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Monday cannon fodder: Wilfried Zaha, racism, and society

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We can and must do better.

Aston Villa v Crystal Palace - Premier League Photo by Catherine Ivill/Getty Images

Usually, Monday would be a recap of the football action from around Europe and in the U.S., but I have to write about Wilfried Zaha and the 12-year old who was arrested for racially abusing him on social media.

Everything about this is heartbreaking.

It should go without saying (but apparently it needs to be repeated because some chunk of society still doesn’t get it) — there is absolutely no place for the disgusting abuse that child sent to Zaha. It’s foul. It’s vile. And no human being should have that kind of filth thrown at them. I hope that Zaha gets whatever help he needs to deal with the emotional and psychological effects of such horrendous public, personal abuse.

My goodness, a 12-year old wrote those racist threats. The numerous catastrophic failures that must have happened for a CHILD to learn and to spew such racist abuse is a scathing indictment of society.

Think back to when you were 12. Did you know such racist abuse? If you had heard or read it, would you have repeated it? Can you imagine thinking it was OK to verbally attack someone with that kind of language? I know kids can be dumb, and sometimes they do dumb things. But this conduct is beyond dumb; it is from an entirely different galaxy.

We know very little about this child — his life circumstances, who his parents are, etc., but we do know that racist behavior, especially at his age, is learned; children are not born with hate or racism. Something or someone in his life taught him that kind of hatred. We may never know where he learned it — from people in his life, one of the racist sinkholes readily available to children on the internet, or somewhere else — but the fact that he learned it means that we’ve failed that child. By allowing racism to persist in our society, we’ve failed that child.

Although we can’t control every person or place where he could have learned racism, we must take some responsibility for allowing racism to persist in society; in the society he lives in. By not taking every opportunity to end racism, including to condemn racial abuse wherever it raises its ugly head, we failed him and all our children.

It’s understandable if you feel badly for this twelve-year old child being arrested. I definitely feel for him — as I said, we’ve all let him down. I’d ask, however, that if you have sympathy for him, think about all the other children we’ve let down. Think about the children who belong to racial minorities and are the target of verbal abuse from other children and adults, and experience discrimination in daily life. Think about all the children who don’t look like you: when they mess up, when they make (big) mistakes, do you have sympathy for them? If you don’t, then why.

The larger, and more important, question to ask is what do we do so this never happens again. Why is a 12-year old racially abusing anyone online? Is this the kind of society that you want to live in? If not (and boy I hope you don’t want to live in a society that tolerates racism), think about what you, reader, can do to make change happen.

I believe that we can be better. It’s not going to be easy. It’s going to take A LOT of uncomfortable conversations, possibly unpleasant self-reflection, and hard work. But we owe it to ourselves, and more importantly, to those who have been subject to the pernicious effects of racism for far too long to do what it takes to fix our broken society.