England star Raheem Sterling has yet again come under what many have described as racially motivated criticism this week, from several leading tabloids and most notably Rupert Murdoch’s far-right The Sun.
The 23 year old, who has had an outstanding season with Manchester City, seems to have developed into a real role model for working-class black youths in the UK, alongside other popular figures such as Anthony Joshua and Stormzy.
But as the World Cup draws closer, Sterling has become the renewed object subject of a renewed character assassination. For all their recent talk of the importance of “free speech” needing to be defended, the suits at The Sun have called for his withdrawal from the England squad, all because he recently had a gun tattooed on his right leg
At first glance, this might seem a reasonable sanction for “glorifying violence”. However, it’s telling that Sterling’s motivation for getting the tattoo has also been disregarded:
The Sun with more bollocks!. The agenda against Sterling is ridiculous! pic.twitter.com/7mLAd2hBn8
— Transfer News (@TrustyTransfers) May 28, 2018
You can debate over whether the tattoo and its meaning would deter or encourage anti-social behaviour, right? But, the British press are the last people who could be trusted to define and moderate this debate. Since when did The Sun – or any other national paper – really give a shit about inner-city crime, unless to make a political point or for a clickbait story?
Out of Murdoch’s 90 key people in the UK – including the editorial leaders of The Times and The Sun team, a single Commercial Executive is of black heritage. I’d also place a fair bet that none of them have had their father murdered at the age of two, too.
It’s absurd that we should place any value on their judgements, therefore, which contribute to a false, pervasive caricature of black, working-class youths in the UK.
Racism, double standards and targeting Sterling
There’s a certain irony to the media both focussing on potential racial abuse England players may (and probably will) face in Russia this summer – and on the life of Raheem Sterling, ostensibly for no other reason apart from the fact he’s black. Perhaps we should also look closer to home:
[Thread] a selection of times when our national press have chosen to run stories on Raheem Sterling.
1. The one where Raheem was 'tired'. pic.twitter.com/6K3cHu6r7T
— Adam Keyworth (@adamkeyworth) May 28, 2018
Sterling has been the target of press vitriol in recent years – for reasons ranging from having a dirty car, shopping at Primark, buying his Mum a nice sink, doing inhaling balloons of nitrus oxide or “hippy crack” (which by the way, is the most white, middle/upper class “unaay/gap yaah” thing, bar cocaine), to calling him a rat, a footballing idiot, and more.
It also seems strange that the same people calling for Sterling to be withdrawn for getting a tattoo, didn’t cry out for similar measures before Euro 2012, after John Terry called Anton Ferdinand a “black c*nt” during a game. In fact, what happened is that Terry was picked ahead of Anton’s brother, Rio, which effectively ended his international career. Needless to say, the tabloids were silent on this one.
The Murdoch press in particular have a shameful record when it comes to how it portrays English footballers of colour. After Everton player Ross Barkley was attacked in a nightclub last year, it was argued in a column published by The Sun that because Barkley (who has a Nigerian granddad) is apparently like a gorilla in both a mental and physical sense, that basically no wonder he was attacked. On top of that they put a picture of Barkley and a gorilla next to each other and attached it to the story.
The guy who wrote the column, Kelvin McKenzie, is one of the most gutless, poisonous excuses of a human being you’re likely to ever come across. He was one of the key architects of the three-decade Hillsborough lie – essentially a state-backed propaganda campaign to justify the “managed decline” of Thatcher’s most hated city, Liverpool – and although he was sacked for the Barkley column (still, who signed it off to be published?) he’s reportedly still very close to Murdoch.
Unfortunately, the utter bile of these sorts of people often defines the boundaries and tone of the national conversation. Even BBC Five Live seem to have opted to view Sterling in a way that puts this false caricature in front of his footballing ability; and Good Morning Britain legitimised what essentially is a racist question:
There are calls for Raheem Sterling to step down from England's World Cup squad following his decision to have a gun tattooed on his leg. Which side are you on? pic.twitter.com/thN3YekOiY
— Good Morning Britain (@GMB) May 29, 2018
I'm on the side of a 23-year-old man who donated to the victims of the Grenfell Tower disaster, donates to schools in Jamaica, does fine community work and uses his wealth to look after his mum. https://t.co/vrBUyfDvcY
— Leigh Curtis (@LeighCurtis_NP) May 29, 2018
And so, a culture of structural racism is reinforced. Media conglomerates skilfully drip-feed us little snippets of racism – echoed by TV and radio broadcasters – to undermine the idea of black role models in the UK, and as byproduct of this, we very subtly de-humanise black communities.
Think it’s all academic? Well, that’s bullshit. In December, someone physically attacked Sterling after calling him a “black Scouse c*nt” and remarking: “I hope your mother and child wake up dead in the morning, you n*gger.”
Perhaps it’s to do with images of him being used next to headlines like “semi-professional footballer turned to drug dealing to keep up with prem stars”:
Let's not forget this deleted tweet just after Euro 2016 either. Raheem Sterling had NOTHING to do with the story. pic.twitter.com/lhR7cb5HeL
— The Sun Apologies (@SunApology) September 7, 2016
Too often we’re led to believe that racism originates with the working and lower classes – as if this bigot was was just born with an urge to racially and physically attack Raheem Sterling.
But, to me, racist treatment of Raheem Sterling – all because it seems our media elite simply can’t grasp the concept of a black, inner-city lad done good – is yet another example of the exact opposite.
All youth violence is now Raheem Sterling's fault, says The Sun. pic.twitter.com/mIXTmMJNDt
— Simon Price (@simon_price01) May 30, 2018
What can you do?
- Complain to IPSO (though don’t hold your breath)
- Stop clicking on articles and videos put out there by media organisations you find abhorrent; support something different
- Gently remind anyone you know who reads the tabloids, that they aren’t on our side.
Rich Dawson is the Lead Editor of indx media. He writes on range of topics from politics, economics and culture; to music and sport.