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A black day for the blind

December 22, 2011

So John Terry calls someone a “black c**t” on the football field and suddenly he is up before the beak, whereas when he claimed he called someone a “blind c**t” that was perfectly alright, with no prospect of admonition even from the seemingly trigger happy footballing authorities.

Let me say straight off that racism is illogical. If, as the latest science reporting would have it, what we know as the rich and diverse tapestry of humanity came for the most part from a small number of nomads exiting Africa about 70,000 years ago, any judgements made on pigmentation, eye shape or any other physically manifest variation in such a short period would be akin to suggecting that the Pembrokeshire Corgi is the natural master of the Cardigan Corgi.

That out of the way, why is the accusation of racism quite so toxic, when almost any other “ism”, while it may be frowned upon, rarely invokes the public bile in the way of racism?

Apart from the boorish behaviour of Andy Gray and Richard Keys, it seems that sexism in sport is largely ignored. There has been a little bluster about the all-male shortlist for this year’s Sports Personality gong, but there would surely be uproar if an all white shortlist were announced in the year that Mo Farah came good, yet where is Beth Tweddle, Victoria Pendleton. The bias towards mens sports on television, as well as in funding, is an unspoken scandal.

Why, in 2011, is it still the case that while the whole country knows that there must be some top flight footballers that are gay, would it be career suicide for any to come out, certainly while still playing. Homophobia is just as illegal as racism, but can you seriously imagine JT in the dock for calling another player a poof?

There has been institutionalised racism for hundreds of years, and that the British Empire, as well as the United States was significantly built on slavery, one of mankinds worst traits. There could be argued a special case for racism of white against black, given that it is the oppressor against the oppressed.

That washes less, however, when you look at the tratment of other groups. Women were seen as the possession of their husbands long after the abolition of slavery. Many countries and cultures actively restrict women’s rights, especially over their own bodies and reproduction.

Homosexuality was only decriminalised in 1967 in England, and not until 1982 in Northern Ireland. In many countries of the world it is still illegal, and in a very few it is even punishable by death.

It is true that in many Western countries, despite great strides towards equality, the prospects for those of different races are significantly different, but it is also true that there is still a significant gender gap in pay for women.

And what of the blind? Well in general reality does not live up to the law on the treatment of any disabled groups. The recent twitterstorm over the use of the word “mong” seems to suggest that many still regard language that discriminates against those with a disability as acceptable, while the opportunities afforded to the disabled in terms of access to services or opportunities for engagement in society and especially to positions of influence are scant.

Certainly the Equality Act 2010 in the UK seeks to address prejudice and discrimination in work and public life without favouring one particular group over another, and for that shoudl be lauded.

It reamins the case though that the reaction to racism far outstrips the reaction to expressions of prejudice over any other factor. I’m not suggesting a “race to the bottom” where racist language should somehow be OK because sexist or diablist language goes unpunished, I’m suggesting we think about all our prejudices.

The Suarez case is easy for the football authorities to deal with harshly as it makes them look tough on racism without affecting the captain of the national side. I wonder what their, and Chelsea’s reaction would be were the prosecution against John Terry to succeed.

So perhaps it is a good thing that prosecuters get involved, but only if similar high-profile figures are brought to legal task for outbursts against other groups protected under equality laws.

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