Rene Carayol

The real meaning of “taking the knee”

Many leaders are out of touch with a generation for whom inclusivity and solidarity are non-negotiable.

Since the tragic murder of George Floyd, I’ve made a short posting on LinkedIn every day about inclusion. The odd one hits a nerve.

With the European football championships, ‘taking the knee’ by England players has become the current bane of objection for a vocal minority of fans. I mentioned Gary Lineker’s provocative Tweet -“If you boo England players for taking the knee, you’re part of the reason why players are taking the knee” – and quoted the England manager, Gareth Southgate: “We encourage those that oppose this action to reflect on the message you are sending to the players you are supporting.”

Southgate has oozed class and role modelled inclusive leadership that many CEOs could learn from. He has the backing of all his players because they have his. The government and FA have shown the opposite.

Within hours, we had a febrile atmosphere but because it was on LinkedIn (and it’s not anonymous), it was better behaved than what you often see on social media, but the disagreements were real and forceful.

We have learnt the hard way that racism is not logical, and you cannot have a logical discussion with racists. The more intemperate and nasty postings started to be deleted as they caused outrage. Senior executives from the companies of the aggressors entered the fray to apologise, and protect the values and reputation of their businesses.

I was contacted by one head of people as a colleague had let themselves down with some strong, offensive views. I explained that I didn’t feel they were overtly racist, but were wise to delete their posts. They had directly apologised, claiming it was ‘in the heat’ of the moment. Businesses are having to do the job that social media companies should be doing.

This sort of boorish behaviour clearly would not be tolerated at work. The nonsense we heard online about this being a protest against the Marxist BLM organisation is a laughable cover for racists.

Some said rather ridiculously to keep politics out of sport – please, do me a favour.

From Jesse Owens at the 1936 Berlin Olympics to Tommie Smith at the 1960 Mexico Olympics. Who can ever forget Nelson Mandela at the 1995 rugby world cup final, and the impact it had on the fledgling Rainbow Nation? Should England lose, it will be Black players that will be singled out for nasty, unrelenting racial abuse online. Politics?

Speaking of politics, Boris Johnson made another screeching U-turn on his stance on England’s footballers “taking the knee”, stating fans should not heckle players. He had backed his ‘base’, saying that he didn’t support players adopting the pose. “On taking the knee, specifically, [he] is more focused on action rather than gestures,” a spokesperson said.

This is not the leadership needed. After cutting feedback from Gordon Brown and Keir Starmer, Downing Street came back: “The prime minister respects the rights of all people to peacefully protest and make their feelings known about injustices”, and he “would like to see everybody get behind the team to cheer them on, not boo”. This had an instant ‘cooling’ impact on the atmosphere on our social media.

‘Taking the knee’ is a proud show of solidarity between the England squad against the evils of racism, and the players have reiterated this. It allows Black players to feel they are supported, much like the singing of “You’ll never walk alone” does for all at Liverpool FC. Previous generations of Black players had zero support, and the racism was far more overt and crushing.

We sadly saw the Russian fans boo the Belgian players for ‘taking the knee’. That’s their usual abject racism. Let’s stop the hypocrisy and not play to the divisive ‘culture wars’ – racism is racism.

After Southgate’s strong stance, Steve Clarke, Scotland’s manager, said: “For our match at Wembley, we will stand against racism and kneel against ignorance.”

‘Taking the knee’ has tabled the debate. It affords a strong sense of solidarity for all Black players. Maybe for the first time, football feels ‘joined up’ and is making a collective stance against racism. This starts at the top, but it needs more than Southgate.

Unfortunately, our leaders in society are out-of-touch with a much more assertive generation for whom inclusion isn’t a matter of political debate or a fashionable point of view, it’s a way of life, a matter of non-negotiable human rights.

Inclusion is not just being allowed to be there but being valued for being there. We’ve managed to get to the moon, now let’s try and get to racial justice.

Original story can be found here.