Where did you grow up and did you experience any racism?
I grew up in Aylesbury Buckinghamshire and it was quite a mixed area – I didn’t really notice any racism there. Obviously when I was younger there were things like ‘stop and search’, but you take those things with a pinch of salt when you are young. Apart from that my area was fine.
We do a lot of work on institutionalised racism and black players have spoken about being stopped in their cars. Is that something that happened/happens to you on a regular basis?
Plenty of times, because you have a nice car they stop you quite a lot. Whether it is justified or not, they will stop to look around your car, or look at your tax, or anything they want to look at and give no actual reason as to why they stopped you. So I’ve had my fair share.
They say stuff about tinted windows, which is fair enough, but a lot of the time they just stop you for the sake of stopping. You just come to accept it and think it is just part and parcel – we used to have a joke about it, saying if you have a nice car you are guaranteed to get stopped.
It’s not so bad nowadays, but I am talking about maybe a couple of years ago when it was quite a regular thing for you to get stopped. Thankfully it doesn’t really happen so much now.
There was a story about a young Everton player who was shopping for a new watch but the shop staff closed the shop and called the Police. Has anything like that ever happened to you?
No, never that bad, but I think about a time when I was in Luton when I was walking around the shops with my brother. Every time we looked at a jacket a person would come up to us and say that costs such and such, as if to say ‘what are you doing here? You can’t afford it’.
I was lucky enough to grow up with a lot of black and Asian people, so we would just make jokes about things like that and just laugh about it. Sometimes when you used to walk down the street people would cross the road just because you were walking there, but we just laughed that off too. We even, to a certain extent, played on it a bit because we knew what was going to happen.
At the end of the day we used to see the funny side to it and would just make a joke out of it.
That is one way to deal with it but you can imagine that others may not be in a situation where they’re able to make a joke of it. What would your advice be to a child who is suffering in school from racism?
Well my own son used to go to a school that we had to take him out of because he was different. He is light skinned, has curly hair and his eyes are brown – it got to the stage where we had to take him out because he kept blinking. We took him to the doctor and were told that it can happen when someone feels uncomfortable. My son kept saying to me he was hiding his eyes, because he has brown eyes. We took him to another school and the first day he didn’t want to take his hat off because his curly hair makes him so different.
I am fortunate enough in that I can take my kid out of school and put him in another one, but there are obviously people who can’t do that. There is only one other black boy in the school and he comes from another country – he is in the situation where he can’t move schools and is getting picked on.
He is showing all the signs that my child did but he will have to go through school with that. I was one of two black people in my school and you find a way to cope with it because you have to – people were always touching your hair because your hair was different or calling you names like monkey.
It was hard to deal with at the time as a young person and many people react differently; some will turn to violence, some will laugh it off but a lot of people hide away by themselves.
I think the main thing a young person should do is talk to an adult – I was lucky enough my son could come to me. He is only five so he couldn’t say as much, but we got the vibe with what he was talking about and being different. I think that, if you can go to a parent or an older person just to let it out and talk about it, it goes a long long way.
We have heard of people’s children going to them and saying that other kids in their area won’t play with them because they are black. What do you think of that and what would your advice be to that young person?
The main advice I would give would be to have the confidence to talk to your parents about it and raise it with the school. Don’t try and hide it away. There is a lot of pressure on the actual individual because they are trying to fit in and I found it myself when I was younger, trying to fit in. You wish you has straight hair, you wish you had different colour eyes; you wish many different things about yourself.
You can then start to become unhappy because you want to blend in and you don’t want to be different. The main thing I could say is that, no matter what colour you are, you are all equal and the main thing for me is, as I have found with my son, to talk about it – be confident of going to an adult to talk about it and to let it out, don’t keep it all bottled in.
Bottling it up can make you feel even more unhappy and you can end up feeling down about yourself, rather than feeling confident about yourself. I wouldn’t say it is as bad as depression, but it gets to you and makes you feel very down.
When my son came home from school and we asked him how his day was, he didn’t want to talk about school. We would ask him who he played with and he would say nobody, he also said he had a friendship bench and nobody wanted to play with him on it. It ended up that he was unhappy going to school, and that is a very hard thing to see from a parent’s point of view. As I said, for any other kid that is going to school that is unhappy and can’t change, the most important thing is to try and talk about it.
