A reader calling him or herself 'Brit' sent me this comment on the 'England shirt ban' post* and I thought it deserved to be looked at in a bit more detail:
To be honest i agreed with all the groups on facebook, until i found out the rumor wasn’t true, there are a lot of people on here who are quick to judge people just because they want to fly their countries flag and support their team in the world cup, to be honest you should all climb out of your own arses and reallise that not everyone has the same views as you.
Is being proud of you country and heritage racist?
If you went to Pakistan and wore an England shirt you would probably be murdered, and yet foreigners come over here and get a house given to them and claim benefits, why should the tax payer shell out money for these people to come to out country and sponge off the rest of us? And most of them dont even speak english! so while you sit at your computer without a care in the world you should think about all of the British men who cant get work and who struggle to find a place to live because foreigners are getting all the houses.
Brit's views do intrigue me. They disappoint me rather than appal me. I'm not so much angry as weary when I read this kind of thing. Because I think there are some fundamental misunderstandings going on, and it's a shame.
I always do realise that people don't have the same views as me, for one thing. That's the wonderful thing about multiculturalism: we're all so similar, and yet so different. Some of us wear silly hats; some of us have silly names; we all have got to live together, like Diff'rent Strokes - "the world don't move to the beat of just one drum", ah how sage that advice was, and yet, how relevant still. So my position on England shirts and the silliness of ban rumours isn't me thinking that everyone thinks the same as me at all; it's recognising that a lot of people think very differently. If that means I'm up my own arse (or indeed someone else's) then so be it, I suppose; but I don't think it's blinkered vision at all, is what I'm trying to say.
And I don't really think there's anything wrong with flying a country's flag. Another classic misunderstanding. Oh if only we could just sit down and have a cosy chat, Brit, you'd see we weren't so very different, you and I. Like you, I can't wait for the World Cup - like you, I'll be wearing my England shirt in eager anticipation (I've got the 2006 vintage, but I had the old Admiral Kit for Espana 82 when I was a much smaller child with more hair, arranged in a bowlcut - remember that strip? Beautiful, with stripes of red and blue. Controversial in a way, as there's no blue in the England flag, but still rather lovely, as I recall.)
I'll be nibbling my fingernails and hoping against hope that this time - more than any other time - this time, we're going to find a way, find a way to get away, this time, getting it all together, we're going to get it right. I'm hopeful England can even make the final - I've booked the Sunday off work, just in case - and I would love it if they did. Patriotism is in many ways a bizarre and silly thing, but it still comes surging up even in a woolly liberal-left bleeding-heart-and-proud-of-it like me. You can't choose which country you follow, whereas people do choose football teams that aren't in their back yards - I'm stuck with England, whether I like it or not, though of course I do like it.
So it's not about the pride. No-one's pride makes me annoyed. I've watched England play at Wembley; I've followed their fortunes around the world. I want them - us, if you like - to win, whatever happens. That it will delight knuckledragging fools is no matter to me, because it will be amazing, if England were to win a tournament, as they probably are long overdue to do. It would be wonderful, and I long for the day it happens. There's nothing wrong with these feelings. You can step back and say they're irrational and a bit odd; but they're there, so that's me. As a fan, I can say there's nothing wrong with showing pride in your country, or hoping your team wins a football match. Of course not! Brit asks "Is being proud of your country and your heritage racist?" to which I reply, of course not. No, it isn't racist. That's the strawman. No-one is calling anyone racist for wanting to support their team. But it is the case that some of the people who are proud of their country and their heritage are also racist. That's the thing.
And it's there, I'm afraid, that Brit and I really do part company. He says that if you went to Pakistan in an England shirt you'd probably be murdered. Oh, Brit, I'm sure it's not like that at all. But here you can see the fear that's part of these kind of feelings - fear that other countries are places where English people would be killed just for being English. Not at all. My limited experience of world travel tells me that English people are seen as being boorish idiots who can't handle their alcohol and behave like children, but people deserving of being murdered? No. I don't think many of us get murdered for being English, not even in - gasp - Muslim countries.
Brit goes on, comparing the murder of English people abroad which would probably happen to the warm welcome we give immigrants - apparently giving them houses and benefits straight away. You can try and bring up the points-based immigration system, or the detention centres for asylum seekers, or the chronic lack of social housing, or the fact that immigrants don't go to the front of the housing queue (although of course any family with children will get priority, whether they've been around for years or not - if that's the beef, then that's something separate, but that's not what people are arguing) - that doesn't matter. People believe the stories they get told - down the pub, or in the papers. People who are afraid they'd be murdered for wearing an England shirt in Pakistan - it's always linked with fear... fear of the unknown, or fear of what you think you know.
All political parties - including Labour, as I wrote the other day - are determined to make immigrants the new scapegoats. When the huge Coalition cuts are announced this week, and thousands of public sector workers find themselves on the dole, the pressure will only increase, as unemployment inevitably rises. Immigrants will be blamed. People like Brit might see it as evidence that the taxpayer is shelling out for foreigners to come over and sponge off us and 'get all the houses', while loads of people who were born here can't get jobs. Who is brave enough to argue why immigration is important, why it works, why it's a good thing? Not any of our dogwhistling politicians, I'd imagine. And these kind of views will just carry on, and get bigger and nastier.
The irritating thing I see about a lot of prejudice towards immigrants is that it doesn't seem to be racist at all. It seems to be based on a series of misunderstandings and miscommunications, and a series of myths that people have chosen to believe are true. Foreigners get all the council houses and come over here to be given benefits and sponge off the state; but if you went over there, you'd get murdered. No wonder people are angry, and annoyed, and fearful, like my new friend Brit, and it's not necessarily racist. But it is wrong. Wrong, but it isn't being challenged by politicians, who have got a handy scapegoat for (in Labour's case) the election defeat and (in the Coalition's case) the unemployment they're about to boost with their swingeing cuts. If anything, these myths are going to increase as the years of austerity unfold. Who will challenge them?
* That post has been viewed more than 6,000 times so far. Whether it's reinforced people's prejudices about there being a ban, or has convinced people there isn't a ban, I don't know. But it does go to show the power of Facebook, as most visitors have come from groups there.