When I was a kid I used to watch a programme called ‘America’s Top Ten’
I was a music buff. I had a fascination with the charts, how many records were sold, and how long these chunks of vinyl stayed popular. It was natural that one day it would become my job.
The programme used to be on ridiculously late at night, so I would tape it on our battered VHS…and watch it when I got home from school with a peanut butter sandwich and a pint of Um Bongo. Ah heady days. One of the segments of the programme that used to confuse me was a two minute run down of ‘The Black Chart.’ I was not clear what this meant…but I assumed it was a chart for black artists…or was it a chart for black music? The point is…it was a sub-chart for the main thing…the real deal Billboard. It was a chart to separate a certain genre and artist away from the mainstream. Sometimes it would be refered to as the RnB chart, but some of the acts were clearly NOT RnB. It was a sign of the times in 1985. Segregation was understood, even though strides were being made to break down barriers. Years later in the UK, in the late 90s…we would call it the Urban chart. This was to escape the racial direction the name of a chart could lean on, and to try to promote an inclusive element to music purchasing. To make sure that discrimination had no place in our modern industry.
When Sir Alex made his bombastic comments about Jason Roberts, and then his promise to ‘deal with’ Rio Ferdinand for not wearing a Kick It Out T-Shirt…I was perplexed, and a tad angry. Yes we worship Fergie. He has been there and bought the t-shirt! The old man knows the game inside out. And as much as I love him…I realise he isn’t always right. I thought he had dropped a ricket…pulling rank on a player who has spent a year supporting his brother in what is the most famous case of a racist accusation in English football history.
So I was delighted when later the manager publicly came out and backed Rio’s right to have freedom of choice, giving his opinion on how we should move forward together, rather than acting in an old skool manner. His words were reassuring. He explained his thoughts on ‘union’…and he sounded like the wise sage we know he is. Harmony was restored swiftly…just how we like it.
Now we hear of ‘The Federation of Black Players’…an organisation purely funded by the professional footballers who comprise it. It will be open to all players of ethnic origin. Erm…since when was an Indian, Chinese or Japanese person… ‘black’??
I understand the frustrations of black players. History normally shows us the way of how the future should be. In the 80’s when America was compiling those black charts, casual racism was prevalent. Political correctness hadn’t yet taken hold. Jim Davidson was on prime time TV, making an amazing living out of ripping the urine from ethnic minorities. Alf Garnett was considered ‘hilarious’. And black footballers had a Tesco full of bananas thrown at them with corresponding monkey chants. It was acceptable. As then…like now…football mirrors society. In the 90s we made it clear these things were not acceptable. We moved toward a more tolerant society. Both right and left tried to edge towards the centre more, at least in terms of public opinion. The past twenty years has been a success in breaking down general barriers. We no longer look at the token black player in our teams and think ‘oh…a black bloke’…and this is because eight of the team might well be black. That scenario is wholly acceptable. This generation of now 30 somethings simply doesn’t connect with the prejudices of our elders.
So why in 2012 has a regression occurred? Why are black players thinking of forming a union defined by colour? Isnt this all a bit 1985? You don’t have to dig deep beneath the surface to understand the logic though.
Everyone has always had an opinion. The difference now is new media allows that opinion to be heard. When John Terry used racially offensive language against Anton Ferdinand, it wasnt just a footnote in a red top on a Sunday morning…it was being discussed by millions of people within minutes of that Youtube video going live. Our viral society dictates that information isn’t so much as delivered to you…but is rammed down your throat at break neck speed. Digestion isn’t the goal. Consumption is. This medium has allowed many a degenerate a voice. The right is moving back to the right, as the left tries to edge the opposite way. Popular opinion is no longer just the opinion of some well-to-do journalist. It’s the opinion of you and me…and the troll under the nearest bridge with a smartphone.
And this is where the problems begin and end.
Rio may well be complicit in this new Black Federation, or he may well have been dragged into this via proxy and his celebrity. But the truth is he can really help this cause. Rio is one of those thirty somethings I mentioned above. He knows what it used to be like. He has the pulling power to help educate the youth of today. If he so desires he can be a shining light to that kid on the estate, who doesn’t understand that the N word is offensive in real terms, as they only know of it in terms of a Jay Z song. That the P word is still offensive to many an Asian. That Jews and Arabians alike do not deserve the stereotypical tags placed upon them in a modern context. Rio Ferdinand can help do this. His value in new media terms is astronomical.
A Black Federation is not the way.
You cannot hope for an inclusive society, if you wish to splinter it by the disaffected. In an extreme way…it is similar to the methodology of the BNP. Anyone disaffected by poverty or unemployment can be brought in to fight against the main issue of ”Black vs White’. It is skewed ideology. What will the Black Federation really represent? The best interests of football? Or the best interests of a political entity? What is next….a White Federation? A Yellow Federation? A Yellow and Brown Federation because a coalition of Yellow and Browns will be a stronger voice? When race becomes about winning votes, it has lost its ability to move forward in the correct fashion.
We have a PFA. It is up to the members of that PFA to get involved, and direct their joint racial union towards a stronger position. Gordon Taylor has been clear. He wants Rio and company to get round a table and thrash this out. Not use Twitter as a vehicle to show disapproval…whilst sat in a mansion in Cheshire. It is clear that these strong-willed professionals like Rio and Jason Roberts can help mould what football in the UK becomes in the next ten years. The underbelly of hate that has emerged with new media does indeed have a voice and platform now, and this is concerning… but ultimately we are the majority. It is up to us in the stands, and the players on the pitch…to allow football to represent the sort of society we want for future generations. We have the answers to the questions posed by racism.
I’m no longer interested in charts. I’m also no longer interested in the depth of politics football wishes to wash itself in. Rio can help us find a practical and tangible solution. One that doesn’t involve twitter scraps and sensationalist stories. If we are to stop a future Luis Suarez incident occurring, then education and inclusion must trample on the segregation that hatred and disaffection cause.
Time to show your hand Rio. Make the right move.