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Indirect Racism – A Celtic Fan’s Story

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18 June 2020

 

 

I’ve thought long and hard about writing this. “Will I? Won’t I? Will I draw unnecessary negative attention my way? Is my story worth telling?”

Then I looked at the Black Lives Matter movement, who are fighting racial injustice and systematic racism – while trying to educate on the indirect racism that still exists in this country.

What is indirect racism you may ask? Well hopefully I can tell you.

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What does it mean to me? And how does it affect me? How can I help to educate? I think the best way is to tell my story about indirect racism in football and normal life.

This isn’t a sob story, I’ve got a thick enough skin to deal with it. This is just my experience of being a Scottish Christian BAME Celtic fan, who lives in London.

You don’t have to agree with it, I just want you to listen because I’m about to dish out some home truths about indirect racism and racial profiling that may be uncomfortable, or not even seen as a problem, to some.

We all know what direct racism is. Blatant racist abuse or discrimination. We all know it’s not acceptable – even the majority of people who do it.

In football, I’ve experienced it – at a Chelsea match, by a local Rangers fan on MSN when I was younger, in a pub in Aberdeenshire after coming back from a Glasgow Derby many years ago and also plenty of it on Twitter.

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Luckily, I don’t experience that much, to be completely honest. But why should I have ever experienced it in the first place?

That’s not what I’m here to talk about. Because I think the majority of people in 2020 realise it’s disgusting.

I’m here to talk about indirect/subconscious racism and the need to stop racial profiling – that quite often comes from the left.

One of the main reasons I support Celtic is the fact it is a club for all. It’s the immigrant club that’s fought it’s own battles of racism and sectarianism over the years – and still does.

The anti-fascist and left wing causes mean more to me than the actual football. It’s what Celtic is all about for me. An Irish club, based in Scotland – thriving in a hostile environment and its supporters tackling deep societal issues.

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I’ve never seen or heard direct racist abuse at a Celtic game. That doesn’t mean there aren’t a few idiots out there – there have been some shocking incidents in the past involving some Celtic fans. But en masse Celtic fans are generally all-inclusive and welcoming.

There are people from all walks of life who go to games and watch Celtic in pubs in London – I love that.

But that’s not to say we don’t need to self-reflect in these times and think “what can we do better?”

Just because of the general anti-racism stance, doesn’t mean we are perfect. Far from it.

In my years of being a season ticket holder and on trips abroad I still get incidents where I’m made to feel different. Not a complete outsider, but just different. And when you break it down, it’s all down to the colour of my skin.

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On trips away and in pubs before games I’ve had the Emilio Izaguirre song sung at me – a lot. I’ve been called Bobby Petta, Raman Bhardwaj and even Alfredo Morelos! I can’t look like all of them?!

I’ve had people come up to me to tell me about other Asian people they know and ask me if I know them. WTF?!

I’ve been mistaken for other – I can only assume – brown Celtic fans. Friendly shouts of “Raj/Omar, how you doing ma man?” Nope, that’s not me.

I’ve had someone ask what part of India I’m from. I replied “Aberdeen.” I’ve also been asked if I’m from Brazil.

When I lived in Newcastle, at the Tyneside CSC one man said the good old phrase “We’re all Jock Tamson’s bairns… except him” – pointing at me, jokingly.

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At the Wimbledon CSC on cup final day in December, an elderly man tapped me on the shoulder and said: “Did you enjoy that?”. I replied: “Aye, f*****g brilliant”. To which he looked shocked and said: “Oh, you’re one of us”. I was wearing a Celtic shirt.

You may think none of these incidents are remotely linked to any form of racism – but that’s exactly how indirect racism can work. It’s racial profiling.

The people can mean well and not realise they are causing any harm or offence, but they are saying it because of the colour of my skin. None of these things would happen if I was white.

You may think that these are all said in a friendly and jovial way so it’s all okay and a bit of fun. I do laugh it off, but that’s not the point. It’s making someone feel different and out of place from the rest.

I’ve experienced it on my travels with Scotland as well. In Alicante before Spain away, I’ve had someone shout at me: “You’re not Scottish”.  I’ve also had a friend’s dad repeatedly tell me this when he’s drunk. I was born in Scotland and lived there for 23 years, until I moved to London – where should I be from?

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In a pub in Hungary, with another group of guys who were drinking with my mates – one refused to accept that my name was Tony and that I was Scottish. I laughed it off but I couldn’t help but think: “Why should I have to prove my existence and identity, when I’ve travelled all the way to Hungary for a f*****g friendly and I’m wearing a Scotland top and a kilt?!”

Away at San Marino, we were drinking outside the ground with a group of older lads from Aberdeen and one of them was about to tell a joke, to which others made him stop. “Not now”, they said. And they all looked at me after. I wonder what kind of joke he was about to tell?

