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Social media silence is insignificant because racism doesn’t go away after three days

14:00 GMT+3 02/05/2021
Marcus Rashford Stop Online Hate GFX
English football is in the middle of a social media blackout in order to protest racism and online hate, but much more will need to be done

The murder of George Floyd, which sparked thousands of protests around the globe, led to the football world being the most vocal it has ever been about the fight against racism, prejudice and discrimination, on and off the pitch.

Players still kneel before the whistle and wear 'Say No To Racism' patches on the sleeves of their shirts. But even with the amount of attention anti-racism is getting in football, online abuse and bigotry directed at Black athletes is worse than ever.

The likes of Marcus Rashford, Raheem Sterling, Axel Tuanzebe, Anthony Martial, and Lauren James have been constantly on the receiving end of abusive, racist vitriol over the last few months on both Twitter and Instagram, leading to their respective clubs, the Premier League and The FA writing an open letter to the social media companies demanding action and better protective measures.

Whether this kind of discrimination has been funnelled into an online space as they don’t have a means for release because they are not allowed to attend games remains to be seen. It also doesn’t matter. Because this kind of abuse will continue to exist, either shouted freely from the stands or tweeted from an anonymous burner account.

Even with the clubs launching anti-harassment campaigns and reporting incidents of online hate crimes and racism to the authorities, the abuse has not stopped. In an effort to take more of a visible stand, English football decided to participate in a social media boycott for three days, beginning on Friday April 30 at 3pm and ending at 11:59pm on Monday, May 3.

We are left to wonder what this social media blackout will actually achieve in the long run.

On one hand, it’s the most robust thing top-level clubs have done to address racism. By shutting down their accounts, clubs and personalities are calling attention to – and raising awareness of – a problem that has been plaguing the sport instead of simply sweeping it under the carpet.

But what happens the day after the social media blackout?

What will a social media boycott do for the likes of Rashford and Martial, who keep getting hurt by the very fans they play for?

How does not posting on Twitter, Facebook and Instagram truly help Black athletes who have constantly been made to feel inferior and lessened?

As soon as the minute hand ticks midnight on Tuesday morning, everything will return to normal. Clubs will return to posting their regularly scheduled content, their fitness updates and team news and views from the coaching staff ahead of the weekend.

Three days of social media silence to protest racial injustice are insignificant because racism doesn’t go away after three days.

The English football social media boycott recalls the performative nature of the infamous black Instagram squares that took over the platform immediately following George Floyd’s murder.

For those unfamiliar, users posted black squares as a means to raise awareness about police brutality and anti-Black violence in the United States. For days, Instagram was filled with nothing but black squares. It didn’t help that the black squares didn’t come with much commentary.

It would’ve been helpful if the users posting the squares also shared links to donate to bail funds or to anti-racism resources or continued the conversation offline. But it was just a viral trend.

These users, not wanting to be left behind in the discourse or thought of as a non-progressive by their online peers, turned posting a black square into a fad to show solidarity. Solidarity with what? Black squares don’t do much other than calling attention to an important issue and then doing... nothing much else about it.

Social media activism does nothing for anyone if you can’t practice what you preach in real life. It is nothing but performative activism.

The black square phenomenon was similar to the way that Breonna Taylor, a Black woman who was killed at the hands of police, became a cyber meme. The statement “arrest the cops who killed Breonna Taylor” started off with good intent that predictably, and disappointingly, became a viral, trendy social media anthem at the height of a summer filled with protests. 

The phrase evolved to punchline status. “It’s a great day to arrest the cops who killed Breonna Taylor”. And then: “Hey guys. the NBA is about to come back. which means it’s a great day to arrest the cops who killed Breonna Taylor,” one user tweeted.

Another had the audacity to turn the victim into poetry for the clout: “roses are red, i use google chrome. arrest the bastards who murdered breonna taylor in her own home”.

It took more than a year for an investigation into her death to be opened.

It is easy to get swept up by social media trends and it is good PR for the English clubs to lead a boycott for a noteworthy cause. They have good intentions. But going silent on social media platforms is perhaps the last thing that anyone should be doing, especially as part of the fight against anti-racism.

These Premier League clubs who are staying silent have millions upon millions of combined followers. Why be silent when you should be using your universal reach to post about anti-racism initiatives, reading material on critical race theory, and in-depth interviews and features with their players who have been on the receiving end of discriminatory abuse?

It is far too easy to be silent.

Yes, go dark on your social media platforms about match updates and tweeting about the score. But post as much as you can about anti-racism content and try to educate your supporters. Now is the time to be as loud and vocal as you possibly can.

Watching the news of the Super League unfold in real-time was bittersweet. It was amazing to see supporters, media figures, and former and current players alike unanimously condemn the proposals so strongly, with fans from all clubs joining together in a show of solidarity; loyalties forgotten.

High-profile figures were vocal in their opposition, slamming the clubs involved for sacrificing football as we know it for greater financial gain. Fans in England took to the streets in hordes with banners, flags and scarves, protesting the Super League at their sacred club grounds – Stamford Bridge, Anfield, The Emirates, Old Trafford – with some even saying that they would revoke their season tickets should the plans go ahead.

The fans protested, and their fight was heard. Less than 48 hours after the Super League was announced, Chelsea requested to withdraw from the competition. All five other Premier League clubs soon followed suit, citing the heavy fan backlash and negative fan reception. Power to the people.

The Super League would have “ruined” football. But hasn’t racism ruined football?

If only football fans showed this sort of unified, vocal solidarity and peaceful protest for racial equality.

If only more teams walked off the pitch to protest in-game incidents of racist and discriminatory abuse, echoing the actions of Landon Donovan’s San Diego Loyal and PSG and Istanbul Basaksehir players during their Champions League tie.

If only, upon hearing racist chanting in the stands, fans of both teams would up and leave in silent protest.

If only the most influential names in football were as vociferous about fighting racist abuse as they were about protesting Super League plans.

If only supporters threatened to boycott matches and refuse to attend games so long as racist abuse was happening, both on and off the pitch.

If only football fans banded together in harmony to collectively challenge and revolt against anti-racism, the way they did when they learned that the one thing they loved most in the world, football, could be taken away from them.

Come Tuesday, when the clock strikes midnight and once the social media blackout has lifted, the world will still be a dark place.