THE International Slavery Museum may not be the most obvious place to start a piece for a football website, but stick with it.
I’d been to the museum at Liverpool’s Albert Dock before, but not for a long time. Recently, I went there with my children. The stories remain as heartbreaking as ever. And I thought it was important that they knew about them too.
Reminders of the slave trade, and the people who profited from it are everywhere in Liverpool. From grand buildings built off the back of the grim business, to streets bearing the name of those who banked the big bucks.
It’s a difficult topic. Tough to talk about. Hard to stomach. But part of the city’s history nevertheless.
Now, in 2019? Well now lots of people talk with pride about Liverpool’s diversity. The longest-established black community in Britain. One of the oldest Chinese communities in Europe. The place is routinely described as a “melting pot”.
The Liverpool Echo reported last year that Office for National Statistics data showed that one in every 16.4 people in Merseyside was either black, Asian or from another ethnic minority in 2017.
I can’t possibly know how it is to grow up in Merseyside now or in the past as anything other than what I am – a white man aged 43. I grew up in an area – Knowsley – that is in 2019, according to official statistics, 97.2 percent white.
While receiving my first 16 years of education, I could count on one hand the number of pupils I shared a yard with that didn’t have a white face.
In the road that I grew up in, there was only one black family.
So am I best placed to understand what is racist, and what isn’t? Where the line is? Probably not. No one’s ever called me a “white bastard”.
I have, however, been made to feel uncomfortable because of what I am.
I think that’s the easiest way of trying to understand racism when you’ve never experienced racism for yourself.
I’ve had all the stereotypes anyone with even the faintest of Liverpool accents has likely had thrown at them. “Ooh, mind your wallet, Scouser.” Something about “hubcaps”, something about “car stereos” etcetera and so on. Mindless, cliched, annoying and pretty pointless.
There’s the deeper, more hurtful stuff, too. About Hillsborough. About Heysel. About how “we” are as people. We couldn’t possibly be different to some it seems. We’re “this”. And that’s all we are.
I’ve missed out on jobs – in Liverpool – because of my accent. I’ve been asked – in Liverpool – what my parents do for a living. In a job interview.
I suspected there was an assumption being made. Because of how I look, how I speak and where I grew up and where I was schooled. Class discrimination, I guess you could call it.
Scousers have had that kind of thing, and worse, for years. It still goes on. And, of course, should you dare to react, then you’re a “victim”, “it’s never your fault” or you’re seen as having a chip on your shoulder.
Given what’s come our way for so long, I’m surprised to see wagons being circled around a banner at the match depicting Divock Origi with an over-sized penis.
Just “banter”. Not racist. Even, not meant “that way”.
All views openly shared on social media in the past few days and still now. Even by people I know. And people from where I’m from. All of them white.
Go back not too far in time and there was a song about David N’Gog: “…he tucks his cock into his sock.”
Another black man. More mentions of penises. Was that also “banter”?
I don’t recall too many songs or banners about players of any other race with mention of “cocks”. In fact, I don’t remember any.
Yet, it’s “not racist”. And people are happy to argue, over and over, about that. A strange hill to die on.
Many have wondered during these debates how Origi himself feels about all this. “Bet he’s not arsed”, “It’s a compliment, FFS.” That kind of thing.
I had a different thought. Here was a European Cup winner, a man who scored in the Champions League final, no less, going back to his home country, to the club where he played as a youth player. He got a great reaction from the Genk fans when he came on as a substitute.
Origi must have felt proud about that. All he has achieved. The barriers he has overcome. The sacrifices he’s made. The hard work he’s put in. All paying off. And what a journey from these modest beginnings.
Meanwhile, there’s a banner in the Liverpool end depicting him as having a massive dick.
And that’s alright, you know, because all black fellas are well endowed, right?
And his name, well his name, (apparently) is an easy rhyme for “Big Cock Origi”.
So, sound. All well and good. It’s justifiable. It’s a joke. And if someone is a bit offended, or made to feel a bit uncomfortable by it, even if that’s Origi himself, well it’s OK, because it wasn’t “meant”.
A similar justification has been used for much of the mud slung at our city down the years. “Only having a laugh, mate.” Oh, sound.
I’m struggling with it all, to be honest. The logic of having the banner made in the first place. The logic of defending it when it was confiscated. The logic of continuing to confront people who say it was racist, not in the best taste and not the best representation of Liverpool – the city, the club or us as a group of fans.
A cursory Google search will take you through disturbing historic evidence of why “black man with big dick” was a dark and disturbing stereotype perpetuated in dark times that led to dark acts.
It’s another fairly key reason why the “joke” may be wearing a bit thin in 2019.
