Cricket a game of racism and class

Phil Hearse reports on Azeem Rafiq's appearance in front of the digital, culture, media and sport select committee.

Yesterday’s testimony by former Yorkshire cricketer Azeem Rafiq (photo left) was chilling, damning evidence of institutional racism in cricket. Among the astonishing revelations was that England batsman Alex Hales (photo right) called all cricketers of colour ‘Kevin’, and named his dog Kevin because it was black. Abusive names, or even just changed names, was a common characteristic of slavery and domestic service in Britain and elsewhere. Rafiq was regularly called ‘Paki’, and Yorkshire colleague and former England international Matthew Hoggard (who has subsequently apologised personally) called Azeem and other Asian players elephant washers, Andrew Gale allegedly called him ‘Rafiq the Kafir’.

Four key things came out of Azeem Rafiq’s courageous and moving evidence.

First, racism in Yorkshire cricket and English cricket as a whole was widespread and the authorities did nothing about it, despite the fact that they knew.

Second, where English cricketers who did not personally engage in racist abuse, did not intervene and protest, but just let it go—either thinking it was harmless ‘banter’ or not wanting to be seen as trouble makers. That’s how racism works, by being normalised and ignored. Also, racism, like Hoggard’s abuse and Hales’ ‘Kevin’, can often be presented as ‘friendly’ humour. To be clear, there is no such thing as friendly racism.

Third, this kind of treatment is utterly demoralising for its recipients and demoralises them. Azeem Rafiq says it cost him his career.

But fourth, Rafiq’s evidence is incontrovertible evidence of institutional racism. It is impossible that Yorkshire cricket is an isolated example. Is it likely that cricket and football are egregious example of racism, while the rest of society is blithely non- racist?

Last March no 10 released a report by the Commission on Race and Ethnic Disparities, a hand-picked group of right-wingers and social conservatives chaired by Tony Sewell, which found ‘no evidence’ of institutional racism in Britain! The report was widely treated with derision. The report was doubtless conceived by the government as a reply to Black Lives Matter protests the previous summer. The sly tactic of the report was to say, look there are enormous disparities, but they are caused by class and other disadvantages. The sort of thing that doubtless can be dealt with by non-existent ‘levelling up.’ Of course there are enormous class differences, but most Black people and other people of colour tend to be at the bottom of the class divide.

Fighting racism is a key part of fighting class inequality, in Britain, the United States and internationally. Of course a huge section of white opinion, especially among young people, has been won over to anti-racism, and thoroughly approves of racist statues being thrown in the river. White people who are not racist have to speak out and protest against racist behaviour and language, at work, in the pub and among family members.

Stand up to racism.

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Phil Hearse is a member of Anti*Capitalist Resistance and joint author of both Creeping Fascism and System Crash.

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