One of my favourite journalists is the Guardian’s former US correspondent Gary Younge.
I listened to a podcast he did for The Long Read whilst on a walk a few months ago; he recorded it shortly before his 12-year tour of duty in America came to an end in January last year.
As a black man, who had seen much that changed his very perceptions of what that meant, he was glad to be leaving the country when he did, although the shootings and Trump and the other mayhem which he talked about it were not the reasons he was going.
“If I had to pick a summer to leave, this would be the one,” he said.
That podcast was witty, brilliant, lyrical and full of his usual passion and verve.
But it was also troubling.
He tells a story about stopping for directions once in rural Mississippi and the elderly white couple he asked threatening to shoot him. He thought it was a joke, and was still laughing about it when he told his wife and her brother; as African Americans they didn’t find it funny in the slightest and were angry at him for having ever having taken such a risk.
That was in 2003.
On the day he brought his new-born son back from the hospital, he picked up the New York Times and saw a story about how black males who drop out of high school were 60 times more likely to end up in a prison cell than one who had a bachelor’s degree.
That drove certain realities home to him, that and the time his wife heard gun-shots on the way to the shops and when guns were found discarded in the alleys behind his daughter’s playground and school.
But what Younge’s piece was really about were the racial attitudes in America (and elsewhere) which have led to police brutality and even killings. The slogan Black Lives Matter is one of those that should not exist, because it should not need to.
Yet as Younge demonstrates over and over again, and especially in America, it does need to be said and said loudly.
Black Lives Matter started trending on social media in 2013, after George Zimmerman shot Trayvon Martin and then got away with it. In 2016, the American football player Colin Kaepernick took the knee during the National Anthem; that’s where the sport’s history with the campaign began, although few recognised it at the time; it took until 2020, and the murder of George Floyd, before it really began to be widely accepted and adopted.
Celtic does it before every game. A lot of clubs do.
Lately, that has started to change with the decisions by a number of clubs in England and elsewhere to dump the practice, in part because of despicable elements of their own support who have lamented it on social media. Scottish Rugby – and in part our incoming CEO – recently backed those of its own players who refused to do it against England.
I sincerely hope this isn’t a bad sign. It is important for sportsmen and women to continue taking the knee; it’s a small gesture, but one that carries great weight.
It serves as a reminder that we live in a world where there are still too many injustices and that black men and women are discriminated against in so many, many ways … even to the detriment of their health and wellbeing.
You only have to look at the virus stats to see that being black is still literally a matter of life and death.
Some have asked “how long” football should be “expected” to do this?
It’s a stupid comment. We’re talking about a gesture that lasts five seconds at the start of a game; who exactly feels inconvenieced or offended by it? Who feels that this somehow puts their nose out of joint?
Racism is on the rise throughout football, and indeed throughout society.
Taking the knee against that is the least we should we expect.
Still, the question gets asked.
Well, I’ll ask you a different question; how much longer should we continue with this poppy nonsense?
It used to be that you only observed a silence if a match fell on Remembrance Day itself … now it seems to last a week and the wearing of the poppy is almost compulsory.
I say if we’re going to honour the memories of folk who’ve shot and killed dark skinned people from all over the globe, it shouldn’t be a problem to take the knee for those of them who are still alive, to remind people that their struggles and their lives matter too.
In short, as long as it takes. As long as it takes for things to change.
Celtic was a club founded on the principles of justice and community; what could be more vital to our identity than continuing to show that we care? Our black players are proud that they play for a football club that gets it, and for all our current disagreements over the direction we take in the future, on this we should be unified, and part of one family.