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Lukaku chant proves zero tolerance doesn't work

Friday 22nd September 2017
Football is said to imitate life. It does. For example, the Lukaku chant raining down on the Old Trafford pitch proves zero tolerance is the wrong approach.

Before I explain what I mean, allow me to be explicit regarding three fundamental concepts.

1. The Romelu Lukaku chant is racist.

2. People should be made to understand this.

3. Under no circumstances should it be sung.

Please understand those are my firm beliefs. At no point will I contradict them. If you can't accept this as my position and feel an irresistible urge to call me racist simply because I oppose a demonstrably ineffective tactic, let me add a fourth precondition.

4. I am racist.

News flash, we all are. As it happens, I'm privileged to be a white male. Others less fortunate obviously drew the short straw. No, I can't possibly understand what it means to be them but the opposite is also true. Whatever blend of ethnicity, gender, sexual orientation, and religion we're born into, raised as, or discover ourselves to be, every single adult human is to some degree bigoted, and therefore misinformed. Can't be helped. We all lose our innocence.
Implicit bias--ie, unintentional, unwitting racism--is a disease that afflicts everyone. Once diagnosed, it can be self-treated but not wholly cured. We can't ever say we're not racist. Rather, we can only be measured by our willingness to unlearn the wrongs we've been taught. Personally, I try but sometimes relapse.

I do understand circumstances differ. Because I hit the jackpot in the ethnic lottery, I have more responsibility than someone who has experienced racism, whose trust has been violated, for whom self-preservation is a factor in judging a person by their colour. The only two reasons I, in my white cocoon, can have for being racist are self-interest and/or ignorance. Neither is acceptable. One should be forgivable.

And that is why zero tolerance doesn't work.

Do certain self-righteous Kick-It-Out types really believe fans singing about Romelu Lukaku's package mean him ill?
Don't be silly. They love him. He's restoring their lost glory. They think they're expressing that love, not reinforcing hate. Some social justice warriors understand the motivation but chose to view the chanters as stupid. They condemn them, en mass, as a lost cause. That, in itself, is bigotry.

Scott Patterson, who I don't think of as self-righteous, wrote a brief yet thoughtful piece for Republik of Mancunia. It made one fatal assumption, however, while comparing Lukaku's 'ditty' with another crafted for Emmanuel Adebayor in 2009.

The implication... purely because he was born in Africa, is clearly overtly racist.

Full disclosure: in addition to being a racist, I'm also a Grammar Nazi. Still, the double adverb (without the comma) there at the end isn't the issue. The problem is Patterson implies what is obvious to him should be so to all. Unfortunately, human brains don't all function identically or on the same level. What is overtly clear to you and I might require mental gymnastics for someone else.
Remember the kid in class who could do all the long division and multiplication steps in his head and stick the landing? He thought it was easy; everyone should be able to do it; that the teacher was slowing him down by demanding he show his work. You thought he was an arse. Truth was, in maths at least, he could take in the bigger picture.

Same problem here. That guy in the Stretford End who secretly watches porn in his office cubicle thinks it would be awesome to be as well-endowed as the Lukaku chant imagines. He wishes it was him, so sings his heart out. The bigger picture escapes him. He doesn't see why the chant is an insult; doesn't consider how film and television stereotype handsome, musclebound men as less intelligent; how the same prejudice is redoubled if they are black. He hasn't ever asked himself why he thinks it would be a plus not to have to talk a girl into the sack, to be required to connect with her emotionally before physically. And, if he thinks a handsome hulk never wishes he could talk to a girl, he hasn't read Cyrano de Bergerac or seen Crazy, Stupid, Love.

In short, things aren't always obvious to people because, well, they're stupid.

That last sentence probably came across as both insulting and hypocritical, so let me double down. I'm not just discussing people who don't realise they're being racist. I'm talking about everyone. Racists, zero tolerance types, taxi drivers, nuclear physicists, me. We're all stupid in that we think everyone should see things as we do.

Many in the zero tolerance crowd can't see the sublety of thought regarding diversity that is natural to them is long division for others. Or that it can be applied introspectively. Instead, they play a game of tag-you're-racist, in which everyone remains divided. Isn't the objective to come together?

Me? Not only can't I understand why others don't make connections I do, I sometimes willfully ignore lessons I've learned. Trading places with Lukaku--or other great athletes--is a flight of fancy I've taken at least once a week for as long as I can remember. In some cases, I'll suspend my disbelief to blithely ignore the obvious consequences while reaping the benefits. All the while, I'm cognisant that, because I'm Caucasian, I haven't any clue how deeply the negative aspects that come with being black would affect me. As well, I'm fully aware how engaged and alert the Belgian's mind had to be to overcome the obstacles that littered his career path. If-he-did-it-why-couldn't-I is, on one level, positive motivation. On another, it's a silly daydream with an underlying bigotry that minimises a better man's trials.

Still, I come back to reality when I remember it was a white Luke Shaw, not Lukaku, whose thinking Jose Mourinho once lamented having to take on.
Zero tolerance doesn't work as a cure for racism for the simple reason it bullies rather than educates. Push someone; they will push back. Think less of them; they will think less of you. Refuse to teach; they will devalue education. Turn your back... you get the drift. If you don't, the current political landscape should demonstrate how deep zero tolerance can bury you.

People are forgetting the opposite can be true, as well. Take a step back and so may the other person. Lower your voice rather than raising it; calm may follow. Seek to understand someone's foolish fears and beliefs and they may (slowly) come to adopt your calm rationale. Of course, they may not but the opportunity must be given or they never will. Show a little tolerance, which is different than acceptance, and people can lift each other to new heights.

Just last week, US Democratic leaders made a deal with the devil in the White House to protect Dreamers, illegal immigrants who entered the country as children. The deal isn't law yet and Trump is still apparently hellbent to repeal Obamacare then "completely destroy North Korea." So, this was a small step. Nonetheless, anything is possible when your mind is open.

Close it? Well, that's when things get ugly.
Martin Palazzotto

The former editor of World Football Columns, Martin contributes frequently to Stretty News and is the author of the short story collection strange bOUnce. He has appeared in several other blogs which, sadly, have ceased to exist. He is old and likes to bring out defunct. Although football is his primary passion, the geezer enjoys many sports and pop culture forms. Expect them to intrude upon his meanderings for It's Round and It's White.

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