The Culture of Racism: A Sliding Landscape

MISSISSAUGA, ON – Irfan Manji (19) lines up for a face-off in his final youth hockey game for the Streetsville Select. – March 20, 2011 – (Photo Credit Karim Manji)

I identify as a twenty-five-year-old male of East African and South Asian descent. I have been around racism my entire life, whether that was at school, playing various sports, at a local movie theatre, or whilst sitting on a transit bus. Since my increased involvement with Garage Door Sports, I have seen racism up close within the sports world, but also within the context of political, local, and worldly aspects.

On Friday, April 3rd, I came across an article on BBC where two French doctors had an open debate regarding vaccinations for COVID-19 and testing on African soil. I started to think about the various acts of marginalization, stereotyping, and racist behaviours over the last hundred plus years. In past episodes we have spoken about racism in sports and individual ways to stand-up versus poor behaviours, but this hit different chord entirely. In all honesty, it reiterated that racism vividly exists on a global scale.

The Issue at Hand

During the TV Debate, one of the medical professionals, Dr. Mira, said, “If I can be provocative, shouldn’t we be doing this study in Africa, where there are no masks, no treatments, no resuscitation?” Following this debate, African footballers Didier Drogba, Samuel Eto’o, and Demba Ba spoke up against the doctors. The consensus from the three former stars was of obvious sentiments of racism, feeling like ‘guinea pigs’, and that Africa is not a centre for testing. All three players underlined the intolerant remarks by the doctors. I thought about how perpetrators wear different disguises when it comes to racism. For all we know, one could be an academic and still believe human testing on another population who lack masks, treatments, or resuscitation, is valid.

We as a society, have seen this pattern before and it does not look like we have learned from it. We learned in school about anti-Semitism, slavery, unethical medical trials—Henrietta Lacks, Tuskegee-Syphilis, and forced sterilization of Indigenous women, are all examples of marginalizing a minority—and we have now been re-introduced to the concept of ‘testing’ on people once again.

I understand individuals who have been exposed to COVID-19 can provide their blood in order to help develop an antidote. That to me is a coherent need. Scientists can use these antibodies/blood samples to cultivate a solution in a lab without needing to blindly test a random vaccine (e.g. on BBC, tuberculosis vaccine) on another population. The doctors do not make any reference to ethical considerations or premises that are clearly in place by the World Health Organization, rather they are focused on a population that is lacking resources. Shouldn’t the solution be to aid in providing more resources?

Within the Sports World

Major European leagues (EPL, Serie A, Ligue 1, Bundesliga, La Liga) have always had individuals take part in racist chanting and behaviours. With the modern era, we have been made more aware of the situations in comparison to the past. The likes of Raheem Sterling, Kalidou Koulibaly, Son Heung-min, Romelu Lukaku, Antonio Rüdiger, Ashley Young, Paul Pogba, Danny Rose, and many, many more have heard these chants and remarks recently. It’s incredibly unfortunate that we have the technology and the resources that can pinpoint the exact perpetrators, but nothing is being done.

Former Juventus manager Massimiliano Allegri admitted the Italian Serie A’s problem. “We’ve got the technology; [to catch offenders] […] if the authorities want to.” Allegri said to Sam Blum of GQ. “The problem is, they don’t really want to.” Instead of moving forward, we seem to be taking a huge step back when accepting peoples’ differences; what makes everyone different shouldn’t segregate them or take away opportunities.

This problem is not only evident in Europe. Its presence is also felt in North America, particularly in the National Hockey League. New York Rangers prospect K’Andre Miller was subjected to racial slurs during the Rangers’ “Future Fridays” series on Twitter on April 3. A hacker took control of the team’s Twitter Live and posted one-word racial slurs directed at Miller. Current Rangers’ players chimed in to offer their support to Miller and denounce the cowardly behaviour by the fan. The league and the Rangers’ both released statements supporting the prospect and condemning the act. It was appreciated when the league stepped in by saying, “No one deserves to be subjected to such ugly treatment and it will not be tolerated in our league. We join with the Rangers in condemning this disgusting behaviour.”

During the 2012 Stanley Cup playoffs, Joel Ward was exposed to racist chants after scoring the winning goal that eliminated the Boston Bruins in Game 7. Further, former Calgary Flames coach Bill Peters directed derogatory language at Akim Aliu during his minor league career. Unfortunately, many individuals are unable to say anything due to losing their opportunities or missing out on career growth. Aliu alluded to being scared to stand-up to Peters, “What am I going to say? I was 20 years old and a first-year pro. I was too scared to speak up […] I beat myself up every day over it”.

Racism has also been prevalent in Major League Baseball. One recent example occurred in April 2019 when former Chicago Cubs’ pitcher Carl Edwards Jr. had racist messages sent to him on Instagram. In a statement, Cubs’ president Theo Epstein vehemently condemned the context of the messages and supported Major League Baseballs’ goal to investigate and identify the culprits. He further went on to say, “In a sport that celebrates diversity and unites people from all backgrounds, we are appalled anyone claiming to be a fan would send divisive and bigoted insults to a player. Whether spoken, posted or published, this type of reprehensible language and views cannot be tolerated in our game or society.” This is not the first time coloured baseball players have endured racism. Former Baltimore Orioles Adam Jones was subjected to racial taunts and, bags of peanuts were thrown at him in 2017.

Eventually, there comes a point when sports need to be put on the side and humanity needs to shine through.

Outlook Moving Forward

The rhetoric moving forward is to understand whether or not punishment is deserved for racist behaviour. Is there punishment? Should there be punishment? Raheem Sterling said in an interview with The Guardian, “It’s about speaking [about] what you’ve experienced […] [s]ome people probably shied away from that but I’m a person when I do feel that something’s not quite right, I want to speak about it. If more players speak out, then the better it will be.”

He further added the importance of continuing to play and bring about an awareness should spark people in higher places to do their jobs.

I had this debate with a friend a few weeks back and I remember telling her that I’ve come to a crossroads when standing up against a racist person. My entire body wants me to react but just like any regular bully, they bait you to react. Therefore, over the years, I do not believe in arguing, but rather talking about my experiences and sharing with people who will respect you and actively support your endeavour of fighting against racism.

I hope that we can stand together and battle against racial, cultural, and ethnic profiling in all facets of daily life. Fighting against racism goes far beyond a stadium. It’s a human right not to be marginalized based on skin, gender, race, culture, or creed.