Just generally, you get a look. And most of you reading this will have no clue what this is. But there’s a look you get, when you’re maybe one of two or three BAMEs who has travelled all the way to Albania as part of the Tartan Army. It’s not necessarily unfriendly but in those times it just makes me aware of my skin colour. And I just think, in 2020, why should I be?

On the whole, I do not feel out of place at Celtic and Scotland games or trips due to the colour of my skin. In fact, I feel quite the opposite. I’m part of it and most of the time I feel that way.

The fact I’ve never had direct racist abuse is quite telling. I’m sure if I supported other clubs and was from another country I wouldn’t be able say that.

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The Celtic support and Tartan Army are very inclusive. But we can do more and do better.

This is not just a football thing – it’s obviously societal. And it’s actually a lot worse in England. Just to contextualise, I have received more direct racist abuse in my five years in London than I have in my whole life in Scotland. But I’m not going to talk about that – everyone realises that’s not acceptable.

As liberal and as cosmopolitan as London is, I’ve never been more aware of my skin colour.

I’ve had people move away if I sit near them on the tube, or people looking at me suspiciously if I’ve got a bag with me.

I’ve been asked by an old work colleague if I’m Muslim. I’ve been asked if I want Diwali off. I’ve had someone shake my hand in the street and say: “Eid Mubarak”. I’ve been asked by many people if I celebrate Christmas.

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I’ve been accused of changing my name to Anthony Joseph to “fit in”.

I’ve tried to buy a chicken and bacon sandwich at M&S and been warned at the till “you know that’s got bacon in it.” Yes, I f*****g love bacon. This has happened a lot, at other shops.

I’ve been into a Gregg’s fairly early and asked what bakes they had. “Just cheese & onion” the woman replied. I asked if there are chicken or steak bakes being made. And she said: “Oh there’s some ready, sorry I didn’t realise you’d want them.”

They think they’re being nice and culturally aware – but what they’re doing is racial profiling, based purely on the colour of my skin.

I play for London Scottish amateur football team and have been asked by an opposition player: “How did you end up in a Scottish team?”

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I’ve also walked into many pubs, where I get ‘the look’. I’ve had a look of confusion when I order alcohol.

I have to actually think “will I be okay going to this game?” when I go to football matches in England – especially Championship and lower league. It’s a reason I’ve stayed away from Millwall games, despite them being the closest team to me here. If you’re white and reading this, I bet this is not even something you’ve ever thought of!

It was one of the main reasons I wasn’t so keen to go to Lazio away last year – although I wish I did now. I booked Rennes and Cluj, so finances made the decision for me.

I get a look of confusion if I’m ever wearing a Celtic or Scotland top.

Just last week, I was playing tennis in my Scotland shirt and filled my car up with petrol on the way back. The man at the till said: “You know this is England, yeah?” I said yes. “So why do you have a Scotland shirt on?” To which I told him that I’m from Scotland. And there lay his stunned face when I properly spoke and he heard my accent.

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It almost makes you not want to speak, because you know you’ll raise eyebrows, draw unnecessary attention to yourself and be questioned about your existence.

And they all lead to the one question, which is my absolute pet hate – “So, where are you originally from?” As if being born and bred in Scotland is not enough for them. To put it bluntly, they’re saying: “Why are you brown?” Because in their heads, my accent does not fit my face.

It’s a question I get asked all the time. And I know it’s not something I’d be asked if I was white. I also think it would be asked less if I had an English accent.

I’ve ordered drinks at a bar and the barman served me, laughed, and said: “I didn’t know you got brown people in Scotland.” Why does my skin colour need to be brought up when I’m just out for a drink with my girlfriend?

I could list so many more examples of this. You may think they’re not a big deal, but imagine having to deal with it in your everyday life. It’s so tiring.

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This happens way too much, especially from people who regard themselves as liberal.

Left wing racism exists. It’s indirect, so it’s not obvious to the people doing it. Nor do they mean any harm. But it hurts just as much, honestly.

And there cannot be equality when people see skin colour like this. Colour is just colour. It is not a culture, it’s not a religion, it’s not a personality and it’s not a characteristic – it tells you nothing about who that person is.

Fighting indirect racism is a huge part of the Black Lives Matter movement. And to do that, we all need to reflect on our thoughts and actions – even those who believe they are non-racist.

Uncomfortable discussions are needed. Everything should be on the table – from the statues on our streets, to how we depict the Ancient Egyptians at school. It all needs scrutinised.

Through realisation and education, we can make progress on equality in society. Because that’s all it is, equality.

A world that sees the person and not the colour.

Anthony Joseph is an award-winning Scottish journalist in London. He is currently a News Editor for Sky Sports News, having previously worked for KICCA Media, MailOnline and Aberdeen Evening Express. He is a regular guest on The Totally Scottish Football Show and is a lifelong Celtic fan and Tartan Army member. 

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