Racism makes you look a little closer at who you really are

| August 16, 2018

Last month football star Mesut Ozil decided to step down from representative duties for the German national football team. Ozil’s decision followed racist and discriminatory comments that were made against him and his Turkish heritage after he was pictured with Turkey’s leader President Erdogan.

The Arsenal midfielder’s decision caught many by surprise. However, it was the fact that these comments came from parts of the German Football Association and the German team that that was startling.

Ozil is a great player in his own right and the fact that a star player who will never play on the world stage again as the outcome of this incident was what disappointed me the most.

What this story spoke to quite clearly was the discrimination on the basis of race, ethnicity, and heritage. You might be thinking at this point: “Well, here goes another blog on race that is here to send a message to mobilise people to fight against this obnoxious act of hatred by encouraging the actions of Ozil.”

To an extent, that is true, but the effect of racist incidents and racist rhetoric towards the “other” is the resulting alienation in society.

When I covered this story as a reporter, I was passionate when I asked an academic whom I interviewed whether more footballers should take this stance. “Is this the best way for {football} players to respond to such a serious issue”? I asked. He replied saying “but if we had all players leaving the sport, then that’s not the situation we want to be in”.

While I agreed with his point, the stance which Ozil took highlighted to me the alienation and isolation racist comments generate because it makes a person that is discriminated against based on race take a closer look at who they really are in society.

That is the biggest injustice of all and that is the beginning of segregation in society. We can put in place sanctions, bans, and suspensions to eradicate racist offenders, but the damage racism causes to a victim isn’t stifled as quickly as simply as barring racist offenders from attending or being part of sport or sporting events.

Racism and racist rhetoric scar the essence of being for a victim but even worse, it is the fact that those of us who are not white are forced into looking at ourselves consciously at our skin colour because of racist rhetoric and thinking ‘what does my race have to do with it? This is exactly how I felt when Comedian Bill Maher said the following in the context of US politics when making a point about foreign interference.

“I remember going to London in the 80s and everybody was white… but now London looks like New York and the Mayor is brown…”

It was that word – “brown” – which resonated with me because that was the first time I truly identified with myself and who I am. Although Bill Maher was not speaking of race in broader terms and neither did he intend to discuss politics in the context of race, it made me analyse that the first thing that people of a different race or ethnicity are subjected to is judgement of by the colour of their skin and their background; not their character.

Now, I can’t speak on behalf of Mezut Ozil and the comments that were made or were not made about him, his race and that picture he took with President Erodgan that led to his decision to step down from international football.

You may have a different opinion to me about Ozil’s decision but what is clear is that race is still an issue that continues to manifest itself in various circumstances and it seems to me that for those of us who are not white, we continually are subjected to discrimination on the basis of our skin colour.

When I hear the words “brown” and “black” in discussions based on the context of race and when I hear of people who think it is ok to discriminate based on race or based on any other agenda, one has to ask, “what does that have to do with anything?”, “what does my race have to with anything”?

It seems it does.