“If your partner’s father dies and you say ‘everyone dies’ then you’re correct but not very sensitive to the moment.”
In recent weeks Faf du Plessis and Graeme Smith have spoken about this being a time to listen to grievances, to understand and try to be empathetic. Both subsequently spoke about their desire to do better in future and rectify any mistakes they have made as players and captains.
As Director of Cricket Smith also spoke a few days ago about wanting to be “part of the solution” as the game attempts to move forward into a new era of increased awareness of prejudice and tolerance.
Some white folk, of course, feel too uncomfortable or afraid to talk – to say anything which might possibly be construed as ‘anti’ the prevailing sentiment or the Black Lives Matter movement. That’s not only understandable, but not a bad thing in many cases. Any white people who aren’t aware of the privilege that their appearance gives them are either in deep denial, haven’t traveled much or have squandered it so abjectly that they have forgotten it once existed.
The BLM movement may have started in the United States but to compare the South African chapter in terms of attitude and approach is wildly presumptive. Like most franchises, the difference from branch to branch can be emphatic. The anger in America which turned to violence and opportunistic looting was only amongst a tiny minority, many of whom – by the way – were not black.
Take a close look at Lungi Ngidi who, like many before him, became the poster-face of a movement more by accident than design when he was asked a question about the BLM movement and replied that he supported it and would be talking about it with his team mates. It hardly makes him ‘radical’. It probably amuses him that some white people now fear him. Hopefully it does amuse him.
There will come a point, however, when the BLM movement will need to reach out to the timid and skeptical in order to achieve its goal of a better, more equitable future. If it does not then the opposite effect may occur with divisions becoming even more entrenched.
When ‘political correctness’ first became a thing it was, I believe, after a shaky start, widely welcomed. It was an eye-opener to offensive and unacceptable language and behaviour that many people had been unaware of, often through arrogance. But there is no doubt that a surfeit of it, like most excesses, can be damaging.
An excellent recent article in the London Times by Mathew Syed, whose father was from Pakistan and mother English, made this point with crystal clarity. Whereas all the Covid-19 data in England pointed towards recent surges in infection rates coming from Asian households and communities, the government spokesmen were simply unable to say so in plain language, such was their fear of breaching the barriers of political correctness. The closest they could come to telling it like it is was “multi-generational households.”
Syed states emphatically that if the government’s aim is to stop the spread of the virus and save lives then information needs to be clearly imparted. If Asian families, some of which live in insular communities, are high-risk to themselves and therefore others, are the ‘danger’ then they need to be embraced (not literally) with honesty, not protected from potential ‘hurt’ by political correctness.
At the moment the time and environment remain right for the victimised and mistreated to speak and for the rest to listen but if the speakers are not guided and there is a complete lack of discussion they may do themselves no favours – or worse.
Take the 2016 Ram Slam match-fixing scandal, for example. Six of the seven players who were banned are black and five of them have spoken up in recent weeks about their belief that they were scapegoats and that other, white players were protected. Ethy Mbhalati and, most recently, Thami Tsolekile have made specific allegations of concocted charges against them and some evidence being ignored. It would appear that they have little idea of how serious the charges are or of the potential consequences. They have specifically turned the investigation and their subsequent bans into a racial matter but appear to have forgotten that the entire investigation was overseen by Judge Bernard Ngoepe (pictured) who will not take kindly to the insinuation that he was either sloppy or inclined to target black players.
Lonwabo Tsotsobe was one of the most skillful and talented limited overs bowlers I have ever had the pleasure and privilege to watch. He deservedly topped the world ODI rankings at the peak of his powers. Recently, he complained about a lack of opportunities during his Proteas career and implied that it was racist behaviour. He did not mention that he routinely failed to reach even the most basic fitness standards and that his coach at the Lions, Geoff Toyana, once even asked the franchise selectors not to pick him because he was routinely late for – or missed entirely – practise sessions.
Honesty with ourselves as well as with each other will be essential in building the future we all want for the game.
Questions? Comments? Suggestions? Feel free to get in touch.