrong with the world, especially Britain. The reason you can’t get a job, why the England football team has been shite for almost 60 years and why the John Lewis advert doesn’t feature perfect examples of Aryan supremacy, is all down to multiculturalism. It’s not just because you’re thick and lazy, or that England’s football managers’ have been morons and Aryans are about as indigenous to Britain as Aborigines.
Even when it comes to football, which historically has pushed the boundaries of diversity, we seem to have taken a collective step back. Rather than embracing the fact we’ve now got a mixture of some of the most talented players on the planet from all kinds of backgrounds, we seem hell bent on making it a cause celebre rather than a cause of celebration.
Earlier this season, as United swept all before them in an attacking Blitzkrieg, much of the talk and indeed praise centred around the fact all of the Reds’ goal scorers were the colour that gives Daily Mail readers nightmares almost every night. Terms such as ‘Man Dem United’ and ‘Blackchester United’ were bandied about with cheerful arrogance as fans, both white and black alike, rejoiced in the fact the Reds were becoming the Blacks when it came to the colour of our goal scorers.
It was all light-hearted, it was all joyous and good-natured right? After all what’s wrong with celebrating a bit of black pride? Well, in the words of Edwin Starr, absolutely nothin’, but this rejoicing in all things a shade darker descended into something a little less celebratory and a tad more cringeworthy, as chants echoed around the stadium that would be better served at a Jim Davidson gig, preferably with a dose of anthrax.
The Romelu Lukaku chant debate has been put to bed, so I won’t reopen old wounds. Suffice to say, the one positive to come out of it all was a conversation about how even seemingly complimentary racial stereotypes can still be uncalled for and harmful. To be fair, Lukaku wasn’t the first United player to suffer from lazy stereotyping when it came to a chant in his ‘honour’ and, in some ways, was arguably less offensive than ones some of his predecessors had been forced to endure.
Let’s not forget, for the best part of a decade, Ji Sung Park was reminded on a regular basis that his countrymen ate dogs, while I’m sure Shinji Kagawa found it hilarious to hear his name sung as part of a song referencing a war which wiped out millions of his fellow Japanese.
Anyway, lessons learned, following the Lukaku debacle, let’s move on.
The other major issue with the race to make United’s success about, well, race, was that it was less about inclusivity and embracing the idea of a true multicultural team and more about singling out the black players for praise and reminding the world with each Marcus Rashford, Anthony Martial, Paul Pogba and Romelu Lukaku strike that yet again, the brothers had struck, it quickly descended into a parody of the very thing most of us despise.
Yes, it’s great to see black players so prominently feature in the United side, but it’s equally great to see a Serbian, an Armenian and several Spaniards. The problem is when you start singling out the black players for the success of the side, once that success turns to failure it’s often the same players who become the target for everyone’s ire. What goes up must come down with it, my brother, and that’s exactly what we’re seeing signs of now.
My good friend @Black_Gatsby called it on Twitter the other day when he predicted it wouldn’t be long before the criticism on social media towards Lukaku’s lack of goals became racist and, lo and behold, albeit by a very small element of pond life, it has done.
It’s not all been divisive though. We’ve finally started having important conversations about how we commentate – not to mention chant of course – on black players, and how anatomy needn’t been the focus when speaking about a player from a minority background. Pogba isn’t just ‘athletic and quick’, he’s also extremely gifted, while Lukaku and Eric Bailly aren’t just ‘beasts’ they’re talented footballers who’ve risen to the pinnacle of their profession based on ability not just physicality.
If we’re going to rejoice in the fact the team is being a fair reflection of the club’s global fanbase then let’s do that, after all there’s nothing wrong with acknowledging players from our own background have reached the very heights we all dream of. But a step in the direction of being a bit more ‘United’ could be progressivism – and that may not be such a bad thing.