Category Archives: Racism

Uncovering Britain’s Lost Black Sporting Heroes

By Jim Lusted

If you’re a sport enthusiast like me, you will claim to know a lot about sport. After all, we dedicate much of our waking lives obsessing over our favourite sports, teams and players. So, let’s test your sporting knowledge out on these questions:

  1. Which International Boxing Hall-of-Famer was an usher at the coronation of George IV in 1821?
  2. Which footballer made her debut for the British Ladies football team in 1895 and for many years was mistakenly called Carrie Boustead?
  3. Which England Rugby Union player was dropped because opponents South Africa refused to play against him?

Hats off to you if you spotted Bill Richmond, Emma Clarke and Jimmy Peters – you are likely to be one of the very few! If none of these names immediately spring to mind it isn’t because you’ve not been paying attention. Until very recently, they were pretty much unheard of. They are all Black sportspeople from Britain’s past and, like many others, their stories have generally been forgotten, untold and uncelebrated. This isn’t something limited to sport – there is a widespread absence of Black history in popular accounts of British history, as discussed in a 2016 BBC series ‘Black and British: A Forgotten History ’ currently being repeated on the iPlayer platform.

Slowly, we are (re)discovering Black British sporting figures and their fascinating stories. Increasingly we see profiles emerge of these forgotten sporting icons in the media, often as content created to mark Black History Month. But what do the historic achievements of Black sportspeople tell us about the relationship between ‘race’, racism and sport, and why haven’t their often-extraordinary stories been woven into British sporting folklore and memory?

Take Bill Richmond, for example. Only very dedicated followers of boxing history will know of him – at least until recently, as the story of the ‘first black sporting icon in history’ has emerged. Richmond’s story is a fascinating one in itself, but it is illustrative in that it shows how sport can challenge – in an often fleeting and highly contingent way – the racial politics of a particular historical period.

Born into slavery in the USA in 1763, at the age of 13, Richmond was taken to York, England by a British army commander and provided with an education – highly unusual at the time. He later moved, with his Yorkshire wife, to London to live with and work for Thomas Pitt, cousin of then Prime Minister William Pitt the Younger. By 1821 he had seemingly reached the highest levels of British gentry, becoming an usher at the coronation of King George IV. His 2015 biography, ‘Richmond Unchained ’, suggests that much of this astonishing journey was down to his special talent for boxing – in those days a brutal, bare-knuckled version of the sport hugely popular among all sections of British society including the aristocracy. That Thomas Pitt was a boxing enthusiast was no coincidence, and around the turn of the nineteenth century, Richmond gained a reputation and a following as he won a series of prize fights against well-known and highly regarded opponents. He later ran a boxing academy where, it is said, he trained high profile establishment figures including Lord Byron.

Would Richmond have achieved such a social standing without his sporting prowess? Being a Black person in nineteenth-century England he faced widespread racial discrimination – put into context, he died some 4 years before slavery was legally abolished in the UK in 1833. His early boxing experiences appear to have come from violent brawls he endured as a result of the persistent racist abuse and insults he suffered. So while sport opened up some unlikely opportunities, it by no means protected him from the racist realities of the day.

Richmond’s biographer, Luke Williams, rightly observes that it is ‘a staggering collective omission by sports and social historians that the story of Bill Richmond has scarcely been told’. So why has it taken over 175 years for his life and career to emerge? For this we should consider how exactly history is crafted – who decides which figures and which stories are preserved, and what historical narratives take precedence over others. In the aforementioned BBC series, historian David Olusoga claims that British history has been ‘whitewashed’, with the presence and influence of Black Britons largely ignored. This partial history reinforces the idea of Britain as a ‘white’ country and downplays its long-standing, complex connections with Africa and other parts of the world. It also serves to divert attention away from the relationship between modern industrial Britain’s economic success, its leading role in the Atlantic Slave Trade and its often violent, exploitative colonial rule.

These historical narratives also perpetuate a crude racialised hierarchy between white and black. The stories that underpin this ‘whitewashed’ history are selected because they conform to this frame – so that influential, successful Black figures in British history are conveniently forgotten while tales of powerful and heroic white people (usually men) are remembered and re-imagined. As Black British poet Benjamin Zephaniah says:

“I wasn’t interested in history at school, because I was being taught that black people had no history. We were usually being “discovered” by great white explorers, civilised by the great white conquerors and missionaries, or freed by the great white abolitionists.”

