A trip to the park for a family should be a pretty breezy affair. Sure, most sporting events - and, really, any public gathering with a big number of people - will likely have some form of behavior that is obnoxious or annoying or, sadly, terrifying and unsettling. But the hope, if not the expectation, is that one would not have to witness racist invectives hurled towards their child.
At the weekend, however, that expectation was shattered when a man attending the Liverpool Legends vs AC Milan Legends match at Anfield, decided to hurl racist abuse at a family seated directly behind him. The family contained two children - one aged 5 and the other aged 4 - and both children witnessed the entire altercation. In fact, a report from the Echo indicates that while the fan had been muttering racist abuse for some time, it was an accidental kick out by one of the children to the seat of the abuser that finally set him off.
The man was removed from his seat and turned over to Merseyside police. He was released two days later and is awaiting a decision from the club on his status at Anfield. The judge in the case handed down a 12-month ban.
The most curious piece in all of this is that the man essentially used a defense that indicated the racism was due to his being inebriated. That he had no recollection of the abuse and that the alcohol had transformed him into a Racist Mr. Hyde.
Whatever the eventual resolution from the club, this entire incident marks a rather troubling moment for Liverpool fans of color. I have written often about how racism within Liverpool’s own fandom must be addressed and the reason I had underwriting my work was for reasons laid out in this specific instance: fans of color already exist within the fanbase. We come to Anfield, visit pubs, and attend fan events across the globe. We are a part of the vaunted Liverpool FC family. And yet, one segment of this fanbase still does not feel we belong.
I was particularly struck by the knowledge that children were involved in this incident. People of color living in majority white nations/communities have always had to reckon with racism and how to address these issues with their children. That part isn’t new. But it doesn’t stop it from hitting me like a ton of bricks to read it in print. It doesn’t stop my breath from being pulled from my lungs at the thought of young children being exposed so clearly and viscerally to the truth that things they cannot change about themselves stir up so much anger and resentment and hate in others. It doesn’t stop me from wondering when my own child will be subjected to such behavior and how I, a simple man with few answers of my own, might help to piece her back together in the aftermath.
The thing about racism that I’ve come to deeply believe is that it touches us all. Sure, the most negative and pernicious effects obviously rain down on the most marginalized, but I also think about the way racism must necessarily leave some unseen plaque, like a cancer, on the interior lives of racist people. The heaviness, the weight, of that hate and misplaced anger is something I cannot bring myself to imagine. And that brokenness necessarily filtering down to the youth weighs me down.
I have hope, though, that with strong and coordinated work, we will be able to stem the tide. The fact that the stewards and surrounding people in attendance seem to have handled this situation swiftly is an unqualified good thing. Until we can reach a place where this sin of racism is extinguished, we must rely on the protections within our system. The system, in this case, functioned as intended.
Hopefully, Liverpool fans of good faith will continue to do the harder and longer term work needed to ensure that racism is fully stamped out: leveraging their personal relationships with people still in need of conversion on topics such as race, sexism, Islamaphobia, homophobia, transphobia, and xenophobia. Because while it won’t stop people like me from speaking truth to power on such issues, I’m beginning to see that it isn’t my voice or some other person with a bigger platform and better words that’ll make the biggest change, it’s every day people leveraging their proximity and challenging the problematic notions held by the people they love.
And isn’t that what being part of the #LFCFamily is all about? That we can use the connection we all share - even if its just over a group of men kicking a ball on a patch of grass - to make a small but meaningful change in this world. Let’s be better. Let’s build something special at Anfield and within the global Liverpool family.