The public reaction to last week's home movie of bunch of Chelsea Neanderthals meeting a black man on a Parisian train has been entirely predictable. In many ways this predictability has been a genuinely good thing. Not only have the majority of Brits expressed their shame and disgust at the antics of the racist thugs in the carriage, but they have also clearly meant it. And that is indeed genuine progress. What has been less constructive has been the endlessly spouted belief that this kind of thing had been consigned to history.
In some ways I can sympathise with this view. If you take what goes on in football stadiums as a measure of racism, then a lot has indeed changed over the last twenty five years.
When I first started going along to spend my Saturday afternoons on the Kop, the Liverpool crowd had a well rehearsed medley of songs ready and waiting for the occasional black player who turned out for the opposition. The most basic reaction to the sight of a black player was for thousands of fans to do their best to make loud monkey noises. ‘Get back on your jam jar’ was a rather dismal attempt at wit. Was it a minority? Was it hell. Were Liverpool fans alone in showing this kind of casual racism? Not remotely. Back in those oddly dark days of the 70’s it was absolutely the norm.
Thankfully my dad always took a pretty ferocious view about that kind of thing and had I ever joined in and made like a chimpanzee I would have received a proper hiding.
Everything changed on the Kop with arrival of John Barnes who quickly won the crowd over with his sheer drop dead genius. The first time Everton came to Anfield after Johnnie pulled on a red shirt, the Bluenoses pelted him with bananas when he took a corner. It was the one and only time I have ever seen fighting at a Merseyside derby.
Soon every team in the land had at least one black player in their ranks and by and large the chants disappeared into history.
Chelsea remained one of the last bastions for the Neo Nazi nutters. I remember going along to watch Liverpool at Stamford Bridge in the early 90’s. I was with Carol’s cousin, Andy, who is a big Chelsea fan. He had got us two tickets in the West Stand where he promised the best atmosphere was to be found.
Atmosphere? I guess you could call it that. It was more like being at a Nuremburg Rally than a football match. We were surrounded by guys who were adorned with as fine an array of Nazi tattoos as you could ever wish to see. The Liverpool fans were up in the tier above us which meant that most of the lads around us spent the whole game standing on their seats with their backs to the game offering Nazi salutes to the visiting Scousers.
I have to admit that the whole thing made me feel pretty damned weird due to the fact that Andy is very much black. Unbelievably none of it seemed to phase him much.
These days enthusiastic Nazi saluting would lead to a lifetime ban and a cancellation of a hugely expensive season ticket. CCTV is everywhere and racist behaviour is no longer tolerated.
Does this mean that it has gone away? I guess the antics of the morons on the train suggests that it probably hasn’t.
As the white half of a mixed race couple, I have had a very personal close up view of racism over the years. Have things improved? In some ways yes, in other ways no. Up here in Scotland racist incidents are thankfully rare. But my home town of Blackburn has descended into a pit of race hate as the whites and Asians have segregated themselves in a similar way to the Protestants and Catholics of Portadown.
Is Britain a better place to be a mixed race couple in 2014 than when we met in 1989? Absolutely. Especially Scotland.
But that only paints a small corner of the much bigger story that emerges with every passing year. To see the remorseless march of racism you need to leave these shores. You see, we have become the exception, not the rule.
In the last months before the Soviet Union imploded like a soggy cardboard box, Carol and I took a few trips to the other side of the old Iron Curtain – East Germany, Hungary and most memorably, the winter wonderland of Leningrad. Everything was crumbling and people were queuing for hours on end to buy rotten cabbage. There was no neon and no traffic. Heroic posters adorned the vast walls of godforsaken Stalin era tower blocks and monumental factories threw thousands of tonnes of smoke into the leaden skies.
The old Eastern Bloc was a wall to wall bleak place, but the people seemed genuinely glad to see us. We talked life and the universe for hours over subsidised vodka and the Russians we met were straight out of Tolstoy and Pasternak.
Over the last couple of decades we have made several more trips East and each time it has got steadily worse. Now to visit St Petersburg as a mixed race couple would be borderline suicidal. There is a new rite of passage for any wannabe who wants to join a Russian Nazi gang. You need to find a black person on a bus or tube train or pavement. Then you beat the living daylights out of them whilst your pals film the event on their phones. Once the beating is posted up on YouTube, you are duly welcomed into the club. Now the walls which once carried those vast heroic posters of flaxen haired steelworkers and tractor drivers are adorned with spray painted swastikas.
