Sing when they’re winning, seethe when they’re losing: my first two weeks at the University of Sussex and Euro2020
Posted on behalf of: Professor Kevin Hylton
Last updated: Monday, 19 July 2021
As interim Pro-Vice Chancellor Culture, Equality and Inclusion, over the past fortnight I have been meeting staff and students here and I am still getting to know my way around. My conversations have been thought-provoking and informative. Though, each conversation has added an extra layer of complexity to the broader issues of culture, equality and inclusion at the University of Sussex.
Many will not know that I chair the Sheffield Race Equality Commission. It operates like a Parliamentary select committee that takes oral and written evidence to establish the nature, extent, causes and impacts of racism and racial disparities in the city. Last week, we covered hearings on Crime and Justice and I met with the Superintendent for South Yorkshire, The Deputy Crown Prosecutor for the Crown Prosecution Service, and the Police and Crime Commissioner for South Yorkshire. With the Superintendent we ventured into a conversation on Euro2020, and the racism faced by the Black England players whose only misfortune that evening after playing brilliantly was to not score a penalty. What is the link here? Well, we moved on to talk about the rise of hate crime nationally and the fact that in South Yorkshire 70% of that hate crime relates to race.
My preferred approach
Discussions that I am working with colleagues to unpick and resolve include understanding issues emerging from concerns in an open letter to the University from over 1,000 signatories regarding its stance on antiracism. Some of the issues relate to the valued race equity advocates, staff recruitment and diversity, student safety, and senior staff racial literacy. I am motivated to work with those involved because I can see how systematic racialised issues such as degree awarding gaps, student wellbeing and safety, and race critical thinking at the highest levels can lead to a more equal and inclusive work and study environment. Such principals should also be applied across all protected characteristics. So instead of waiting for events that lead to heightened concerns for staff and students I intend to work toward a more inclusive Sussex through dialogue, partnership and collegiality.
The importance of research
In my current British Academy study on online racism and Islamophobia in the English Premier League and English Football League, we noted that researchers have identified that ‘trigger events’ such as the Brexit vote, terrorist attacks or even an ill-worded political statement will lead to a surge in hate crime or abuse. The Euro2020 penalty shoot-out was such a trigger event that led to the spike in fans revealing their true colours beneath their England paraphernalia. Such abuse makes many of our communities feel vulnerable and unsafe. Fitting a pattern of insidious behaviours that reminds us of all of wider structural racism and xenophobia, while reinforcing the oppression and subordination of those directly affected with a sense of conditional inclusion.
In the case of the Euros, the fans sing when they’re winning and seethe when they’re losing. ‘Football’s coming home’ hints at a conditional shared home with racialised others dependent on whether they can earn their continued safety by winning…that’s fair, isn’t it? These are values I perceive to be antithetical to those at the University of Sussex.
Not isolated incidents
One would think that the online racial abuse meted out to Manchester United striker, Marcus Rashford after his penalty miss in the final of Euro2020 were the one-off outpourings of bereft fans with 55 years of pent-up anger that they felt compelled to direct at those they wished to blame. However, from my work over three decades, and experiences of being a Black British man, it is clear that these are everyday occurrences. There have been many more benign everyday incidents that lead to such racist consequences. What the Black footballers experienced after that Euro2020 final is the same as those faced by Rashford after a missed penalty against Crystal Palace in 2019. In addition, other players complained that they too were receiving a deluge of similarly distasteful posts. The ongoing presence of racism in football remains a problem for many related to the sport. For instance, Marcus Rashford argues that social media makes racism too easy. The growing malicious content online has brought high-profile exposure to some cases where fans have been prosecuted for racist and/or Islamophobic tweets.
Finding a way forward
Though under-funded, antiracism initiatives in football organisations have fought for decades to raise awareness of racism and more recently its online manifestations, we have to accept that this is not purely their battle. We should also pause to consider that many of the issues of racism in football are intractable and institutionalised.
Our challenge to racism and other forms of discrimination cannot only be focused on individuals, it must also disrupt systems that facilitate them. Which is why my recent conversations with the Lewis Hamilton Commission have been enlightening in terms of its concerted approach to improving the representation of Black people in motorsport. In collaboration with the Royal Academy of Engineering the commission accepted that factors within wider society, some of which are systemic in nature, as well as practices within the motorsport industry were found to have an impact.
The Hamilton Commission asked critical intersectional questions about the role of education in attracting under-represented populations, the curriculum, variations in staff expectations for different populations, gender, race and class relations, recruitment, retention and progression on STEM pipelines, the diversity of staff in STEM subjects, access and opportunities onto apprenticeships and higher-level STEM courses, and of course employment opportunities and the dynamics of a productive, diverse workplace. Questions we should all be considering with our key partners and stakeholders in cognate areas at the University of Sussex.
Lewis Hamilton did not react with a knee-jerk to a spike in racism or a new disparity report but took time to establish a longer-term agenda for change. In my first few weeks at the University of Sussex I am laying the foundations for an approach that draws on many of these building blocks for progressive change.
Regarding football, it really is the tip of the iceberg for mediated expressions of racism. Society’s miner’s canary. If we see racism in football, then we should expect to see it in many other manifestations, wherever we are. And we must, diligently and proactively guard against its pernicious and systematically produced forms.
Professor Kevin Hylton PVC Culture, Equality and Inclusion