Not too far away, not too long ago, Manchester United fans sang about Origi’s Belgium team-mate Romelu Lukaku: “He’s our Belgian scoring genius, he’s got a 24-inch penis, scoring all our goals, bellend by his toes.”
Black man, big dick. “Joke.” There’s a theme here, no?
Kick It Out wrote to Manchester United about the chant. Part of their letter read: “The lyrics used in the chant are offensive and discriminatory. Racist stereotypes are never acceptable in football or wider society, irrespective of showing support for a player.”
Lukaku himself said: “Fans have meant well with their songs but let’s move on together.”
There are many other incidents, other songs, other players, other times. Alan Sugar about Senegal. The songs about Emmanuel Adebayor.
All pretty grim. All seeping into minds, and feelings and thoughts. And likely making someone somewhere uncomfortable.
We can definitely be better than this.
Given Liverpool’s past, given how Scousers have been treated, labelled, stereotyped and discriminated against themselves, in the cruellest of circumstances, we can definitely be more considerate and caring, can’t we?
If we’re proud of diversity, let’s celebrate it but also respect it.
Whether it’s a bit of education, a quiet word, or daring to be the one to suggest that a “joke” isn’t that funny, it would be great to think we can do more. Together. In our diverse melting pot.
Pics: David Rawcliffe-Propaganda Photo
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Thank you. Needed to be said and I’m proud to be part of a fan group like TAW that doesn’t shut away from saying it.
Thank you for this Gareth. I felt a little adrift since seeing this all on Wednesday. It felt wrong, totally un-Liverpool both the banner and reaction. I can’t get why someone thought the best way to pay homage to our European champion, our Divock, the man for which football is nothing without him, would be to photo shop his head on giant genitals right next to OUR precious European Cup. And the efforts to excuse after cringed my balls off. Mentioning stereotypes in the positive after the shite scousers have had to put up with(I’m an out for what it’s worth). Head scratching. I don’t condemn people for finding it amusing but please be better eh!
I might get pelters and fair do, but my feelings were/are that it was crass, rude and classless. Not Liverpool Football Club behaviour
Thanks for this Gareth. You’re right about not truly understanding, being a white man, but there are indeed many parallels with the experiences of Scousers. And one thing’s for sure – it’s white people like you that need to be front and centre in terms of combating it, because a lot of these conversations happen in white-only settings. So, yeah, it takes a few people in that crowd to stand up and say something, because you can’t be written off as being too sensitive, not getting the joke etc etc.
One piece of feedback for TAW – I think it was a missed opportunity for you to send a tweet of condemnation right when the story broke, during the game, and not just a retweet of John Gibbons’ tweet. These things matter. You are a respected group with a large following and voice, and for you to have come out and said something would have meant something.
brilliant article great comparison with the Liverpool stereotypes
Great insight into our people and City. All so true. We are prone to stick from all over the country, but weve also learned to cope with it. I fully understand how things are ” just a joke” when in fact its not funny at all. Kick racism.out totally. We all live together, share the same air space. Cmon Us Scousers lets lead the way. YNWA
I’ve never posted before.
Great article, measured and thoughtful rather than accusatory and judgemental. After the attention that racism on the terraces in European football has had in the last couple of weeks, it seems remarkable that this banner would appear (why couldn’t these lads have been the ones who went to Ghent by mistake?) You’re right, there is a call for considered education and guidance because this is the same attitude that thinks calling someone fat or bald or ginger etc is the same as highlighting a racial stereotype. This isn’t necessarily an overnight change that can be made. It wasn’t even very funny.
Well said Gareth
Excellent, well written article. What a shame about some of the comments on the Facebook group.
Great writing and point well put across. I would not have considered it racist a number of years ago but as Lukaku rightly says. I’ve moved on.
For me the banner was clearly racist but the owner may not be. Not coming from a position of hate, no matter how misguided. A case where education would definitely be the ideal solution.
Nice one… great way to draw the comparison. Thanks for putting this out there.
Well in. Good writing. Respect to TAW for carrying opinion that may be considered unpopular by some.
What goes through some fans minds sometimes surprises me. Why they thought that was a good idea to make that banner. Great article Gareth.
A banner, based on an assumption, based on the colour of his skin.
Dead on Gareth. Absolutely brilliant. Every word. There’s simply no place for this in our club, our footie or our society.
Good read. I’ll be honest, when I saw the banner initially I thought it was funny, a complimentary joke, not racist. I, like most of imagine, abhor racism and will call it out along with any kind of discrimination. But, I didn’t get the fume On this one initially. I was unaware of the historic racist connotations but I’ve read quite a bit about it since and totally understand now. Ignorance is no excuse of course, but if anything good comes of this particular instance then it’s the educating of people on the subject.
