Today I feel better. The response to the racist outburst that followed the England football defeat on Sunday has been heart-warming. These include the graffiti plastered on the Marcus Rashford mural in Manchester being painted and posted over within a few hours by decent young graffiti artists; the enormous wave of support and sympathy for Rashford on social media; the considerable backlash, led by prominent footballers, which is developing against Johnson and Patel for their arrant racism and condemnation of ‘taking the knee’ (as ‘Marxist’, for pity’s sake!); reports – are they true? – of the team’s wish to boycott the usual post-tournament reception with the PM in Downing Street; and what seem today to be signs of backtracking over these issues by at least one prominent Tory MP (Steve Baker: Guardian 13 July). The latter is obviously becoming afraid that his government’s cynical tactic of fuelling the ‘culture wars’ in search of ‘red wall’ votes might be counter-productive, when it targets popular young black footballers. And it might indicate that racism in the country as a whole is neither as popular nor as endemic as the Right had calculated. That’s what I fervently hope.
Immediately after the match I was less aware of the possible ‘racial’ repercussions of those penalty ‘misses’ than I should have been. There’s a simple explanation for this: although I was watching carefully it didn’t dawn on me that all the failed penalty takers were black. That’s because I simply never notice people’s skin colour; not as their primary characteristic, at any rate. To me they were just young footballers. I accept that this is a naïve view, which of course this whole affair has now painfully brought home to me. But my original belief, or hope, that more Britons are becoming more ‘like me’, severely dented as it was by the events of Sunday night, has now been at least partially restored by these post-post-match developments. We’ll have to see how it goes from now on. This affair could mark a turning-point.