Taking the knee is - and must be - a political gesture

14 July 2021

After the racist abuse of the three black England football players who missed penalties against Italy, captain, Harry Kane, said that the abusers were "not England fans, and we don't want you". The fact is, however, that racism has been a constant presence in English football, not to mention in wider society - even further back than 1978, when England's first black player, Viv Anderson, made his debut.

    Current black English football players say they're not surprised by what's happened. They expected it as soon as the penalties were missed. Of course, they've experienced racism throughout their lives, and not just in football, but from the police and other state institutions.

    Penalty-taker Bukayo Saka's club, Arsenal, put out a statement saying that racism "cannot continue and the social media platforms and authorities must act”. Home Secretary Patel threatened these companies with a new "Online Safety Bill" if they don't do anything. The FA has called for the "strongest punishments". Of course, there have been laws against racism since the Race Relations Act 1965. As we can see today, they've done nothing towards ending it. 

    This time round, footballers, journalists, commentators etc., rightly criticised Johnson and Patel for "stoking the fire": as they point out, Patel called taking the knee, which the whole England team did throughout the Euros, "gesture politics". Neither would Patel criticise fans who booed England players. And Johnson took the same approach, even if they both now self-righteously pretend to criticise racist abuse.

    The fact is that the ruling class and its politicians have always used racism as a way to divide the working class against itself, all the better to exploit it. In other words, racism in its many forms is an intrinsic part of their system. So nobody should be surprised that it keeps coming back, especially in times of crisis, despite all the well-intentioned campaigns against it.

    However, this also means that pretending that taking the knee is not a political gesture, or that it should not be, avoids the issue. Racism is, and remains, a political weapon used against the working class as a whole. It needs to be fought as such, with the knowledge that it will not be defeated until the class system itself and the exploitation which it imposes, have been swept away for good.