I am an immigrant, and here’s why I supported England at #World Cup 2018

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FBL-WC-2018-ENGLAND-JERSEYI am an African immigrant, one of those that has been vilified by the British government long before it was open political party rhetoric. I may not have come on a boat or escaped war and may have a life 100x more privileged than those who did, but I am an immigrant nonetheless. And several times over at that – born on the African continent and raised in 3 different Caribbean countries before coming to England nearly 30 years ago to continue my education. When I got that education, all 7 years of it, I thought I’d go back ‘home’, though looking back I don’t think I really knew which home I was referring to. Other immigrants will understand this; I felt as if I had one foot here with the other foot kind of flicking between Zimbabwe and The Bahamas, occasionally straying to Jamaica.

This year, 2018, was the first time England had made it this far into the World Cup championship since 1990. No one can forget that day, 28 years ago, when England faced Germany in the semi-finals. I was 2 years in by then and had reluctantly accepted that England was not all roses and cheery skipping through lavender-filled fields in the countryside or eating daintily-cut sandwiches and cakes washed down with tea at 4pm. Not for us immigrants anyway – it was cold, hardly snowed, rained a lot, and the British, who I had only known to live happily in our sunny climes, didn’t really want us in their temperate ones. There was always one who woke up with the sole intent of making that very clear to any passing brown-skinned person.

The conflicting existence of immigrant life

Anyway back to World Cup 1990 – Italia90 as it was called. That was also the year that Cameroon was the first African country to dazzle on the  world football stage. No matter where you were from, once you were black, you supported Cameroon. When they were knocked out, you supported any other team but England. The history of the dysfunctional relationship between the colonial land and our homes was very much alive and coupled with the way we were still being treated in the 20th century, it would have been high treason on all levels to support England, especially in the North of England where I was, where racial tolerance was, well, not tolerated.

It was during that ill-fated semi-final match that I had the first of many lessons on the conflicting emotions of the immigrant life. I didn’t want England to win but it wasn’t because I wanted Germany to win. No one liked Germany. But as an immigrant, you just could not support England.

For me though, having been exposed to so many cultures – yes, the Caribbean countries are very different – yet raised with the utmost African pride, I was inclined to be tolerant. At university, I had friends from all over the world including all 4 countries of Great Britain. I was curious about and wanted to enjoy this country. I wanted to feel a part of it, explore it, taste it, in the same way that I had done Guyana, Jamaica and The Bahamas, and in the same way I would do with Zimbabwe as an adult.  Even though England really didn’t care much about having me here, I, all of us immigrants in my circle anyway, still wanted to be part of English society. What all that meant was that I did empathise with the frustration that the English felt over not having won the cup since 1966 where they’d also faced Germany. When that 1990 final came to a penalty shoot-out where Stuart Pearce and Chris Waddle missed their shots, ensuring England’s misery for another 4 years, I felt a tug in my chest, but the immigrant rule was that you never supported the coloniser. You just didn’t. Period.

In the months and years after, we all watched the fall from grace of several players from that squad, we all mocked the decline of English football and we all lost faith in the England team ever winning anything, ever. Six years later, at the UEFA Euro96 tournament, it was another semi-final, another penalty shoot-out in another match with Germany. This time, the penalties went to sudden death and this time the protagonist was Gareth Southgate. His public slaughter by us all and the media that was tragic. Apparently even his own mother asked him why he hadn’t hit the ball harder. But, here is the first reason why 28 years later, I supported England in the semi-final World Cup match against Croatia – #GarethSouthgate.

All hail #Gareth Southgate

 

Southgate daily express

Image courtesy of GETTY via http://www.express.co.uk

When he was appointed manager of the England Team, I silently applauded him. And to learn that this wasn’t some random selection was really inspiring. He had nursed himself back quietly and deftly, had clearly worked hard and was smart. He’d led the Junior England team to U-17 World Cup victory in 2017 after all. You see, we immigrants  know about being smart, working hard, quietly and deftly – we do it all the time, with our eyes closed, so we appreciate it when we see it another.