It is certainly a positive sign that figures such as Bill Richmond, Emma Clarke and Jimmy Peters are being re-discovered and their achievements are finally being recognised. Celebrating the lives of prominent Black figures – including sportspeople – in Britain’s past can play an important role in re-balancing the dominant historical narrative of British history and will begin to help us appreciate the plurality and complexity of influences that shape Britain today.

References

Black and British: A Forgotten History (2016) BBC Two. Available at: BBC iPlayer https://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/b082x0h6 (Accessed: 20 October 2020).

Williams, L. (2015) ‘Richmond Unchained: The Biography of the World’s First Black Sporting Superstar’. Stroud: Amberley Publishing.

Williams, L. (2015) ‘Bill Richmond: The Black Boxer wowed the Court of George IV And taught Lord Byron To spar’, The Independent, 26 August. Available at: https://www.independent.co.uk/life-style/history/bill-richmond-black-boxer-wowed-court-george-iv-and-taught-lord-byron-spar-10473577.html (Accessed: 20 October 2020).

Zephaniah, B. (2020) ‘Black people will not be respected until our history is respected’, The Guardian, 12 October. Available at: https://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2020/oct/12/black-people-history-respected-teachers-police-benjamin-zephaniah (Accessed: 20 October 2020).

This article was originally posted on OpenLearn

Why racism is still only being shown a yellow card

By Rojo Warriors – John Dougal, Gavin Dunlop, Okito Gonzales, Conor Langford and Jamie Morrison (E119 18J Students)


This blog was written as part of a collaborative team work task by students studying E119. They had to select a topic and then decide on what roles each person would perform in the team, such as researcher, writer, editor and leader. This blog was chosen as one of the best blogs from around 80 blogs that were produced.


I instantly felt uncomfortable. The moment I walked into one of Europe’s grandest theatres, I looked up to my right, a normal man, someone’s Father, Grandfather, Brother, was casually unfurling a huge flag. Yes, this is a common sight in any football stadium, however, it was what was on the flag that was disturbing, stopping me dead in my tracks. A huge image of The Wehrmacht Eagle (Nazi Imperial Eagle) Symbol appeared before me. Little did I know this was only the start of my ‘experience.’

Photo by Liam McKay on Unsplash

The setting was Rome’s Stadio Olimpico, where The Derby della Capitale (AS Roma v Lazio) was about to take place. An image of Lazio’s most famous fan, Benito Mussolini covered the away section, while chants of ‘Seig Heil’ rang around the sea of straight-armed saluting ‘fans’. This place made an Old Firm game look like a tea party. Disgusted by what I was seeing, I somehow managed to ignore it, what I could not ignore happened with just 10 minutes to go in the game. Roma’s Brazilian defender, Juan, received the ball, when all of a sudden a deafening sound of monkey chants erupted from the Lazio fans, the next time he got the ball, five to ten inflatable bananas appeared with grown men impersonating monkeys. What struck me was there were sections of people looking at us in disgust and judging us for not joining in, as if we were in the wrong. What I could not believe was, the next day, not a thing in the newspapers about it, nothing on the news channels, it was just accepted this is what happens.

That was back in 2011, fast forward seven years and nothing seems to have improved. Boxing Day 2018, Inter host Napoli in Milan in what should be a celebration of Italian football, between two of the country’s most entertaining teams. However, what followed put a massive stain on the league. Throughout what was the stand out Christmas fixture, sections of the Inter crowd inflicted sustained racial abuse on Napoli defender Kalidou Koulibaly, with the Senegal International visibly upset throughout the game in which he was ultimately sent off.

How was this ordeal dealt with? The Italian Football Federation (FIGC) have ignored criticism and upheld a two-match ban for Napoli defender Kalidou Koulibaly for a red card in the game in Milan on Wednesday when he was subjected to racist monkey chants from the Inter fans (Wallace, 2018a). On top of that Inter Milan have been ordered to play their next two Serie A games behind closed doors, and close part of the stadium for one further game following racial abuse aimed at Napoli’s Kalidou Koulibaly on Boxing Day (Gladwell, 2018). It is hardly a strong stance in stamping out racism, is it? It is merely a slap on the wrists. How do you explain to young kids watching at home, when they ask, “Why is there no fans in the stadium?” or they ask why they cannot go to watch their heroes because of a fan ban? Perhaps they should take heed of Napoli head coach Carlo Ancelotti who demanded the game be called off. “Despite our requests, the game wasn’t suspended. I think it should have been. Next time we’ll stop playing ourselves” (Wallace, 2018b).

