Mo and Megan: this is what we look like

Posted on July 17, 2019

Calais UH students

A few weeks ago I took a short break from writing this blog. When I did so, I posed the question as to what piece of outlandishness we might have become accustomed to by the time I took to the keyboard again. Well, we’ve got one with knobs on. The leader of the free world – I think we may well have to stop using that moniker for the US President now, don’t you? – has adopted, hook, line and sinker, the language of the dullard racist: ‘why don’t you go back to where you came from?’ Really? We’ve sunk that low?

What’s even worse is that the flatulent guff of the bar room bore blows ever more poisonously. We’re all familiar with it. First, there’s the dead give-away: ‘I’m not racist, but….’ When you hear that, be very afraid.   Then there’s the wounded plaint of ‘I don’t have a racist bone in my body’. In which case, er, why have you made someone’s race an issue? And finally, the relatively modern whine that ‘you can’t criticise anyone these days without being called a racist.’ The noxious vomit of the vile and the flabby-minded spews on unabated.

Many of us, albeit those not subject to daily prejudice and bigotry, had almost convinced ourselves that this dark behaviour had been eradicated. Then along came a successful Brexit campaign, so infected by dog-whistle racism that the incidence of hate crime started to accelerate – and has continued to do so – on the very day the result was announced. Closely followed by a US President who told us, again almost from day one, that we don’t want none of them Muslims round here, boy. And a Tory/DUP government that made criminals of its own Windrush citizens. And a prospective Prime Minister (don’t, just don’t) who said, ‘Look. Look at those funny foreign ladies. Those silly veils make them look like robbers. Don’t they? Look.’ We might just as well make it governmental policy to just give a bit of leeway when it comes to racism.

Pretty darned miserable. So, unsurprisingly, even the most committed of us avoid the news. We look for something to divert us from this terrifying march of the barbarians. We switch the channel and … last, human endeavour at its best and most uplifting: live sport.

Step forward hero – heroine – number one: Megan Anna Rapinoe. Unless you’ve been on holiday on another planet, Megan is the captain of the USA women’s football (I won’t, won’t call it soccer) team which recently won the world cup. It was a competition with a lot to like and there is a strong possibility that live, mainstream coverage will have influenced many girls and women to take up the sport. Megan herself is an exceptional player and has the star quality of being able to perform at key moments in big games. And that’s great…..but it’s not what makes her my heroine.

She was one of the first white athletes to ‘take the knee’ – which is refusing to stand during the national anthem prior to a game – in solidarity with those black athletes who had done so in support of the Black Lives Matter campaign. That was prior to the world cup where she told a reporter with calm insouciance that should her team win, she wouldn’t be going to ‘the fucking White House’ to celebrate with Donald Trump.

When she did return, she took the opportunity to reassert her view that she and her team would not be ‘co-opted by an administration that doesn’t feel the same way and fight for the same things we fight for’. She spoke of her pride at being part of a team that was gay, straight, black, white and all shades between. She had the best, proudest goal celebration and has started a haircut trend that has been appropriated by contrarians of all sorts. A delight.

And then the cricketers – and I own up to this being close to my heart – won a breath-taking game to win the men’s world cup final on Sunday. On another channel, millions of people were watching an epic tennis match and some even chose to watch cars whizzing round very fast somewhere. It was all, genuinely, very exciting and massively diverting.

So just the time, of course, for Jacob Rees-Mogg – who, in case you’ve not worked it out for yourself, is far from some parodic, jolly figure of fun – to make a point about the cricketers being victorious without the help of Europe. Uncharacteristically, I tend not to use profanity in this blog, but – what…..a……twat!

Fortunately, it didn’t take people long to buzz into the twittersphere to point to the Irish captain, the two sons of Pakistani immigrants, the Barbadian, the native New Zealanders and South Africans  who had made victory possible. So my nomination for hero number two is Moeen Munir Ali.

Moeen didn’t play in the final but had played in qualifying games and is a regular in the England team.  I’m hopelessly biased because he’s a Birmingham boy who’s from just down the road from where I was born and raised. During the world cup he wrote a regular column in The Guardian which was illuminating and interesting. On the day after the victory, he decided that the focus of his contribution would be to laud the way in which the team’s diversity had been central to its success. ‘We are an incredibly diverse team from different backgrounds and cultures but, crucially, we respect this and embrace it. We never shy away from it.’

I’m not dewy-eyed about sport, particularly in its professional, global manifestations, but it comes to something when we’ve got to look to athletes to reaffirm and celebrate what we should applaud and take pride about ourselves. This is what we look like and we’re genuinely proud of it. Give me Megan and Moeen over Donald and Boris any day of the week.

A word about the photograph at the head of this piece. I’ll labour the point unapologetically: this is what we look like. It’s a group of students from my place of work who have just returned from a day’s hard work with displaced people in Calais. They swept, cleaned, made tea, distributed clothes and did so with unremitting cheerfulness. They’re not snowflakes and with a couple of exceptions, they’re British born and bred and if we’re not proud of that, and of proclaiming that we are so from the rooftops, then let’s keep voting Trump and Johnson and get what we deserve.

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