Last week my 11-year-old mixed-race son, Kaleb, watched a BBC documentary on racism in the Ukraine and Poland. These countries are co-hosting the 4th largest sporting event in the world – the European Football Championship – Euro 2012. It has been football non-stop around the Hatch house lately to chagrin of the Hatch ladies.
Several times during the game the conversation has turned to racism and Kaleb has remarked that “The Ukrainians are racist” or “The Polish would beat me up if I went to a game.”
How should a white father respond to comments like these to his brown son?
I’ve tried to make several points with Kaleb:
1. There are racist people in the world who will be mean to him just because of the colour of his skin. This is a sad fact and we shouldn’t pretend otherwise. Our world is broken in many ways, but this is one aspect of that brokenness which impacts my son in a very personal way.
2. It’s OK to take precautions in order to stay out of trouble. When he’s an adult, he might decide that he doesn’t want to attend a football game in Poland or Ukraine and that’s OK. He may decide to engage in difficult and dangerous activities but there’s no glory in getting beaten up for football.
3. Just because there is a group of racist people in a country, that does not mean that everyone in the country is racist. Thinking that each and every individual in a community acts like the worst element, leads to the racist thinking that we want to avoid.
4. No one is beyond the grace of God. We are not inherently better than anyone on the BBC documentary as Paul tells Titus:
For we ourselves were once foolish, disobedient, led astray, slaves to various passions and pleasures, passing our days in malice and envy, hated by others and hating one another. But when the goodness and loving kindness of God our Savior appeared, he saved us, not because of works done by us in righteousness, but according to his own mercy (Titus 3:3-5a)
Paul’s self description sounds like some the European football fans. And like Paul, racist football hooligans can by changed by God in his mercy.
Let’s kick racism out of football, but let’s be realistic while we do it.