Listening to the radio and reading the press it’s clear that many hold the view that racism is racism, it’s either black or it’s white and you’re either a racist or you’re not. Extrapolating this argument John Terry, now found guilty by the FA of racism, should face the ultimate sentence to clearly broadcast the FA’s sincerity and conviction to stamp racism out of football once and for all. I’m not quite sure what this ultimate sentence should be but the noises the journalists and some players are making is that it should be longer than Saurez’s eight weeks and, according to Joey Barton, in excess of twelve weeks because calling Anton Ferdinand a black c*** is far worse than serial GBH.
In my opinion you can’t apply the pregnancy test to racism, where you’re either pregnant or not pregnant but can’t be a little bit pregnant. There are at least 50 shades of racism ranging from the extremes of slavery and apartheid at one end of the scale and calling someone a black c***, in a particular context, at the other end of the scale.
The context is particularly important. I’ve heard it mentioned that this type of language is completely unacceptable in the workplace and, as journalists like to put an industrial slant on football by stating players ‘put in a good shift’, professional sport is a workplace. In the context of a business like a supermarket, if the store manager during the regular six monthly appraisal of an employee used the words “I’m totally dissatisfied with the way you stack the shelves you black c***”, clearly this is gross misconduct and, after the appropriate procedures have been followed, the store manager should be sacked and frogmarched out of the building.
In the context of a football match you have big, hefty blokes kicking lumps out of each other and during the heat of the battle each making reference to skin colour, hair colour, weight and in the case of Ferdinand, Terry’s sexual past. In this context I would classify “black c***” not as racism but instead abusive language. This is not abusive language I would use or want to hear on the streets, in my workplace or from the mouths of my kids but I’m not bothered about it being used on the pitch, provided it’s not publicly broadcast.
Additionally you need to consider the context of the victim. Ferdinand is no shrinking violet but grew up on the tough streets of Peckham and I find it implausible that he felt hurt or distress as he and Terry traded insults. If Terry had directed the phrase “black c***” at some innocent black bystander then that would obviously be several shades of grey further up the scale.
Based on the FA’s decision of guilty no doubt opposing fans will feel that chanting abuse at Terry is now legitimate. But does this verdict make Terry a racist? Recently I was in Monaco watching the European Super Cup and I was sitting in the VIP area near UEFA dignitaries and players’ families. Now before you start thinking I must be some privileged toff to be in the VIP zone please let me assure you that I take my bike out through the side entrance, I know nothing about the Magna Carta except where it was signed (at the bottom) and that I’m a regular season ticket holder and bought normal tickets at the B price point. My seating area allocation is still a mystery to me. Anyhow just a few minutes before kick-off the players that weren’t in the squad made their way into the stand via a gate in the pitch barrier. Included in this group was Terry who, prior to joining his team-mates, made his way to the seat immediately in front of me and embraced this black chap, said a few words and then returned to his seat. Being a cynical sort my first reaction was that Terry was going to the first black person he could find, hugging him and hoping that this public display would confirm to the world at large that he’s not a racist. At half time I made conversation with the black chap, spent most of the time discussing our team’s appalling performance but also discovered that he lives and works in Cannes and is a friend of Terry. If Terry is a racist why would he have black friends (including the Ferdinands I believe prior to this saga) and embrace his black friend in public?
Finally the media are asking what action will Chelsea take against Terry because the club has a zero tolerance policy on racism. Well it’s an unusual situation in that the club can pick and choose from a choice of verdicts. I think the club statement will read something like “We are faced with two verdicts, one guilty and one not guilty. After much careful thought, consideration and deliberation comparing the verdict reached by the trained and qualified judge in a court of law using the legal process that has evolved over 800 years and been adopted by many countries worldwide, versus the verdict reached by the kangaroo court comprising anonymous, incompetent bigots with partisan interests, we have decided no further action against John Terry is required.”