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Opinion: 'We all need to confront everyday racism first'

Washed Up column, by Sarah Juggins, Tuesday, June 23, 2020

As a teenager I did quite a bit of competing at athletics.

Turning out for West Norfolk Athletics Club and later representing Norfolk, I got to travel to athletic meetings across the country. As we turned up for an event – often held in Essex or London – the sprinters in our almost totally white squad would sigh in resignation when they saw the black athletes limbering up. The assumption was always that the black kids could run faster.

Washed Up column, by Sarah Juggins, Tuesday, June 23, 2020
Washed Up column, by Sarah Juggins, Tuesday, June 23, 2020

Later, as as student at university, at some stage during our evenings out at the local nightclub – in a predominantly white town – we used to encourage our friend Caroline to take to the floor whenever we wanted to impress a few people.

It was vicarious showing off as she could dance like no-one else. Of course she was black, with a natural rhythm.

When I coached the men’s team at Wisbech Hockey Club in the mid-1990s, the goalkeeper was a man called Tom. The first day we met he warned me that he wouldn’t always be able to make training. His reason? Every time there was a minor misdemeanour in the town, it was him who tended to get hauled in for questioning. He was black.

More recently, at the local pub, I overheard the following conversation. “He’s alright, he’s a right laugh, he knows it’s just banter.” I hardly need say that the subject of the conversation was one of the few people of colour to be a regular customer at the pub in question.

The point I’m trying to make is that, without being aware of it, the majority of people in this country accept institutionalised racism. Most of us will vehemently protest this. We will point to the friendships we have with black people.

We will say we are ‘colourblind’, which is an insult in itself – why would you want to be blind to a person’s colour?

But the awkward truth is that racist behaviour, racist comments and racist assumptions are woven deep into the fabric of our society. It will take more than a few protests and some outraged social media comments to effect a change.

Before that can happen, we all have to look deeply and truthfully at ourselves and start to call out racist behaviour, even among our own friends and family.

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