A few years ago we got lost in Vilnius, Lithuania. All of a sudden we were driving along potholed roads through ranks of monstrous tower blocks where every square inch seemed to be home to a swastika. I doubt if the city had as many swastikas on display back in 1941 when the Wehrmacht came to town and the psychopaths of the Einsatzgruppen reduced the Jewish population of Vilnius from 40% to zero. What would have happened if one of those gaping pot holes had caused a puncture? Going by the expressions of the pedestrians when they spotted Carol’s black face, I doubt it would have been anything good. Hospital at best.
One by one, we have struck the countries of Eastern Europe off the list of places it is OK to visit. Latvia, Lithuania, Poland, Russia….
Sadly the march of the swastikas now goes well beyond the countries of the defunct Bolshevik dream. The thugs of Golden Dawn make the streets of Athens a bad place for a black person to be once darkness has fallen, particularly as the rules of austerity mean that most of the street lamps have been doused. We haven’t had many smiles in Portugal, Spain or France either. In fact the only place on mainland Europe where we feel as comfortable as we do in Scotland is Germany in general and Berlin in particular. My oh my have things changed over the last seventy years!
All over Europe parties of the right get stronger and stronger and there is a reason for that.
At home we celebrate the collapse of the BNP but it is pretty obvious that any racist looking to spend quality time with a few kindred spirits need look no further than UKIP. Fair enough they are a very pale shadow of the far right nutters who are making such electoral inroads all around the fringes of Europe, but it is pretty clear that UKIP don’t like foreigners much.
However the presence of daubed swastikas on crumbling walls is by no means the only indicator of a quietly rising tide of racism. The media reaction to the recent Paris killings was instructive. Seventeen innocent civilians were murdered in the most dramatic fashion and media coverage was wall to wall and then some. Why? Because they were innocent white civilians in the capital of a white European country. At the very same time the sound of automatic weapons echoed around the streets of Paris, Boko Haram were slaughtering between 2000 and 3000 entirely innocent civilians in a small town in Northern Nigeria that none of us has ever heard of. So why all the attention for 17 deaths and barely any attention at all for 3000 deaths? Easy. White deaths count more that black deaths. White deaths are news. Black deaths are not. A black life counts less than a white life.
Check out what is happening in the Mediterranean right now. Every week hundreds of desperate souls die desperate deaths as their inadequate boats sink. Who are these people? They are entirely innocent civilians fleeing a number of brutal wars. They are brown people and black people and so they don’t really count. The Royal Navy was down there until a few weeks ago saving lives. But now that particular activity has been stopped because the bean counters of the MOD have deemed it to be too expensive. I wonder if the same view would have been taken if it had been a white European country under attack from the ISIS long beards. Imagine it. Thousands of terrified men, women and children fleeing the crazed Jihadi murderers and rapists in rickety boats. White men, women and children. Would the MOD bean counters have been happy to let them drown in the icy waters of the Med? Maybe, but there would have been a one hell of a public storm.
But when hundreds of black and brown men, women and children plunge down into their watery graves every week nobody cares all that much. Where is the growing media campaign? Where is Bob Geldof?
Conspicuous by their absence. That’s where. Just like the eyes of the world had no interest in registering Boko Haram’s genocide.
This is the place where all the anti immigrant rhetoric inevitably takes us. Fair enough, nobody feels it is OK to stand on the seats of the West Stand at Stamford Bridge to sing the Horst Wessel song any more. But we seem well enough able to shrug our shoulders with indifference when thousands of people who happen to be a darker colour than us are shot or drowned.
Thankfully Scotland is very much a beacon of light in a world that gets darker by the day. Carol and I certainly chose the right place to bring up our two brown boys.
These are times when the old political order is creaking at the seams and new insurgent parties are making the grey suits of the Establishment quake in their boots all over the Western World.
The French have the Front National polling at 30%
The English have UKIP polling at 20%
We have the SNP polling at 50%
Spot the odd one out!
I can only hope and pray that the seeping racist cancer remains south of the border for as Edward Grey so famously said a century ago – the lamps are going out all over Europe.