Despite having a terrible reputation It’s not just in Italy of course. No country is free of racism – as was demonstrated by the banana skin thrown during the recent north London derby, and the reports of anti-Semitic chanting by Chelsea fans in December (Jones, 2018). The problem of racism in the UK seems to have been highlighted once again with several incidents so far during the 2018/19 season.

Former Liverpool and England star John Barnes recently commented; “The very fact that a real banana skin came on and there was real abuse doesn’t surprise me at all. I just thought it was to be expected” (Independent, 2018)

The fact that Barnes “expected” this sort of behaviour is rather alarming, and suggests that more needs to be done out with football too, to educate society from a young age. Nobody is born racist so they must learn it and pick it up from somewhere, as the recently surfaced very disturbing video of the young Millwall ‘fan’ shows. (Unbelievable! Millwall Racist Woman Teaching a KID To Chant, 2019)

In the UK, the Show Racism the Red Card, an educational charity, was launched in January 1996. The Kick It Out organisation was launched three years earlier. What is worrying is that over 25 years later the problem is still there. With Statistics from Kick It Out, football’s equality and inclusion organisation, reveal an increase in reports for the sixth consecutive year. Racism constituted 53% of them during the 2017/18 season, a rise of 22% from the previous year (Kick It Out, 2018).

With these campaigns in place, why are the stats still rising?
The simple fact is that more needs to be done. It is all very well having these campaigns such as Nike’s ‘Stand Up Speak Up’ campaign that launched in 2005, which received strong criticism from certain players. Gary Neville has criticised Nike for looking to gain commercial advantage from football’s latest anti-racism campaign (The Telegraph, 2005). The criticism comes as Nike were selling black and white wristbands which became more of a must-have fashion accessory rather than a tool to promote standing up against racism.

It is all very well closing stadiums, fining clubs or arresting people, the fact is, it is clearly not working. I feel anti-racism education should be on school curriculums so children are educated from an early age. I also believe the only way to stop it happening now is to go back to what Napoli coach Carlo Ancelotti suggested and players simply walk off the park with the game being postponed, that would soon stop these so-called ‘fans’ disgusting behaviour. Finally, I feel the police and clubs should work together to name and shame the people that are guilty of these crimes, ensuring their family and employers are aware of their actions. We need to stop giving racism the yellow card and once and for all show it the red card.

Reference List

Gladwell. B. (2018) ‘Inter Milan given two match stadium closure after Koulibaly monkey chants’, ESPN, 27 December 2018 [Online]. Available at http://www.espn.co.uk/soccer/napoli/story/3737523/inter-milan-given-two-match-stadium-closure-after-koulibaly-monkey-chants (Accessed at 26 January 2019)

Independent (2018) ‘Raheem Sterling Chelsea abuse: Invisible banana skins thrown at black people every day, says John Barnes’, Independent, 11 December 2018 [Online]. Available at https://www.independent.co.uk/sport/football/news-and-comment/raheem-sterling-chelsea-abuse-racism-news-video-twitter-instagram-racist-statement-john-barnes-a8677516.html (Accessed 26 January 2019)

Jones, T. (2018) ‘Fascism is thriving again in Italy, – and finding it’s home on the terraces’, The

Guardian, 29 December [Online]. Available at https://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2018/dec/29/fascism-italy-racist-abuse-kalidou-koulibaly-italian-football (Accessed at 26 January 2019)

Kick It Out (2018), Available at https://www.kickitout.org/Pages/FAQs/Category/reporting-statistics (Accessed 26 January 2018)

Sky Sports (2018) ‘Chelsea suspend four supporters over alleged Raheem Sterling abuse’, Sky Sports, 11 December 2018 [Online]. Available at https://www.skysports.com/football/news/11668/11577275/chelsea-suspend-four-supporters-over-alleged-raheem-sterling-abuse

The Telegrapgh (2005) ‘Neville attacks Nike PR’, The Telegraph, 10 February 2005 [Online]. Available at https://www.telegraph.co.uk/sport/2355144/Neville-attacks-Nike-PR.html (Accessed 27 January 2019)

Unbelievable! Millwall Racist Woman Teaching a KID To Chant, (2019) YouTube video, added by Team PKO [Online]. Available at https://youtu.be/HmaqX4p0yYM (Accessed 28 January 2019) WARNING Very disturbing language.

Wallace, S (2018a) ‘Kalidou Koulibaly given two-match ban despite being subject to racist monkey chants’, The Telegraph, 27 December 2018 [Online]. Available at https://www.telegraph.co.uk/football/2018/12/27/carlo-ancelotti-says-inter-milan-napoli-should-have-stopped/amp/ (Accessed at 27 January 2019)