Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang has spoken out about racism in football after Arsenal condemned the fan who racially abused Kalidou Koulibaly.

aubameyang banana
via The Guardian

Racism. It’s everywhere. While the white men in the media discuss ways to rid the game of this scourge that has been reinvigorated by the Brexit debate, those actually fighting the problem know that it cannot be eliminated from the game until it is eliminated from society.

It is no coincidence that we are seeing a rise in racist incidents across football because that is also being reflected in ordinary life. Football and society cannot, no matter how much the authorities would like to think otherwise, be separated.

Already this season at Arsenal we’ve had a banana skin thrown at Pierre-Emerick Aubamaeyang and now the clhave turned to him to deliver a message about the incident on Thursday night.

“I am really disappointed about that,” Auba told the official Arsenal site. “I had the same problem here against Tottenham. When you are black like me it is really painful, I think, because we are in 2019 and obviously it is not good for football in England. Hopefully, we will find a way to kick it out.”

While parts of the media bemoan what we have been seeing recently, they ignore the rest of their own publications that provide a platform and fuel for racists. This is exactly what The S*n and the Daily Fail did with the man who threw the banana at Auba.

I don’t know what was going on in Averof Panteli’s head when he, as he claimed, looked down at the ground in anger as Aubameyang celebrated Arsenal’s first goal, spotted a banana skin, bent down, picked it up and hurled it onto the pitch in the direction of the striker.

I’ve been to hundreds, if not thousands, of football matches and have been incensed by many things opposition players have done. Not once did it occur to me, in my fury, to look to the ground for something to throw.

Panteli, of course, deployed all the usual ‘I’m not a racist’ defences. ‘I can’t be racist because I have black friends,’ ‘It can’t be racist because that wasn’t how it was meant’ and the likes of the S*n and Daily Fail at it up. He is a ‘grandad’ in descriptors. Granddads don’t hurt people, after all. They’re warm and cuddly and safe.

The Daily Fail devoted three pages to the coverage of Panteli’s defence, including the back page. Much more than they gave the incident itself. It was the lead item on the S*n’s Arsenal page for at least six-and-a-half hours and was still there on the front page some 12 hours after I first noticed it.

daily mail no racists 1
Daily Mail back page 4 December 2018
daily mail no racists 2
Daily Mail 4 December 2018
sun banana defence
The S*n’s website this morning
the sun not racist
The S*n’s website at 5.20pm 4 December 2018

That was how they covered the incident itself the day before. Notice how they made it look like they were calling for a ban for the Spurs fan but the headline was actually for another story:

daily mail no racists 4
Daily Mail 3 December 2018
daily mail no racists 3
Daily Mail 3 December 2018

When the incident was first reported, I doubted there was any racial motivation behind it. Racists tend use the whole banana for a start, but you don’t get a free pass just because intent might not have been there.

“I just didn’t think” is no longer an acceptable excuse, not these days. Not anymore.

Nish Kumar explained it well in a piece for the Guardian as part of their extensive ‘Bias in Britain’ series on the reality of racism in the UK.

“In a post-Brexit age,” Kumar wrote, “I’ve got a zero tolerance policy on unconscious bias.

“We were in denial about the extent to which Britain had cured itself of the poison of racism. We’re definitely not in denial about it now. If that makes people feel uncomfortable, well, they should feel uncomfortable.”

Expecting better from the likes of the S*n and the Daily Fail is, ultimately, a futile exercise but we can act and call them out on their bull whenever we see it. We must.

We must make it uncomfortable for people who commit racist acts, even if we think they are not necessarily being ‘racist,’ because the two go hand-in-hand. For far too long we’ve put the comfort of those with privilege ahead of the safety of those without.

You might feel a little uneasy when challenged, you might even feel offended that someone could think you a racist. But while you cry into your latte that you didn’t mean any offence, someone somewhere is taking what you said or did and using it to reinforce ‘real’ racism that causes real and lasting damage to countless numbers of innocent people whose only ‘crime’ was to be born without a white enough skin in a world whitey rules.

The likes of that fan from Thrsday night, for instance.