Les Ferdinand, the director of football for Queens Park Rangers, appeared on “Things We Won’t Say About Race That Are True,” a BBC documentary exploring modern race relations in Britain. He addressed a range of topics, including the racism case brought against John Terry after an on-field confrontation with (his cousin) Anton Ferdinand.
“I suppose it was disbelief really … that the England captain would use language like that on a football field, or anywhere in fact.”
“When you look at the game and the disproportion of black coaches in the game, maybe [English soccer officials are] not actually saying what John Terry said but are they thinking it? Because I have to believe that.”
Ferdinand also discussed the lack of managerial and executive opportunities for so-called BME (black and minority ethnic) candidates in English soccer. According to research he presented to the House of Commons, only three percent of senior positions within the 92 league clubs are held by non-whites.
“I know lots of players that I play with who’d love to go into coaching and management and they’ve done all the badges but they just won’t get an opportunity.
“We’ve been talking about this for 15 years now, the only difference is the venues seem to be getting better. When I first started doing it, it was in a little classroom then we moved on to a hotel room, and now we’re at parliament but the outcome’s still the same because we’ve not moved on.”
Adding texture to the entire conversation of race in Britain is the fact that so much of it centers around the clumsy and inadvertently dismissive attempt at shoe-horned inclusion: the U.K.’s commonly used classification of “black and minority ethnic.” From Universities Scotland:
“[‘Black and minority ethnic’ is] A term used to describe people from minority groups, particularly those who are viewed as having suffered racism or are in the minority because of their skin colour and/or ethnicity. This term has evolved over time becoming more common as the term “black” has become less all-inclusive of those experiencing racial discrimination. ‘BME’ was/is an attempt at comprehensive coverage. The term is commonly used in the UK but can be unpopular with those who find it cumbersome or bureaucratic.”
Racial identity is a mine field of technicalities, personal preferences, cultural nuance and prejudice for almost anyone. The fact that umbrella terms are often handed down from a majority ruling class further complicates the task of perfectly defining one’s personhood. It’s how we end up with words like “Latino” lumping together people from Spain and Nicaragua, or “black” identifying people from culturally disparate places like Atlanta and Johannesburg.
The use of BME as “an attempt at comprehensive coverage” by no means illustrates a universally-held sentiment, but it’s certainly revelatory of how race is seen by the ruling majority, particularly when it comes to black people. Why was it deemed necessary to create an all-inclusive term for non-white Brits, especially one created for the sake of convenience? Why, even with “minority ethnic” included, is “black” singled out again as some sort of ethnic festival headliner?
To my eyes, “BME” reads as the ultimate, government approved “us versus them” categorization, with a deliberate acknowledgement that black is especially more “them” than anyone else. If this is what passes as politically correct in the UK, it’s no wonder than John Terry can wear a captain’s armband and say whatever he wants, or that almost all high-level positions in English soccer are held by white men.
“BME” says that the ruling class sees race as nothing more than an inconveniently complicated section on census forms. As with all issues of inclusion in the game, a lack of minority representation in the upper echelon of management is a symptom of a larger societal problem that goes much deeper than prejudice in the context of sport.