I don’t know if there’s a way for me to fully describe the rage and pain that was coursing through my veins. I could feel my temples pulse and my neck muscles tense. My fists, I’d realized, had been balled so tightly that the blood had been forced out of my palms.
There is, unsurprisingly, a deep physiological response when I witness an act of racism. And that response to become taut, like a guitar string tuned just to its breaking point.
This was me, then, on Monday morning as I took in the scenes that took place at Porto’s match. The one where Moussa Marega was subjected to racist abuse by fans.
What got my blood boiling wasn’t merely the act of racism, which while poor remains so common place that I feel resigned at this point to new stories popping up with regularity. What pierced me in this particular instance was how vehemently Marega’s own teammates worked to keep him on the pitch, despite Marega’s protestations.
There were reactions from some of his teammates - people that I’m sure would consider themselves bound by the mythic bonds of brotherhood that are supposed to weave a team together - that pained me to watch. Beyond mere pleas to “look past” the inhumane treatment and “soldier” on, some of the players seemed actively upset at Marega wanting to walk off. Not disappointed. Not a little let down. They angrily berated Marega for...having the audacity to be offended at racist treatment?
This was supposed to be a team. And given all of the mythologizing around the supposed unbreakable bonds formed in athletic contests, striving towards the same goal, I couldn’t help but feel like this instance showed the exact opposite of what “team” is supposed to mean.
Watching that, I felt the loneliness of Moussa Marega in the marrow of my bones.
I don’t think it’s hyperbolic to say that racism is everywhere. Or, at least, one cannot truly walk within a nation like the United States of America, founded on the unpaid labor of Black people and built upon land stolen from indigenous people, and not feel the effects of racism. It may not be immediately apparent, but race in America is like background radiation - it permeates and touches everything.
In Europe, it may have a little more distance, but is still no less present. Because the thing that helped animate and justify the imperialist ventures that carved the non-European world up like a Christmas ham, is the racist belief that bringing oppression and death upon people of color elsewhere was a kindness, a mercy.
The presence of these enlightened people liberated us from the dirt hovels or the unhygienic forms of life or from the pagan gods we worshiped. Never mind that non-white scientists and mathematicians had sorted things out in their own way prior to that. And never mind that this version of liberation came with a yoke so heavy as to leave blood and broken skin on the shoulders of those unfortunate enough to bear this burden.
Never mind that, for many, the price of that freedom was death itself.
One of the most viscerally moving moments I’ve had happened not too long ago. I’ve probably described it elsewhere, but while at a rally for immigrant rights, we were met with counter protesters. We’d seen them elsewhere, but they were particularly vociferous on this day.
One person in particular was rather sharp in what they were saying. Eventually, I guess, the occasion got to them and the thinly veil masking their racist invectives was completely dispensed with. He called us “savages,” and “blood-thirsty killers.” Immediately after I’d stopped recording, he called us sub-human. There were children among us. We were peacefully rallying. It did not matter. We were not from here, marked by the color of our skin and the shape of our eyes as “foreign.” That was enough for him.
I have worked actively - as in, it is my full-time work - trying to pushback against white supremacy broadly and specifically to liberate my immigrant brothers and sisters for the past three years and change. It is a job that I am not well suited for; despite how some may perceive me here, I am not the type that enjoys or draws energy from argument or debate.
I am much more the type that would prefer to find some space of peace; some small space we can both share and glory over that tiny little thing that bonds us. It is a struggle, then, for me to raise my voice and to ask people to stop doing the harm they are inflicting, whether it be supporting oppressive policies or oppressive systems or oppressive leaders. It is not in my nature to do any of this and if I had it my way, I’d be making far more money doing something far less taxing.
But, I also believe deeply being called to purpose. To building with community. To working in solidarity. So, here I am. And here I’ll be, for as long as it takes for us to all get free.
There’s a chant that’s often used at rallies that I’ve attended. It’s a call and response bit, with the leader chanting: “Tell me what community looks like!” The people then respond with: “THIS is what community looks like!” It always sends chills up my spine.
Because movements for change aren’t ever just about individuals. Yes, everyone involved needed to hear some call and, maybe for some and maybe not for others, work against their inner nature to take up their space in this grand work. To lift up their small hammer or chisel or pen or voice or mere presence and decide to be counted among those laboring for justice.
You see, it’s not about one person’s yes or one person’s drive or one person’s brilliance. It’s about our collective work, together, as a people that recognize we are bound in responsibility and accountability to each other. We are community.
I am a practicing Catholic and people have sometimes asked me how I could believe and practice given that my faith generally isn’t seen as a group that’s among the most progressive. (As an aside, I usually like to point out the lives of people like Dorothy Day or Daniel Berrigan or Gustavo Gutierrez as people within my faith tradition that would not likely be labeled as regressive and who I model my work around.) My answer to that question is that my faith animates what I do. Because Catholicism is what’s known as a corporate faith, in that salvation for us as Catholics is contingent on the salvation of all of us. Meaning, I cannot approach God without you.
It’s a sentiment that, I know, has some problems - is there space, for example, for people of other faith traditions? To that, the Church says an emphatic yes, in that we believe our faith is the one known path, but does not preclude God’s omnipotence and bottom-less well of mercy from those of other faith traditions or non-believers. But the beauty in that thinking is that it forces us to reckon with what it is we owe each other.
And what that thing is, is community.
Yesterday, a journalist from VICE decided to reach out to all of the Premier League clubs regarding what Moussa Marega faced. And, particularly, they wanted to know what the clubs thought about Marega’s teammates and their lack of solidarity. What would their teams say if one of their own members were faced with such treatment?
I am happy to know that the club’s response was immediate and emphatic: “If one player walked off, everyone would walk off.” That was it.
Other clubs like Arsenal and even Manchester United, Tottenham Hotspur, Newcastle, and Southampton, were either like Liverpool in their unwavering support, or, at least, in the space where they would eventually land on backing a player walking off the pitch. That’s great news.
And that’s especially good news for Liverpool who sport players of color in 8 out of the squad’s Best XI, with two of those players also being Muslim. It is maybe not that surprising given the sense of solidarity that is both foundational in the history of the club, but also seemingly fully resurrected by Jurgen Klopp.
But at a time when we see so many teams failing to do right by their own players - not to mention the fans of color - it is still a welcome piece of knowledge to keep. In fact, I’m writing this on the same day that I’d found out that a local municipality’s planning commission voted to approve the expansion of an immigrant detention center that is run by a for-profit company. We are far from people making choices like Jurgen Klopp’s Liverpool as a standard. They are still the exception that proves the rule.
The magic of Liverpool has always been at least partially, for me, rooted in how they fancy themselves as a reflection of a hardworking town. One where people look out for each other and are accountable to each other. Where no one will be made to walk off the pitch, in the face of injustice, alone.
And, well, that’s what community looks like.