Besides, who doesn’t like a come-back? And Gareth’s is the mother of all comebacks. Because really, no one should have survived that battering he got after missing that penalty shot 22 years ago, yet he did. It’s a mother of a comeback because he not only dared to get an English squad back to where it was all those years ago, but also journeyed back to look his demons square in the face. On the face of it, to go back where you seemingly failed, is a kind of courage we don’t see much these days. But he is of that special generation, the 70s babies. We are a special breed because we hold on to our old school values but not so tightly as to let them limit us, continuously harking back to the past. We use them to quietly and deftly make sense of the chaos that seemingly reigns in today’s age; we use them to help guide the generation after us as they navigate through their chaos; we use them to go back to basics when faced with challenges, yet are still able to appreciate and utilise the new rules and tools of 21st century society; and we use them to go out on a limb, take chances because sometimes you have to do things differently to get a different result.

The rehabilitation of English footie

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Image courtesy of: https://wdef.com/2018/07/11/world-cup-2018-england-vs-croatia-semifinal-odds-lines-expert-picks-and-top-insider-predictions/

And here is the second reason I supported England in the World Cup semi-final. #GarethSouthgate went out on a limb. One thing that we immigrants are acutely aware of and have experienced at one point or another is being passed over for that job or promotion when you are more than qualified, all because you don’t look right. We will all tell you that one reason England has performed so poorly over the past 28 years is that the managers didn’t always pick the best players – and many of the best players are black. There was a time when the English squad simply looked ridiculous as it nowhere near reflected what you’d see in Sunday leagues up and down the country – diversity. On top of that #GarethSouthgate chose players from some real underdog clubs, like Leicester City, as opposed to those from the big guns, the likes of Chelsea et al. He chose players he knew could play well, were hungry and truly represented the best of England and that was all that mattered.

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Image courtesy of http://edomshow.com/england-vs-croatia-world-cup-2018-live-updates/

In a way he has rehabilitated football and allowed us brown people to be a part of it. In 1990, you’d never see us in a pub, at a bar, or any public congregation to watch football. You’d be watching it safe and sound at home. But in 2018, we’re actually venturing to watch it outside of our living rooms! I had to run some errands for the first  30 minutes of the match, so at a traffic light, I shouted out to a bunch of people outside a drinking hole, asking for the score. Who shouted it back at me? A Nigerian man having a cigarette break, whilst an Indian man, also puffing on a fag, was hurriedly making his way into the pub to get stuck in. That would not have been possible 30 years ago, so thank you #GarethSouthgate.

‘Our lads done good’

The third reason I supported England in the World Cup semi-final against Croatia is one that must be a wake-up call for all of us – our children. My son is a Londoner, born and bred. He is proud of his triple heritage, but this is his home, regardless of where mummy and daddy are from. Like a true Brit, he eats, sleeps and breathes  football – he’s getting ready to be vice-captain of the school team, plays for a local club, plays it on his Xbox and plays it on his phone. He collects football boots – literally all his last birthday vouchers were spent on them. He lines them up perfectly and reverently nearly every day.

His boots

He collects football kits; on a family holiday to Portugal his only objective when shopping was to get the full Ronaldo No 7 Portuguese kit. He asked the taxi-driver from the airport if he knew Ronaldo (incidentally he did, because his brother-in-law worked in Ronaldo’s restaurant, and so the theme for the 1h drive was set).When he goes out, all he really wants to wear is one of his kits or a tracksuit. He hates the Spanish football team because they are mortal enemies of the team – Portugal – of his favourite player – Ronaldo. He can’t walk anywhere without kicking something to show off his skills. He loves the French team because they are really good, and probably because he adores his au pairs – all of whom have been French. But England is his team because this is his country and he plans to play for them one day.

So could I really support Croatia as I would have done if it was 28 years ago? No. Did I want to? Honestly, a part of me nearly did, out of habit, but today, it wasn’t about me and my immigrant loyalties because the rules were different, the air was filled with hope, the stars were aligned for victory and the stakes were higher. As immigrant parents of children born in the diaspora, we at some point must put aside our conflicting emotions about our dual existence for the sake of our children. We must also work to reverse the intolerance that they will at some point have to face. This means we arm them with the tools to stand up squarely to that intolerance, no hesitation, no apology because this is their home. It also means we appropriately help them affirm their position and their rights to be a part of British society, a society into whose fabric football is tightly woven. It therefore made sense, whether wholeheartedly, symbolically or sympathetically to support their national team, our national team.