It is a very important part of your life – child psychologists have spoken of the way a person views themselves in the first five years of their life can affect them forever. One of the things we try to work against is the fact that many young black people do not do as well at school and we encourage teachers to address this and avoid reinforcing the racism and racial stereotypes that are in society. Since you moved your child’s school, has he had better results?
Yes, he is twenty times better, twenty times happier – he now comes home with a smile on his face. I would just like to touch on the school subject though; I found when I was younger that there is a lot of understanding about what racism is. Where I come from there are a lot of people, not just black, who use the racism word too easily – being at school and the teacher not appraising you isn’t racism.
I think a lot of people use the word black or say the ‘n-word’ too easily and out of context of what it actually means. If you are up to no good or are causing a crime, I think a lot of the time black people come out and say ‘is it because I am black?’. I think they can’t hide behind it.
One example of institutional racism, though, is the fact that around 50% of young black people are unemployed – DJ Campbell told us that he spent six months on the dole. Is that something you have ever had to deal with?
No, as I have been lucky in that I have been in football since I was 16, but most of my old friends are not employed and are finding it hard. I’m not sure if they still do it but they used to have to, before the interview, say what colour they are or where they are from and they knew that they weren’t going to get the job. They think that this could have something to do with their colour.
I have been fortunate enough to not have to have experienced that side of it, but I have a few friends that have experienced that side of it. They have obviously found it hard, but they keep on going and try their best because that is all they can do.
A lot of people are unemployed, with the area they come from making it hard and they can relate to other things; whether it is crime or other ways of making money. You can understand it, but obviously it is not right.
How important do you think it is to have campaigns like Show Racism the Red Card to challenge racism in society?
It is definitely important, because many people think racism has gone. It is twenty times better than it was maybe three to five years ago and it has come out of the game quite a lot, but there is still a minority that is still in the game.
I remember a time when I was at Luton Town and we used to joke about certain teams who we would play against and try and guess what we were going to get called – we would get called things like ‘Jaffa Cake’. Luckily enough I played with a lot of black players and we were able to laugh it off, but other people used to say they didn’t like going to certain grounds because they knew they were going to be racially abused.
All of the black players before us, ten or twenty years ago, who went through that have great courage and have shown us the strength and way to handle ourselves. Back then they would maybe have been the only black person in the team and had to go through so much by themselves.
An example for me was when I was sitting in the stands of one of my former clubs and a fan shouted onto the pitch “You black n****r, what are you doing?” But his friend next to him said “You can’t say that, you have black players in your team”, and the man responded by saying “No, I’m not talking about our players, I’m talking about their players”. This just doesn’t make sense.
I think the Show Racism the Red Card campaign has a massive influence and it is about awareness – letting people know it is still there and we are cracking down on it for the good of the game.
We were recently at the Stoke City v Newcastle United game and we heard that a Stoke fan had been arrested for racially abusing Demba Ba, but we also heard some Newcastle supporters singing racist chants about Kenwyne Jones. Does it surprise you that racist chanting like this still goes on?
Yes and no. I think a lot of it has been swept under the carpet – don’t get me wrong, it has come out of the game a lot and campaigns like SRtRC and Kick it Out have done a lot, but I think it would be naive to think that is has gone from the game completely.
I feel the same about society in general, in that no matter how much we wish it has gone away completely, it is still there. If you look at the example I gave a minute ago, they thought it was fine because they weren’t saying it about their own player. The main thing is that it is only a minority that is doing it and it is going to take a while, but step by step we can try and get it out of our game.
One of the growing areas of racism is Islamophobia. You mentioned you come from Luton and you also have a goalkeeper here who is a practising Muslim – have you mixed with Muslims before in your career?
Not so much football, but where I grew up there was a large Asian community and I grew up with lots of Muslims. I really just let them get on with it because they were their beliefs and everybody has got different beliefs, so I have been lucky enough to have grown up in that environment.
I think that another step in our game is to bring in more Asian players. At the moment we are getting the black players in there, so there are a lot of black players, but the next step would be for a lot of Asian players to come over and play in our game. They are obviously talented players – I watched the women’s world cup and Japan were quality.
I think that is the next step but, hopefully, the Asian players coming over now won’t have to go through the racism and abuse the black players did a few years ago.
I think the game has come on a lot and I think, in general, fans will accept them much more easily.