16 July 2021
Written by Simone James, National Director of Equality Diversity Inclusion
I am not a football fan, but with a game as big as Sunday’s Euro 2020 final, I’m all over it. I was excited about the game, proud to be black British, especially considering the make-up of the squad, how well our team had done, and the unity I saw leading up to the match. Then we lost.
As soon as Marcus Rashford, Jadon Sancho, and Bukayo Saka missed their penalties, my heart broke because I knew what was about to transpire. I woke up Monday morning, checked social media, listen to LBC, and put the news on. Sure enough, racism at its finest.
I was expecting the worst, but some of what I saw disgusted me. I felt low, angry, and embarrassed to be British, as I‘m sure lots of people across the country did. Friends and family started reaching out to me, sharing what they had seen, and I find it difficult to even describe some of the messages they shared.
I’ve been in my new role as National Director of Equality Diversity and Inclusion for six weeks now, and this felt like an important moment that needed a response. I started to reflect on how all this might be impacting our staff, volunteers, and service users. How are people feeling at work? Do they feel safe? Are they, like me, feeling drained, depressed and disappointed? My next question was: how do I reach out to people, what support do they need?
I decided to check in with some colleagues to see how they were doing. I had some good conversations with people who shared their feelings and experiences, and I wanted to take this opportunity to tell you what they said:
I went to do a home visit and felt anxious when I saw a football flag at the window… I didn’t know what to expect.”
I feel anxious where I live, I don’t feel safe… This is bringing back the trauma of when I first moved to this area as a child, seeing the word N…. sprayed over our car. I haven’t felt this way for years.”
A young mixed-race person I work with aspires to play football professionally… she’s very low about this and I’m struggling to be positive.”
I’m the only person of color in my team, but they have been so supportive by just checking in and allowing me to speak about how I am feeling. I feel safe here.”
You can see the immediate impact on our colleagues - the memories of trauma resurfacing, the fear and uncertainty they have felt going about their daily lives, all as a direct result of Monday’s ugly outburst of football racism.
Having said all this, I have seen a shift in the last few days, some glimmers of hope. I have seen people coming together to call and shame the perpetrators. I’ve seen petitions to stand up against racism. In Manchester, Marcus Rashford’s mural was defaced, but within hours a whole community, people of all races and backgrounds stood in unity and smothered the abuse and hatred with positive messages.
I know we have a long way to go, and the backlash against the racists in no way reduces the impact of what’s been said and done, but that single positive act in Manchester does give me some hope for the future.
At Change Grow Live discrimination is unacceptable to us, and we will continue to speak out against it. But it’s our daily interactions that really make the change. So let’s support and check in on each other, start some of those difficult conversations we may need to have, and work together to make good on our commitment of making sure everyone feels welcome, safe, and respected, whoever they are and wherever they come from.