Beware The Jack Wilshere Lurking In Your Office

Beware The Jack Wilshere Lurking In Your Office

I doubt that Jack Wilshere will find his way to this blog but if any of my many thousands of fans know his email address, perhaps they'd alert him to this story...

I once had a job that involved, among other things, looking after a newspaper's obituary pages, often the source of the most fascinating and well-written tales in the publication. We liked to focus on real people rather than celebrities, men and women who had contributed in unique ways to make society a better, more stimulating place.

And then one day my boss ambled over and in a deliberately audible semi-whisper announced that there should be more 'proper British' people in the obituary pages. For anyone who knows me, this was a bit like a 'red rag'...

Me: what do you mean by 'proper British'.

Him: You know, British.

But proper? This bloke's British - I mean his face is brown but he lived here for most of his life.

Well, just more obviously, you know, British.

Blonde and blue-eyed?

No, just more, well, normal.

And with that, I knew what was expected. White. Anglo-Saxon names without any 'K's or awkward spellings. Preferably happily married (until death) to someone from the opposite sex, who both enjoyed Sunday roasts. Proper British.

Not unlike the Arsenal and England footballer's desire to see the national team populated by 'English' players not foreign chancers who think they qualify for such precious national identity just because they've spent the past few years watching Eastenders and eating Chicken Tikka Massala on a Friday night.

What does British - or English - even mean anymore? To the person I once worked with, the defining characteristics are colour (white) and beliefs (Christian and non-deviant from his own). To Jack, whose astonishing ignorance is not uncommon amongst pampered professional sportsman whose self-removal from society began in the rowdy back row of the school classroom, it can't include anyone whose accent is slightly foreign.

Both views are stomach-churningly bigoted but what's more worrying is that they are dangerous, too. Back to my story.

In the aftermath of this faintly fascistic diktat, colleagues deliberately avoided the inclusion of black, Asian or foreign-sounding people in their stories and chosen images. Unless they were involved in criminal activity, obviously. It was a joke at first and then, predictably, it became the norm. They became subsumed, subconsciously and, more disturbingly, consciously too.

It may not surprise you to learn that I ensured an obscure non-white academic was the next big obituary and, just as predictably, responsibility for the obituaries was thereafter handed to someone else.

It wasn't exactly a Sister Rosa moment and my bloody-mindedness won me few friends but at least I could sleep easily.

And that's the danger. It is dreadfully easy to adopt the views, opinions and prejudices of others who we are meant to hold in high esteem. Our sporting heroes, our politicians and indeed our bosses. It is easier to agree than to argue, easier to say yes than no, easier to keep people out than welcome them in.

I don't think Jack Wilshere is racist, he is just an influential idiot who thinks he knows best. But his words were music to the ears of racists who genuinely do believe that England (with its unique Celtic, French, Nordic and Germanic roots) is only for the English.


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