So ‘you done good lads’, ‘you done us proud’. ‘Engerland, Engerland.’

Now bring #Euro2020 home!

 

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Image courtesy of inews.co.uk

 

 

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A Tale of Two Boys: Emmett Till and Tamir Rice

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The year that saw the public unravelling of the discriminate American policing and judicial system continues to the bitter end of 2015.

This week, just over a year after 12-year-old Tamir Rice was shot dead in Cleveland, Ohio whilst holding a toy gun, the police officer who shot him will not be indicted on any criminal charges. In fact, it’s not immediately apparent what consequences this officer will face.

The facts…in a nutshell

The official report from the county prosecutor’s office tells us this: Tamir, who was African-American, was playing with a toy gun in a park on November 22nd, 2014; a 911 call was made reporting a man waving and pointing a gun at people; the caller did state that the gun could have been fake and the person involved could have been a juvenile; two police officers subsequently arrived on the scene and drove within a few feet of Tamir; inside 2 seconds of getting out of the patrol car, one of these officers fired 2 shots at the 12-year old; one bullet struck his abdomen; the police officers stated that they ordered Tamir 3 times to raise his hands; none of the witnesses heard these commands; neither of the police officers administered first aid to Tamir after they realised he was indeed a juvenile; one officer instead tackled and handcuffed his 14-year old sister; when his mother arrived on the scene she was threatened with arrest; both officers refused to testify at the grand jury hearing; the office that shot Tamir was deemed not fit to handle firearms; the prosecutor at the same hearing blamed the emergency services despatcher for not relaying the information that it was possible that the individual in question was a boy with a toy gun.

Two subsequent reports, the Sims report and the Crawford1 report, both concluded that Tamir’s killing was reasonable. There is guidance from the United States Supreme Court that explains why the policemen who set up an ‘officer-created jeopardy’ situation will not face criminal charges. It’s flawed, because like most things American, it’s open to interpretation, but nevertheless this guidance, or rather, one interpretation of this guidance, was upheld2.

A deeply and profoundly sad state of affairs

The onslaught of public reports of deaths of African-American men and women at the hands of those whose duty is, and who are paid to serve and protect, has been relentless. The countless editorials, opinion pieces and commentaries on these events, in the main-stream and off-stream media, from the right-wing to the liberal leaning to the conspiracy theories, all raise ugly issues and rub salt in the deep wounds that afflict American society.

I could blog a self-righteous piece based on my own worldview which is here on the outside looking in, about what a mess America wallows in; sometimes though the clearest view is indeed from that vantage point. As much as a personal rant would feel good, it would a), not shed any light on the complexity of the dysfunction within that society, b),  require an anthology of American history and society which I am not in any way qualified to write about, c), serve no real purpose other than self-gratification on my part and d), not ease the deep and profound sadness I and many like me feel about the young lives that are being snuffed out like nuisance prey by a seemingly predatory system.

A predatory system that has changed little in the last 60 years.

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Emmett Till: July 25, 1941 – August 28, 1955

Image courtesy of: http://www.pbs.org/wgbh/amex/till/peopleevents/p_till.html

 

On August 28, 1955, 14-year-old African-American Emmett Till was killed by two white men in Mississippi after allegedly flirting with a 21-year-old married white woman. The only difference between the case of Emmett then and that of Tamir now is that the killers of now, wear uniforms.  I urge you to read the story yourself and I’m pretty sure you will find it incredible. I know that 3 years after I first came across it, I still find it to be so.

Both boys were perceived, by whites, to be older than they were on account of their physical appearances – Emmett weighed 68kg and stood 1.63m tall; Tamir was 79kg and stood 1.7m tall. So the fact that they were bigger than they should be warranted and even justified an aggressive response to childish behaviour. There is published work on how whites view and interpret the physique of black children3, and it’s very telling.

