Progressively Speaking: ‘When you win you’re English, when you lose you’re black’

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Progressively Speaking: ‘When you win you’re English, when you lose you’re black’

Rabbi Deborah Blausten takes a topical issue and looks at a progressive response

England's Marcus Rashford, Jadon Sancho, Raheem Sterling, and Bukayo Saka
England's Marcus Rashford, Jadon Sancho, Raheem Sterling, and Bukayo Saka

The above tweet, from researcher Ahmed Ali, and its succinct commentary on the experience of some of Britain’s footballing heroes after the Euro 2020 defeat, is a reflection worth dwelling on.

The idea of conditional acceptance, whether in academia, sports, politics or any other field, is a strong and present one for many who experience discrimination. 

It is part of the experience of being a ‘model minority’, whereby people with a particular identity are lauded and celebrated in wider society,
as long as they prove their value. 

Like many forms of racism, it’s not necessarily obvious, and sometimes it takes an incident such as the response to the Euro finals to help us understand this is the experience of many black people and those from other ethnic and religious backgrounds. 

It’s something that has historically been a part of the Jewish experience, where Jews who excelled in their fields were made exceptions and admitted to spaces that generally excluded them. 

Their ability to exist in those spaces was conditional on that success. We saw this with the way Bukayo Saka, Jadon Sancho, Raheem Sterling and Marcus Rashford were the best of the nation in the eyes of some one day, and abused and vilified online by the same individuals the next. This was not an experience shared by white members of the team.

Our Jewish tradition calls us to resist any notion that someone’s humanity is in any way conditional. A person’s value is absolute, regardless of any other intersection of their identity.

The oft-cited value of btzelem Elohim, being created all in the image of God, from the Genesis creation narrative, is complemented by midrash that teaches in response to the Genesis 2 story that all humans were created with a common ancestor so no person could ever claim that they were better than another. 

We should be able to celebrate each other’s excellence and commiserate defeat. We should be able to celebrate the histories and identities of individuals and at the same notice when we perpetuate tropes like someone rising to success as if it is moving above or beyond their racial identity. 

We need each other’s help to do so, to reflect back to one another when we speak the language of racist structures, so we can ensure the notion of btzelem Elohim is upheld in deed as well as in word. 

 Rabbi Deborah Blausten serves Finchley Reform Synagogue

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