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Why racism is not ‘banter’

This article is over 2 years, 8 months old
The scandal at Yorkshire County Cricket Club shows the fight against racist bullying must continue
Issue 2780
Tory health secretary Sajid Javid

Health secretary Sajid Javid has been forced to condemn Yorkshire cricket’s racism (Picture: Wikicommons/ Foreign and Commonwealth Office)

Three years ago former Yorkshire spin bowler Azeem Rafiq went public with allegations of racism directed against him by people at the club.

He said that he had regularly been called “Paki” by teammates and staff.

Yorkshire at first did nothing, but then reluctantly launched an investigation that admitted Rafiq had been a victim of “racial harassment and bullying”.

Former England batsman Gary Ballance this week admitted using racist language against his one-time teammate, and said that this was now a source of great regret.

But Ballance moved quickly from contrition to the defensive.

He said his remarks had been part of a “friendly verbal attack… in the spirit of friendly banter”.

Yorkshire’s report seems to fully accept this line, even censuring Rafiq for allegedly using the term “Zimbo” in reference to Ballance’s heritage as a white Zimbabwean.

The “friendly banter” refrain, so long the refuge of many a racist, may have convinced Yorkshire’s board. But few others are taken in by it.

Even Tory minister Sajid Javid was moved to say, “‘Paki’ is not banter. 

Although some action has now been taken, the “banter” defence is now so worthless because of something that Javid’s Tories have sworn to defeat—the anti-racist movement.

Campaigning over generations forced racist “jokes” from prime time television into comedy’s gutter.

Newspapers such as The Sun told us this is “political correctness gone mad”—and, “You can’t say ANYTHING anymore.”

But the effect of fighting over racism in public life changed what was deemed acceptable in schools, workplaces and wider society across Britain.


It created a space for those who were the butt of racist, sexist and homophobic jokes to speak out, and it emboldened many against oppression.

That meant people being able to explain just how upsetting they found the experience or how it robbed them of confidence and often forced them to hide their true feelings.

It also meant others who saw or heard such comments called out the offensive behaviour when victims felt tied by the accusations of “overreacting” or “being sensitive”.

The anti-racist, and anti-oppression, mood also opened up whole new areas for discussion. 

In schools and colleges that has included a long-needed discussion of what is taught and how.

While in workplaces, the question of what attitude unions should take towards racism and bullying has become a vital question that has led to strikes and action.

That’s why anti-racists are right to take up issues that others are content to dismiss as “just banter”.

Sometimes such episodes are an opportunity for people to patiently explain why a particular word or phrase can be offensive. 

But sometimes behind the offence there lies a deliberate attempt to stoke conflict and division.

Whichever it is, it’s important to challenge oppressive statements. 

Often this can encourage other people to speak out as well.

Much as Javid will hate it, his attack on the cricket authorities rests on the climate of anti-racism created largely by the left.

Earlier this year the government published the report of its widely discredited Commission on Race and Ethnic Disparities.

Its chair, the right winger Tony Sewell, said that he had demolished claims of structural racism, and that there was no evidence “of actual institutional racism”.

Gleeful Tories rushed to TV studios to explain that Britain was a “model of racial equality”.

Yet when faced with the example of Rafiq’s treatment at the hands of Yorkshire cricket, even a committed culture war warrior such as Javid is forced to admit something bad is going on.

As Rafiq said this week, “This is about institutional racism and abject failures to act by numerous leaders at Yorkshire County Cricket Club and in the wider game.”

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