You would think it’s enough that black and brown-skinned adults are negatively stereotyped – not that we need studies to tell us that, though statistics and surveys are very useful in providing objective evidence to the naysayers. Does this deadly stereotyping really have to extend to black and brown-skinned children too? Can they not be allowed to be like all other children who sometimes do incredibly stupid things without paying for such stupidity with their lives? Even if Emmett had really made lewd comments to an adult woman, surely all that adult woman had to do was drag him by the ears to his family and allow them to deal with him. That’s how we know things to have been dealt with in the good ole’ days right? And, there is no doubt that Tamir was silly to have been brandishing any imitation weapon of any kind in public especially in the climate at that time; for generations, children have been fascinated with guns, because adults revere guns; for generations, children have played cops and robbers with fake guns, no questions asked. Are we now to accept that it’s open season on any child who engages in this past-time (though in my circles it is quite un-PC, and rightfully so, to give children toy guns)? Since when have law enforcement officers been intimidated by children playing with toy guns?

In the case of Emmett, media stories at the time even focussed on that fact that his father, an officer in the US army, had been executed in Italy during the 2nd World War for allegedly raping and murdering women, in an attempt to show that there must have been some genetic disposition in Emmett towards aggression against white women. I really urge you to read up on this case yourself – it boggles the mind. The holes in both stories are gapingly wide, yet even after the cases were bought before a judicial system and the American public, no one was found culpable in the violent death of a child.

Of course, in between Emmett and Tamir there have been others: some we hear about like Trayvon Martin, Michael Brown and Laquan McDonald, but most we don’t, like Kendrick Johnson4. In all cases it’s apparent that the deeply disturbed and flawed legacy of Emmett’s killers and their ancestors continues to thrive in modern day Americans. I can’t even use the word the term racist legacy because that word doesn’t really feel as if it fully encapsulates the forces at play here.

An ugly mind-set based on destructive principles

These forces appear to surmise that anyone of African origin is somehow not human, soul-less, devoid of emotion and feelings. It is this mind-set that shoots a child of colour first, then prevents that child’s loved ones from comforting him as he dies, then lies about the events that transpired, because that mind-set is confident in the fact that there is a system that will support your every devious move.

There’s no doubt that policemen see some ugly things in their line of duty; but is that justification to shoot first then lie later? Working in accident and emergency as a junior doctor some years back, I and my colleagues saw human beings at their ugliest too. But never at any time did we ever lose sight of the fact that we were dealing with human beings, fellow human beings, who no matter what, were to be treated as such. There is no reason why policemen shouldn’t have that same empathy…unless they are somehow not human, soul-less, devoid of emotion and feelings.

60 years forwards…or backwards?

Although Emmett Till’s death in 1955 turned out to be one of the catalysts for the American Civil Rights Movement, why is it that his story is repeated through Tamir Rice in 2015? The sad truth appears to be that the destructive principles that form the foundation of American society have never been dismantled. Now they are being exposed for what they are. But unless all Americans can fully and positively exploit the opportunities that are open to them to really uphold their revered Constitution, and start work on a new foundation, things will go back another 60 years.

 

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Tamir Rice: June 25, 2002 – November 23, 2014

Image courtesy of: http://www.nytimes.com/2015/01/23/us/in-tamir-rice-shooting-in-cleveland-many-errors-by-police-then-a-fatal-one.html?_r=0

 

 

1http://prosecutor.cuyahogacounty.us/pdf_prosecutor/en-US/Tamir%20Rice%20Investigation/Crawford-Review%20of%20Deadly%20Force-Tamir%20Rice.pdf

 

2http://www.slate.com/blogs/the_slatest/2015/12/28/tamir_rice_s_death_didn_t_lead_to_indictments_because_of_supreme_court_vagueness.html

 

3https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/wonk/wp/2015/12/28/why-prosecutors-keep-talking-about-tamir-rices-size-36-pants/?tid=sm_tw

 

4http://www.nydailynews.com/news/national/fed-seize-cell-phones-computers-ga-gym-mat-death-article-1.2303553