Saturday, December 8, 2018 could prove to be a landmark date, not only in English football, but across British society as a whole. In fact, there is no ‘could’ about it. It should be a landmark date.
Regardless of the outcome of the investigation into the alleged racial abuse of Raheem Sterling, one thing is clear: the tone of the debate has shifted for the better. It is a situation that is now beyond debate. It’s time for straight talking and, even more importantly, a whole lot more listening that’s being done currently.
Where has debate actually got us? All it has done is allowed the voices that shame us as a nation to be heard and now it’s time for everyone who condones the racism yet inserts a ‘but’ or ‘what about...?’ in the same breath to stay quiet after their condemnation.
There are no ‘buts’ or allowances to be made now. There are no excuses that people committing acts of racism are from another generation and time when things were different.
The people committing the offences are young, who know what is right, what is wrong and what is unacceptable in a civilised society, yet they go ahead and do it anyway.
Even in the wake of Saturday’s controversy, we now have a story from Scotland where Jamie Robson, of Dundee United, thought it was funny to dress up in blackface and go to his Christmas party as an ‘African man selling fake goods’.
Now that may pose a large enough problem in itself on the surface, but just as depressing were the responses to a newspaper article about it saying they could see no harm in it.
For their benefit, the connotations of blackface and its entrenchment in the degradation of a whole culture are why it is unacceptable.
Those arguing a harmless nature in it just don’t get it. How can any white person deny the offence it causes to the very people it demonises and stereotypes?
And this is the point that the likes of Piers Morgan and Dave Kitson don’t get by adding their caveats - adding a ‘but’ - to the debate.
It blunts the edges of points made by the victims of racism and attempts to soften the blows they receive daily.
As a white Englishman fast approaching middle-aged, I guess you could say by the luck of my parentage, I make up a tiny fraction of the least oppressed demographic in the world.
So you’d assume I’m hardly the best-positioned person to write about my experiences of racism in our country, right? Wrong.
This is a topic and problem to be addressed by all and not just leave it up to those directly affected to battle on. It isn’t over-sensitivity, neither is it ‘political correctness gone mad’ as so many will dismiss it as.
If someone is offended by something, it’s just a common human decency not to go out of your way to do so.
Why people get so upset that they aren’t allowed to say certain words or behave in a certain way is beyond my understanding.
I dare say I’ll get labelled as a woke or something equally meant as a put-down, but again those are the people denying the problem we face still in society and they are the ones prolonging the efforts towards a better world.
When we find ourselves in a place where ‘do-gooder’ is used as a derogatory term, then signs that progress has been halted are clearly in front of us.
Just over six years ago, with an upcoming documentary about to be aired on the BBC, I was asked to write something for the Radio Times on racism in football.
I discussed how bananas had been thrown at black players by coaching stuff with the comment of ‘You lot love them, don’t you?’.
Music by black artists was labelled ‘Jungle drum music’. Discussions were had about black players never being trusted to take penalties because they just didn’t have the bottle.
And now we haven’t just stalled, but we are rolling back down the hill.
Curses prefixed by the word ‘black’, kids calling each other ‘gay’ as an insult or someone commenting on a footballer’s running style as ‘like a girl’: the rhetoric is out there as much as it ever has been in my lifetime, but it’s time for it to stop.
Freedom of speech has much to answer for and the ignorant use it to wield their right to say whatever they want.
A reasonable person, though, would know that just because you can say anything, it doesn’t mean you have should.
Of course, forbidding rhetoric isn’t what is going to solve the problem of racism. That’s where we all have to play our part.
So for those who complained last week that this column sometimes has nothing to do with Sunderland, this is precisely about us and every single person within our communities.
Racists aren’t born that way, so it’s up to us to make sure they aren’t made.