Mark Keohane, writing for IOL Sport
Last weekend I wrote a piece on sport and #BlackLivesMatter. The piece featured in the Independent Media Saturday papers across the country and was also shared on the digital platforms, my blog and by extension the piece was shared on SA Rugby Magazine’s Facebook page.
There were more than 2000 reactions, comments and shares on the piece, but what struck me was the hatred, anger and unapologetic racist response from so many in telling me to piss off, to stop apologizing for being white and to promote unity with #AllLivesMatter
I was accused of having white guilt and lacking perspective.
Messages to my inbox were laced with crassness and vitriol and they were not meant to engage discussion or debate. They were statements, delivered as fact, and with a full stop that they had spoken. I needed to listen and then move on.
It merely highlighted just how far we in South Africa have to go when it comes to equality and how ingrained the prejudice is among sports fans.
#BlackLivesMatter was interpreted as me pushing a transformation agenda. I was told I was anti-white and I was told to stop causing trouble. The word used wasn’t as polite as trouble, though, and the insults and profanities were comfortably packaged with the respective responses.
The response wasn’t unexpected but it was still disturbing to know that so many still think this way and that so many can’t recognize that all lives haven’t mattered equally and that white lives, by definition, have always mattered.
#BlackLivesMatter is about acknowledging equality and accepting that a black life is in no way inferior to a white life. It is about challenging white prejudice and in the sporting environment that white prejudice has been around for centuries because the narrative in sport has traditionally been told from a white perspective.
Merit, in a South African sporting context, has always meant white and people don’t even realise the deep hurt their comments can cause because they don’t see the harm in a comment like ‘I support Siya Kolisi because he is a merit selection’.
I said this a week ago but it can never be said enough: I’ve never heard a black player tell me he has no issue with white players in a team because ‘they’ are ‘merit’ selections.
I am not black and would never know what it must feel like to suffer such prejudice and such judgement. I can imagine how awful it must be from what I hear, read and get told by black sports people, but not for a moment could I say ‘I know what you mean’. I couldn’t because I don’t know.
It is why #BlackLivesMatter can’t be wished away as a protest or an occasion or moment in consciousness. It has to be spoken about every day because that is the only way there will be education and understanding.
In South Africa, if we speak of a Rainbow Nation and of Rainbow sporting teams, then we have to be prepared to listen and not react with vitriol because the truth of the content makes white people so uncomfortable.
I don’t have guilt but I certainly know I have privilege. I have never had my ability questioned because of my skin colour or had people patronizingly marvel at my achievements because … well … I wasn’t white.
The very best South African black sporting stars have consistently succeeded in spite of and not because of the history of this country.
There have been improvements and the national sporting environment in South Africa in 2020 is remarkably different to what it was in 1992.
There is a good news story in our sport in that there has been change but the transformation is a work in progress and ignoring the obvious or remaining silent does an injustice to the needed change.
#BlackLivesMatter … they always should have but the reality is that they haven’t in the ways of the world.
#BlackLivesMatter is about hope and happiness and not about hatred.
The late Nelson Mandela famously said sport has the power to heal, but it always has the power to drive change, significantly when it comes to black lives mattering.