There has been much conversation over the England football team taking the knee, in their stance against systemic racism in this country. Different perspectives have since been voiced. For some, this is an empty action and a part of ‘gesture politics’, as Priti Patel called it. For others, this is the right response against racism in any form.  

Are the booers racist?

The simple answer is yes. If you boo, it means you reject the reasons for taking the knee. In this case, to show your solidarity against racism in all its forms in society. The gesture is a continuation from June last year, when Premier League players took the knee in their support for George Floyd and the Black Lives Matter movement. 

Modern racism nowadays does not necessarily come in the form of hurling racial abuse at black people, but includes apathy and making excuses for hostile behaviour. In fact, those who boo will likely not support or express racist stereotypes and beliefs. Yet excusing racism is a key component of why racism persists. There have been some who have argued that they boo because they do not want to watch politics on television. But with an English team that is so racially diverse, it can almost feel like an attack on its black players who are hardly immune to systemic racism just because they are high-earners. Many of these players already experience acute online racial abuse, so to then witness booing on a subject that affects them so deeply is plain shameful. 

The only solution to solving racism in this country, and elsewhere for that matter, is to be an active anti-racist. If not, then racism persists. Make no mistake, booing is not the same as disagreeing with taking the knee. Booing is an active action that rejects the symbolic meaning of the knee.

Nothing but ‘gesture politics’?

In a recent interview, Priti Patel deemed taking the knee as ‘gesture politics’. She is not alone in this view. For some, the taking of the knee is simply an empty ‘gesture’ that lacks any real long-term impact or goal. Rather, its sole purpose is to appear to be anti-racist. Personally, I do not believe this to be the case. However, rather interestingly, despite this having become a powerful, symbolic stance, little has been done to take it beyond and transform it into something more engaging. Apart from a social media blackout against online abuse from Premier League clubs at the end of April, the overall reaction has been tame.

This of course does not make taking the knee invalid, but it does raise questions about the need for more serious action to prevent racism. To some extent, those who call taking the knee ‘gesture politics’ are correct. Taking the knee is a gesture that is supposed to spark action to end systemic racism. But if you expect Marcus Rashford, alongside feeding children and being a footballer, to also discuss solutions for ending racism with the government, you have another thing coming.

More action, less talk 

In order to make taking the knee more than just ‘gesture politics’, the government should be working to end systemic racism. Unfortunately, the opposite seems to have happened. Priti Patel was quick to ascribe the label of ‘gesture politics’ to the Black Lives Matter movement. Then the Conservative Party released the Sewell Report stating that systemic racism does not exist, followed by another timely report that argued ‘white privilege’ no longer exists either for the white working class.

The leader of this country, Boris Johnson, has failed to unequivocally support active anti-racism. It has taken weeks for both him and Patel to even condemn the booing of the England team taking the knee. Their ‘neutral’ stance gave a thumbs up for the racism launched at these black English players. 

It is clear that those who hold power to create change in this country, such as Priti Patel and Boris Johnson, are not doing so. Perhaps the narrative needs to be reframed to what the government can do to create change, spearheaded by these courageous English footballers.

More action is needed, rather than reactionary, empty statements. 

The importance of taking the knee

Despite some criticism of those who chose to take the knee, on the whole, many fans have supported it. In fact, boos were drowned by applause and cheers in England’s game against Croatia on June 13.

Football amplifies what happens in society. There will always be racists or those who boo. With enough applause, this can be drowned out. And this is a step in the right direction, however small.

Psychologically, taking the knee is important. For young children, who may idolise Bukayo Saka or Jack Grealish, seeing their football role models taking an active position against racism may encourage them to be anti-racist. Importantly, taking the knee raises questions and debate. This article exists because the England team took a stand!

We have seen unity, allyship, and active support against racism from our England team. If more of us do the same, this country will move forward from its systemically racist past and present, and taking the knee will no longer be necessary.

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