A black and white issue?
My letter for the Diocese….
For many years I have sat in the same seat on the Kop at Sheffield Wednesday and, during my time as a parish priest just up the road from the ground, I would be asked by many members of the Sunday school and youth club whether they could come to a game with me and my family. On many occasions, I would be sat with a group of seven or eight football mad youngsters and would get vicarious enjoyment from their excitement. On one such occasion, the match was going well!SheffieldWednesday were winning, the crowd were singing and all seemed well in the world. Suddenly, the opposition equalised via the superbly struck volley of the opposing team’s striker and I was surprised to see the young boy next to me, a young black boy of African extract, rise sharply to his feet and make his way to a steward. A few words were exchanged, and then a man behind us was removed by a gaggle of stewards. Unbeknown to me, my young friend had heard a racist comment directed at the black striker who had scored the superb goal and decided he would act: I’ve not seen the ejected and dejected fan ever since. That young boy, now a strapping man with a first class honours degree in sports science and himself a successful cage-fighter, often reminds me to this day of that incident long ago.
In today’s world, it all seems so antediluvian when we hear of such racist incidents but, sadly, we do not have to go too far to be reminded that, as proscribed and publically despised as racism now is, it still lurks just beneath the surface.
This reality has, both, come to light recently in the case of the Liverpool footballer Suarez and the subsequent racist barracking of an Oldham player by aLiverpoolsupporter and also in the intimate revelations about the nature of racism during the trial and conviction of the two men found guilty of Stephen Lawrence’s murder. In both these cases, the institutions involved-a football club in one case and the police in the other-have taken all the right steps to try and ensure that such prejudiced behaviour is not systemic and inherent in them. However, the horrible truth is that, in the heat of competition or in the bravado of a deeply disturbed young person’s hateful tirade, the evil of racism still lurks and it is not far from us all.
Such racism was not unknown to Jesus: we are told that he stood at the well with the Samaritan woman; a woman from a race despised by some simply because they chose to worship God in anotherTempleother than that inJerusalem. Jesus cleverly extracts from this ‘hated’ foreigner the knowledge that he is the source of eternal life and the eagerly expected Messiah. On their return to the well, even Jesus’ disciples join in the unconscious and implicit racism, being ‘astonished’ that he was speaking with her.
In William Shirer’s seminal book on The Third Reich, one is struck by the matter of fact way in which the cremators for the killing fields of the concentration camps were ordered from the manufacturers: as simple as ordering a microwave for the kitchen. Such ordinariness combined with horror is rightly named ‘the mundanity of evil’. My young friend in the football match was right to challenge that thoughtless and cruel barb by a fellow supporter for there must be link between these small, mundane, acts and the kind of racism that leads to violence and loss of life?
In the end, the real tragedy of racism is that it de-humanises those we parody and to whom we attach simplistic prejudices. It was the ‘hated’ foreign woman at the well who saw the deep mystery of Jesus and his divinity: when our eyes are clouded by colour, class or creed we fail to see and enjoy the true beauty of the person underneath.