Racism and Me: An American Gooner’s Perspective
There are some things that transcend football and with the platform we have, we feel a responsibility to speak up. Many of our writers at YouAreMyArsenal are from the states, myself included. We are watching our country being torn apart on a nightly basis. Drew, is an African American. For him, this “nightmare” is a daily battle for him as he lives with the impact of racism on his life. Drew asked to write this piece and I wholeheartedly support his desire to speak out. We hope you read it. We hope you share it. More importantly, we hope you begin to speak out. This won’t end, especially in the US if we ALL don’t start speaking out. – Michael L Price Editor/Owner, YouAreMyArsenal.com
“Komm komm komm…lass uns gehen” – “Coach?! Du sprichst Deutsch?!” – “Ja, du auch?!” – “Ja! Meine Mutter kommt aus Deutschland!”
This is a conversation I will remember for quite some time, and now more than ever, holds meaning to me in a way I sometimes find hard to fully explain.
I have been coaching since I was 19-years old, after my playing days came to an end through a combination of injuries and struggles with mental health. Both as a player, and as a coach, there were always many constants; how I approached the game, how I read the game…but another one loomed as well, one out of my control.
It was always so common, easy, really, for countless involved on many levels of the sport to judge me, my character, or what I was about, for no other reason than looking a certain way.
As I think back to this, now in my mid-30’s, and as I see my country exploding after yet another senseless murder of an innocent Black man at the hands of those meant to protect us, it’s hard to feel nothing but anger. But the truth of it all? There is not one moment of surprise; this is a reality.
I was born and raised in Riverdale; a section of the Bronx in New York City. By default, subjugation to stereotypes of who I was, or who my family were, on the basis on where we lived, was common.
From a young age, I dealt with the duality of the reality of being Black, but being from an upper middle class family. I had parents who were highly successful in the medical field. My mother was head nurse in the cardiac wing of one of the most prestigious hospitals in the United States. My father, a medical administrator of note in the same hospital and also an Air Force veteran, both were incredible at their jobs. None of that matters, depending on who you asked.
As kids, both my older brother Lowell and I were always one of a minuscule number of Black students in our schools; to this day, friends of ours will still make token jokes on the matter.
Through a combination of an abusive father, and often feeling intentionally and unintentionally segregated in a city and state that many assume is devoid of prejudice, we tapped into a love of our sports as an outlet of expression and definition.
Despite being an American, I became fascinated and captivated by football, ever since my childhood best friends Opa (Grandfather in German) helped stoked my fire for football when I was in grade school, and even more so in middle school.
Opa was a lifelong Kaiserslautern supporter, who had the privilege of watching Fritz Walter, live, with his own two eyes. Opa was also Jewish, and was blessed enough, along with Oma, to survive the Holocaust (including being sent to Auschwitz), before eventually immigrating to the US.
Robby and I both started playing football at the same young age, but where he played because he felt he needed to, I played because I loved it, despite not knowing why when I was that small. Regardless of not knowing, I felt it was where I belonged; everything made sense when I struck the ball in that sweet way we all love so much.
That sense of love, definition, and passion that brewed inside me ended up being one of the things that undoubtedly saved me from a different path. Of this, I am sure of.
I, and my brother with Basketball, would go on to reach a high competitive level, which included being actively recruited to play in college.
It would lead me to meeting my best friend Elliot at a summer training combine when I was fifteen; we have been inseparable ever since, even when our friendship was tested to its absolute limits.
Football, among many other things, defines who I am; Andrew, or Drew (as many as you call me), a Black man from New York City. But for millions in this country, and around the world, I am something different…I am just another Black face…a face they see and feel hatred, fear, and pity. Most of them unknowingly, while some indeed know precisely why they dislike what they see.
No matter what I have accomplished in life, how intelligent and well-spoken I am, and what I have to offer you as a brother, a friend, a boyfriend…to so many…I am nothing. And not just in the grand scheme of life, but in football as well.
During my times writing and podcasting, there have been countless times where I have been reduced to nothing more than my race, or my nation of origin. Truly, it is in human nature to be divisive…but racism and prejudice is on another level, one which I am, quite frankly, tired of having to not only deal with daily (despite being in New York), but having to explain to people who refuse to actually understand.
What is going on in the United States at current is the sum total of hundreds of years of Blacks being treated as property; as beasts in the fields. The videos many of you are seeing – maybe for the first time – of police officers beating innocent protestors, has been happening for the entire existence of the Black population in this country, back to when the first police department was organized to round up slaves trying to escape.
