Loaded language: racism

This may be a controversial starting point but I fear that the words racism and racist are unhelpfully overpowered. As I have been following the racism scandal engulfing cricket, I have been intrigued by the reactions of those named within the revelations. Of those individuals, Michael Vaughan’s stance really stands out. Azeem Rafiq alleged that during a game in 2009 between Yorkshire and Nottinghamshire Michael Vaughan, referring to the Asian players, said “there are too many of you lot; we need to do something about it”.

Azeem Rafiq bowling for Yorkshire CC (Image: Sky Sports)

This allegation among many others came to light as Rafiq’s case against Yorkshire CC hit the headlines. Vaughan’s response was to immediately go on the front foot and deny ever making these comments through his newspaper column and across multiple social media feeds. Subsequently, two other players (Adil Rashid and Rana Naved-ul-Hasan) corroborated Rafiq’s account and yet Vaughan doubled down and continued to refute the suggestion he ever made the comment. The former England captain has subsequently been stood down by the BBC for the upcoming Ashes series.

This response of denial is symptomatic of two wider societal challenges. Firstly, that the words racist / racism are so emotionally charged that the words immediately bring to mind images such as that of the Ku Klux Klan. The second, is that the words are misaligned to identity rather than a description of an action. It is possible to be anti-racist and at the same time commit a racist act. I have touched on this in previous blogs but this case also provides a poignant example. Around the same time he was being subjected to racism at Yorkshire Rafiq posted anti-Semitic tweets in a fiery online exchange. Rafiq apologised for his comments, deleting the tweets to not cause any further offence and stated:

“At no point will I ever try and defend the indefensible. For those I have hurt I am sincerely sorry. I will continue to front up and own any more mistakes I have made.”

At the heart of the difference between Rafiq’s apology, Vaughan’s denial and Yorkshire CCs belligerence is another bit of loaded language: white fragility. I may touch on this in more depth another time but for a White individual or an organisation dominated by white faces accusations of racism sting. The challenge is that this tension creates a paralysis around the positive action we need to address race equity across society. Until we reach a point where we can be comfortable about being called out for being racist (it’s a description of our actions not an identity) or where we can accept that beloved institutions may be systemically racist (it’s the systems, processes and actions of the organisation and/or its people – again not an identity), issues of racism will continue to fester. It is saddening but not unsurprising to see other cases of discrimination popping up in other parts of English Cricket with Essex CC the latest county to be in the spotlight.

The solution? It’s simple and requires just three things: humility, contrition and commitment to do better.

  • Humility – swallow your pride, put your ego to one side, hear the other person’s reflections and accept that you have done something that has caused hurt
  • Contrition – sincerely apologise for the hurt you have caused and speak to the person / persons you have offended about how you can repair the harm. You could do this through a mediated / facilitated conversation (Restorative Justice)
  • Commitment to do better – dedicate time to become anti-racist. It will take time, focus and conscious practice but if you are an effective anti-racist ally you are being part of the solution. A good starting point is ‘How to be an Anti-Racist’ by Ibram X Kendi

My final nudge this month is for those of you who haven’t listened to Rafiq’s account. I really encourage you to watch below. What is particularly striking is how the club, rather than taking ownership of the problem, attempted to shift the blame from being an organisational issue into an individual one.

Raheem Aziq’s testimony in the Houses of Parliament

The blog will be back slightly earlier next month with my post going live on Friday 17th December…

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