A year on from the murder of George Floyd, Kick It Out CEO Tony Burnett reflects on what has - and hasn't - changed.


It is one year on since the murder of George Floyd sent shockwaves around the world, and set us all on a path around race discourse we haven’t experienced in a generation.

The horror we all witnessed quite rightly evoked a sense of injustice and a desire to do more in order to tackle discrimination. Many people actively sought to educate themselves on issues of race and many black people shared painful personal stories in an attempt to convey the lived experience that is often our reality.

The events of the past twelve months have certainly driven more open and honest discussions than ever before. I had painful conversations with my oldest friends about things I had never felt able to discuss, such as my real experience as a black man in the UK.

Organisations across the UK and beyond developed plans to address issues related to race. Within football we saw the development of the Football Leadership Diversity Code, the expansion of the Premier League’s No Room for Racism campaign and a serious external commitment to drive change across the game. At Kick It Out we launched our own Take A Stand campaign, asking individuals and organisations to make a pledge or take action against discrimination. 


Photo by john crozier on Unsplash

However, the last twelve months have also highlighted the extent of the work we still need to do if real change is to be achieved so that the legacy of the last twelve months is not lost. Whilst it was clear that many people wanted to use the death of George Floyd as a platform for positive change, it was also apparent that others sought to use it as a means of driving even greater divide. The narrative around the lived experience of black people quickly became hijacked by discussions about cultural symbols such as statues and the political beliefs of the BLM organisation, rather than the fight against discrimination.

Within football our professional players chose to take a very brave and visible stand against racism within the game, and have spent the majority of the last year discussing the merits of taking the knee, rather than the issues surrounding discrimination within football.

As we reflect one year on, it is time to re-galvanise our collective determination and resolve to do all we can to eradicate the scourge that is discrimination. That is the only dialogue of importance and it is needed more than ever.

I am sure many will also be aware of the death of Dalian Atkinson in 2016 and some of the details around that coming out via the trial this year. Whilst the events surrounding yet another tragedy are proving to be quite shocking, it raises a fundamental question, which even apparently liberal people within the UK find it impossible to discuss - is Britain systemically racist? I believe that it is. Until we acknowledge that fact, we are never going to truly address the problem of racism.

Policing is simply a very visible and impactful example of systems and processes that consistently produce poorer outcomes for black people. I worked within policing for three years. I met many fantastic police officers and staff from all backgrounds who are trying to make a positive difference in our communities. My partner is an Asian woman and an officer with twenty years of great service, and I am incredibly proud of her.


Photo by James Eades on Unsplash

That said, as a black man I am nine times more likely to be stopped and searched by the police than a white male. I am six times more likely to have force used against me than a white male. Why is this still the case? The root cause is structural and systemic racism against black people.

Not one of the Chief Executives of our top 100 companies in the UK is black. Not a single Chief Constable of the 43 police forces in the UK is black. School exclusion rates are twice as high for black Caribbean pupils than for white counterparts. Black people earn approximately 8% less than white counterparts. In football there have been just nine black managers since the Premier League began in 1992. Crystal Palace, Watford and Southampton alone have changed managers over twenty times during that period. Not a single referee in the Premier League is black. I could go on, but all of the stats tell a very clear story.

That is what systemic discrimination looks like. Our task in the wake of the George Floyd murder that shook the world to action is to acknowledge the facts and do what is necessary to drive change. In my view, that comes in the form of three things – education, fair representation and targeted investment.

Education

Over the last twelve months sales of books about racism and the black experience have soared. The thirst for knowledge has been tangible. Much of the information being sought should already be part of the educational curriculum. How can people go through a British education system without developing a real understanding of racism, colonialism and the impacts of the slave trade? How can young people go through an education without fully understanding and appreciating the positive contribution black people made to British history in areas such as the armed forces and healthcare?

I worked for many years in South Africa, where following the end of apartheid, the nation had to tackle issues linked to internalised oppression (lack of self-worth). Central to dismantling internalised oppression is building a sense of identity and self-worth through positive personal narrative. In order to free minds of oppression, we must engender positive narratives and more importantly truthful narratives about the contribution of black people in British history. That’s not for just the month of October, it needs to be an intrinsic component of every school curriculum in the country and every home in the UK. Every one of us needs to educate ourselves with the real facts about British history and the role of black people in it, so that we replace fiction with facts and replace fear with understanding.

Fair representation

I am frankly tired of negative stereotypes about the capability of black people. In the UK we cling to the myth of meritocracy in order to deny fair representation across a host of professions and industries. If Britain was meritocratic then representation would be proportionate in most industries and at all levels, it’s that simple. The fact it is not is a clear indicator that most industries and professions are not meritocratic.


Photo by Ehimetalor Akhere Unuabona on Unsplash

Boris Johnson is the twentieth Eton educated British Prime Minister. Are we really suggesting that in a meritocratic country one school is able to attract, educate and develop excellence to the extent that it produces 36% of our national leaders, or could it be that privilege, networks and establishment underpin our fragile sense of meritocracy? It is time we legislate for fair representation. If organisations cannot demonstrate fair and representative outcomes, they should be penalised. No more platitudes, we need to see concrete action.

Targeted investment to drive equality

Austerity over the last fifteen years has disproportionately affected the poor. We see the results in many areas of life, from the ever increasing need for free school meal provision, to scarcity in affordable housing. Without the appropriate infrastructure and right support, poorer families do not have the same life chances, irrespective of capability.

Health is also a great example. We constantly hear stats around childhood obesity and poor eating habits amongst young people, particularly from poorer backgrounds. Yet for poorer families the cost of participation in sport or recreation is often prohibitive and if I cannot afford a vehicle, it’s even more difficult to join organised sport and recreation. We need to invest far more in poorer communities across an array of areas to allow more people from poor communities to fulfil their potential.

What’s the role of football in this movement for change?

Football is a place where people from all backgrounds come together with a common purpose and a common language. Whether a player, coach, volunteer or supporter, it has the power to unite people in a way that very few other things can. As supporters start to return to grounds, a game we all love will return to some sort of normality.


Photo by James Boyes on Wikimedia.

As your players, your heroes and the young men and women who wear your colours make whatever stand they choose in the fight against racism, I ask that you support them irrespective of the gesture they choose to use. The issue they are standing up for is discrimination in society. Your actions and your support can send a powerful message across the whole country that football is united in the fight against racism and we can all take a stand.