Wilfrid Zaha has had enough. I don’t blame him. He has suffered years of constant abuse both online and from the terraces. Last weekend before Crystal Palace’s match against West Brom he became the the first Premier League player not to take the knee. His hope is that his actions will highlight that more needs to be done to fight racism, stating that he “will continue to stand tall”.
When football resumed last summer and players, officials and backroom teams started taking a knee before kick off I wondered where the actions and gestures would lead. Would things start to change or was this going to end up the sporting equivalent of Sir Keir Starmer and Angela Rayner taking the knee in an empty parliamentary meeting room. Empty is an important word here, Zaha’s stance is asking a fair and reasonable question, are the promises leading to action or are they as empty the stadia that matches are currently taking place in?
However, what I really want to write about today is the reaction. The debate in many areas is inexplicably focussing on whether Zaha is right to stand. No I’m sorry that is so misplaced and an indicator of the bigger issue. The debate should be centred on the fact that we have a Black footballer that feels so let down by the lack of progress, hollow gestures and absence of meaningful change or action. The key question should be “we are failing, we must do more, how do we stand up and make a difference”.
A colleague of mine shared a great talk by Ibram X Kendi this week on the difference between being “not racist” and antiracist. We are both big fans of his perspective “that racist is NOT an identity, rather it’s a description of your behaviour in the moment” meaning you can exhibit racist behaviour one minute and be antiracist the next. It has a chunky run time (50mins) but I’d encourage you to carve out the time to have a listen, especially useful for any allies that are reading.
I’d also encourage you to sign up to and join a free live event being hosted by Green Park next week. The event has a great panel of speakers holding an important conversation ‘Let’s not go back to normal’. The line up is shared below and I hope you will be able to listen in to what promises to be an insightful session. This is my 20th post, #ImStillNotTired about campaigning for equity but, like Zaha, I am growing tired of endless discussion, empty promises and lack of change. It’s time for all of us to stand up and be counted…