What to do with a problem like racism.

It’s becoming increasingly clear that the atmosphere in Poland and Ukraine is an indescribably repulsive one. Monkey chants are in plentiful supply already, and there’s no reason to doubt that black players involved in the tournament will have to play in the knowledge that locals in the crowd hate them on the basis of the colour of their skin.

I haven’t got around to reading Waldron’s new book yet. I looked yesterday and it was £17 in Blackwell’s, so I’ll be waiting for university copies to become available. But I think it’s clear that the timing of its release could not be more apt. And reading preliminary reviews, I can see already that the logic is going to be very hard to resist.

To stand firm and say that free speech is boundless, even if it means that some of our fellow humans have to go about their lives with that kind of attitude being thrown in their face, is starting to feel callous and, frankly, unnecessary. We’re not talking here about calculated satire, attacking the rationalised beliefs of an ideological group. That’s obviously a form of expression crucial to any vibrant society. What we’re dealing with is pure, primitive bile attacking a certain racial group’s very humanity. The chants say nothing but you’re animals, and there’s nothing you can do about it. And allowing that seems tantamount to telling black players that they cannot be involved in this sporting event. I could never find it reasonable for someone to expect me to put up with such conditions. And the fact is that the situation is even worse than this – UEFA are saying that those who refuse to play on the basis of racial abuse can be punished for it. That anyone has to even bother explaining the indecency of such a rule is absurd.

It seems to me that there is an another question, though, and that’s why the tournament was ever granted to a set of nations renowned for such problems. It was obvious from the outset to anyone with a mild knowledge of Ukraine and Poland that an ethos of equality would never colour the stadiums. Oliver Kay, writing (£) in The Times, quotes Ukraine’s manager from a few years back. Brace yourself:

The more Ukrainians there are playing in the national league, the more examples there are for the young generation. Let them learn from Shevchenko or Blokhin, not from some zumba-bumba whom they took out of a tree, gave two bananas and now he plays in the Ukrainian league.

No, this didn’t lead to an apology. Nor to his sacking or a national outcry. Where the Euros are being held, views like these are perfectly acceptable and expressed openly without shame. And I just don’t feel that being a liberal requires you to stomach such an environment in which equality is so publicly obliterated through words. Yes, that means restrictions on speech. But it doesn’t mean a shutdown of meaningful expression and valuable discussion. It just means that if you’re using your voice to make your fellow humans reasonably feel inhuman, we’re not going to stand by and say there is nothing that can be done.


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