Great article. I agree why make a banner with this on in the first place… bizarre all round regardless of the fact it is racist.
Maybe context should be considered before the term “racist” is bandied about. It’s a horrible, ugly, term that can have a bad impact on a person’s life if publicly labelled one. I think the person who made it is perhaps more ignorant than racist, just the same way a lot of people who sing and chat shit about Liverpool are ignorant, rather than harbouring genuine anti-Scouse/Scouse hating prejudiced thoughts. Some do obviously…
I personally thought the banner was more crude and tasteless than racist, I didn’t feel offended by it. It was controversial, but racist? Debatable. But opinions are like arseholes and we all have them.
Would it be racist to assume all Scousers are funny and witty? Or generous and warm? No, but they’re positive stereotypes that get passed around too, just ask most outsiders that come to Liverpool. Assuming to possess a big dick and being a boss dancer is something I know for an absolute fact a lot of black/mixed race lads find amusing. Having grown up and lived in L8 all my life I can say this with certainty based on my own experiences.
Personally, and not aimed at you Gareth, I find it uncomfortable at how easy the label “racist” is churned out.
You made far too much sense. And sadly, given the state of our society, someone, somewhere read your comment, which just scratched the surface of the nuance required to understand things like stereotypes and accusations of racism (mostly done now by people wanting to show how virtuous they are and how much they hate racism, as if that isn’t now the default position in the UK in 2019) and probably thought that you were fash, or a fash apologist, or get this, this is a new one, “fash adjacent.”
Articles such as these, when written by a white man, always, and I mean always, contain self-flagellation and the admittance of the original sin of the intersectionality religion – being white, so therefore unqualified to speak about racism.
Another thing these articles always insinuate, if not say outright, is that we should only listen to black people who agree with the author’s particular view.
So see all the black people who came out and said nobody should be offended on their behalf, and that people should stop seeking an opportunity to be outraged to show how moral they are, and we have to stop behaving like snowflakes? Ignore them. They are the wrong sort of black people. Only listen to the black people who think like me, who are offended at a football banner intended to celebrate a footballer. Listen to how they disregard intent and be offended too.
Not for me, thanks.
Appears I have a clone again
I understand your points, but I think it’s important to acknowledge that there is both conscious racism and unconscious racism. And it is not an over the top reaction to call this the latter. I hope I can explain why without looking like I’m trying to show off how morally outraged I am…
Maybe it is a football banner intended to celebrate a footballer, as you say. But if your main objective for a banner was to really celebrate a footballer, this isn’t what you would make. We would never have made a banner like this for someone like Gerrard, for example. Because it doesn’t convey any of the reasons why we respected him – his footballing ability, his passion, his loyalty etc, these are the things we normally try to convey our support for.
To celebrate our black heroes in a different way to the way we celebrate our white ones is a type of racism. This is particularly true when we replace the celebration of traits that are earned and that we value (eg footballing ability or intelligence) in favour of physical traits that you can say they were born with (eg speed, power, or assumed traits like 3 foot cocks). This actually happens a lot. I am not calling the people who made the banner racists, but they should be made aware that what they did was a type of unconscious racism and it was wrong.
I agree with you that not all stereotypes are bad. But for the same reason, the positive stereotypes described above that scousers (who are mostly white) are great – they are warm and witty – is not equivalent to saying black men are great – they have big dicks!
Finally, while it is probably true that some black people find it funny and don’t understand the reaction – and you argue their views are being ignored – it is also true that some are offended by the racist stereotype. Surely it is far more important that these people are not ignored.
Think John has reading too much Spiked magazine. Instead of educating himself on it, he’s the sort of people that bizarrely get really annoyed at people calling out racial stereotypes or racism and in course accuse everyone of them as “virtue signallers/PC brigade”. Funnily enough “ignoring it” is usually their suggestion for the best way to deal with it all, ya know because it’s the sort of thing that doesn’t effect him or impact his life in anyway.
What is a racist trope? Jews with big noses? Black men with big cocks? Why do white men think black men have big cocks? It not like they’re as visible as the noses on the face. It comes from our colonial past. Squashing naked “savages” into slave ships. Their cocks were on open display, so unclothed they were less than us, not civilised, sub-human. Hence we could trade them. Roll on 200 years and fans of the club from the city which made the most money from this trade are happy to continue this trope. Those who made this poster should measure their own cocks, not estimate Divock’s.
Well said Jimmy.
The banner itself has to do with Origi’s nickname, itself inspired because it rhymes with Divock, and he’s developed a reputation as a player who summons what’s commonly known as “big dick energy” (i.e being ballsy) and delivering when it’s needed most (vs Everton in the 96th minute; vs Barcelona at Anfield, vs. Spurs in the dying minutes in Madrid)
Well done Gareth