What is perhaps most painful, most frustrating, is that football itself has contributed and continues to contribute to racism, as does its supporters.
Just today, on the Twitter feed of someone who I no longer follow (yes, this is the reason), their instinctual reaction to seeing video clips of looting and rioting, was to say “shoot them – we’re better off.” I ask you, would you have the same reaction if a white person was in the video doing the looting?
Do you demand police in America to gun down white criminals? Mass murders who took it upon themselves to end the lives of classmates? Or was your reaction than to say “throw the book at them and throw away the key.” When was the last time you saw a White person call for the outright unnecessary and unjustified murder of another White person? I’ll wait…
The privileges and considerations afforded to the two sides of this color barrier are astronomically different on one side in comparison to the other. You see this same fact in football; on the pitch, and in its fanbases.
How many videos have come to light of Black players being verbally abused by rival supporters, and then in the aftermath, have people condemn the actions and reactions of those who suffered the abuse, but not target the abuser(s)? The reaction is always different if the person who suffered the abuse is white. How many examples of Black supporters racially abusing white players do you see?
Stop reducing us to the color of our skin, something we cannot control. Stop suggesting – and acting upon those suggestions – that we are less human than you are, simply because we have more melanin in our DNA.
Football was and will always remain an escape for me; a community that I found my voice in, that I have history and roots in. It pains me to have to say that the football community has not ever done nearly enough to protect, support, and uplift the global Black community; not to the level it is truly capable. Football has to do more.
Where would football be, truly be, without the countless Black players that have donned their boots and grace the pitch in sheer magnificence? Where would Arsenal be as a community without the likes of Michael Thomas, David Rocastle, Patrick Vieira, and a host of other Black players who were, in a word, brilliant?
Some of our same fans, who will sing their songs and praise their achievements, will turn in an instant and cross a line that divulges into racism or prejudice in a moments notice, and then go right back to “valuing” them as if it is completely normal. It is not just with Arsenal, its with everyone.
We are not valued people – humans – when the moon suits you or your agenda. I hate to be the bearer of bad news, but this world…this global community…football or otherwise, would be worse for ware without the contributions of an endless stream of Black people who have greatly contributed to its finest hours.
Many Americans forget that we have been fighting for this country – and even just the very idea of it – since Crispus Attucks was killed in the Boston Massacre. Many people around the world forget that without the likes of Madam C.J. Walker, Garrett Morgan, Granville T. Woods, Elijah McCoy, George Washington Carver, Lewis Howard Latimer, and many others.
What would football be without Pelé (more slaves were brought to Brazil than any other nation in the Americas during the slave trade; 40% of the total number), George Weah, Samuel Eto’o, Didier Drogba, Roger Milla, Jay-Jay Okocha, and Patrick Ntsoelengoe?
We have to better; we as a global community, football and otherwise, have to do better…have to be better.
We live in a world where my parents had to give my brother and I constant reminders of the dangers we, as Black men, face daily…dangers you would not understand – and choose not to understand – if you are not Black.
We live in a world where the children I will eventually have will have to be made to understand those same hardships.
We live in a world where you can get handcuffed by plain-clothed NYPD officers because you were faster than your White friend and they assumed you stole his wallet.
We live in a world where going bowling with your college friends on a Thursday night in Buffalo gets you called a n***** by someone at the bowling alley bar.
We live in a world where no one would care that your mothers father was a highly decorated World War Two veteran, who won the Bronze Star and Navy Cross in service of a country that, in the grand scheme of things, is inhabited by millions who would only judge him by the color of his skin and not his service to protect their freedoms. That same man is a legend in the United States Navy submarine community as being the first Black master chief to serve on combat patrols on a submarine.
We live in a world where you can step onto a southbound 6 train on a Monday morning and people worry that you will steal their belongings, but not that you’re on your way to your place of employment, where you only care about teaching talented teens to find their voice on and off the pitch.
We live in a world where the President of the United States wants to label a left-wing militant group as terrorists, but overlooks the over 150-years of murder and pillaging of the Black community by a bunch of hooded White men who lost a war and felt the need to target their source of hatred after they took an L and cannot cope with it.
You live in that same world…but you don’t truly live in that same world. This is my world. This is the world of all of us. Try asking us sometime…what it’s like being Black and feeling like your life does not matter.
Yes, I am Black…but I am so so much more than the shade of skin that I bear. And football, a game on a global scale like no other, needs to now, more than ever, embrace its diversity. In times like these, that have no end in sight, a source of togetherness is needed; let football be that togetherness.