I spoke before about the issues of racism through social media, and I maintain that to illustrate my point I need to share instances of derogatory comments that I might receive - but they can’t personally hurt me anymore. I’m beyond that, my job is now to protect others; I need to be emotionally detached to take a place at the forefront of this conversation.
It’s also important to note that racism isn’t confined to our screens. It’s very much at play out there in real life at all levels of the game. Whether its fans in the stands who shout slurs at players, or a glass ceiling for those who want to climb to positions of power in the game.
As Livingston’s assistant manager and with all of my coaching education, it’s no secret that I have my heart set on a managerial position in the future. However, there have been those who have tried to deter me from this ambition – asking me to find someone like me who has achieved what I want, warning me how difficult it will be for a black man to climb those ranks. However, I’m not going to sit back and assume that my dream is not for me because of my colour.
I have to trust that if I have all the qualifications, the experience and the skill, then I will be seen as the best person for a job. If I have all of that in place and I can’t seem to get a foot on the ladder, then I can start asking questions about what’s holding me back – but I’m not going to let a perception of systematic racism stop me from trying. I want people to aspire to be the next Marvin Bartley – and for that I have to assume that this is an avenue that will be open to me.
What’s harder to deny is the racism that we see out in the stands during matches. It’s not the fault of the game itself, but for some reason – people feel comfortable bringing these prejudices into our grounds and directing them towards our players. This kind of discrimination has no place in offices, restaurants, shops, or anywhere else in society, and it’s a collective responsibility to ensure that it’s not welcome in football stadiums either.
Of course, I speak about racism because it’s what I have a first-hand experience of - in an effort to help those who aren’t directly affected to understand how serious the issue is – but discrimination comes in many forms. For example, before I moved to Scotland, I had no idea how bad the sectarianism was, but it really is a huge problem here. I have a responsibility to learn how that affects people and put my energy into helping them just as much as those affected by racism – but at the end of the day, there needs to be some kind of representation of all of these minorities in positions that can actually make a difference.
I was thrilled to be appointed as an equality and diversity advisor for the Scottish FA early last year, and I’m hoping that this proves to be an opportunity to make a real difference not just with my words, but actions as well.
At the last meeting we had, which was back in March last year, I made a couple of suggestions of ways that fans could easily be identified and held accountable in instances of racism and discrimination in the stadium, such as an anonymous texting service - the technology is there -, but now the ball is in their court. Hopefully movements will soon be made to put these ideas into action, because I really believe that that they would serve to make our game a safer space for everyone.
I am more than happy to take time out of my own schedule to drive awareness, to educate others and to fight discrimination in our game – but sometimes the opportunity just isn’t there, and it’s not for lack of trying on my part. I think many people are naive enough to think that racism, sexism, and sectarianism aren’t an issue in football – and I don’t blame them – but they need to be made aware of how real a problem it really is.
Once they are, maybe they can be part of the change that we so desperately need – but steps need to be taken to educate the industry as a whole – fans and players alike. The time for reactive measures is gone, and when football is willing to delve into a proactive approach – I’m ready to jump in.