Does saying something racist make you a racist?

The signing of Danny Hylton has been met with a degree of derision by many of the Oxford faithful. In a sense it was always going to be; the building tension that has resulted from a lack of apparent transfer activity was never likely to be sated by the signing of anyone but a genuine name in the Duberry, Kitson mould.

To most Hylton is another generic lower league striker, his recent goalscoring record is unremarkable and he seems to be trading off a reasonable run with Aldershot where he was managed by Gary Waddock. He’s also ‘replacing’ James Constable, and on that front he’s on a hiding to nothing. The other factor is that Hylton is or was a racist.

In 2012 Hylton was given an 8 match ban for racially abusing a player in a game against Barnet – a fact he denied. It was not that long after Luis Suarez’s ban for racially abusing Patrice Evra, which I don’t think is unrelated, but more of that in a minute.

For some Oxford fans, this is the continuation of the club’s amoral approach to its playing staff. Adam Chapman and Luke McCormick both played for the club having being convicted and serving time for death by dangerous driving. Some tried to demonstrate the club’s ‘shame’ in that we have also had an owner who made millions as a ‘slum landlord’, another who stole millions from a pension fund and a manager who had a conviction for having sex with a child. These all pre-date the current regime and can’t be considered relevant, although some think they are.

It doesn’t look good and Hylton’s signing doesn’t do much to dispel the perception that the club is morally corrupt.

In the, cough, black and white world the media like to paint, racism is racism, people who racially abuse are racists, and really that’s it. It largely ignores the fact that sometimes people make mistakes and sometimes people don’t make mistakes, but learn from bad experiences (recognising that also sometimes people don’t make mistakes and are genuinely racist). In the world of the media, this is way too difficult to squeeze into a headline; a racist is a racist.

Back to Suarez. The people who really came out of the Suarez affair with most damage were Kenny Dalglish and the Liverpool hierarchy. Both came out in support of the Uruguayan. The team even wore t-shirts supporting him.

These actions were met with derision; the club had lost all sense of morality, the players too. Nobody, however, questioned why they might choose to take the stance. If you’re cynical, then you might justifiably argue that Suarez represented such a prize asset for the club that for the sake of money and results, they put their moral compass aside. But that’s still a big risk for any club there are few sponsors benefit from their association with a club who appears to support racism.

It doesn’t really explain the players’ support for him either. Yes, perhaps they saw his value to the team, but do they really want to be seen to be supportive of a racist? Unless you’re absolutely sure that injustice is being done, then the better stance would surely to maintain a dignified distance from the whole affair, not parade around so publicly. I don’t think their support came from self-interest; I think they genuinely believed in his defence.

One of Suarez’s defences was around the cultural interpretation of the word ‘negro’, which is not considered such an offensive term in Uruguay. You don’t need to travel far to understand the problem of separating words and context. When NWA put Niggaz With Attitude on the front of their album cover, they’re beatified as counter cultural terrorists fighting the corporate man. If I put Niggaz with Attitude on the front of my album, I’d have been called a racist. If I had an album, that is.

The reality was that the context was not relevant to the Suarez case. The FA are pretty clear on this; if you say a racist term, that’s it, the context is not relevant. Interestingly in Law, the context is considered to be relevant. That’s why John Terry was banned by the FA, but not jailed by the judiciary for the same offence.

Hylton’s ban needs to consider in its context. The rule he broke was to say racist words; his intent wasn’t relevant. The FA also had to be consistent with the Suarez case (both received the same ban). The ban was sufficiently stern to send out a message to others that this won’t be tolerated. And quite right to. But once that message and ban has been delivered, then it’s time to learn and move on.

So is Hylton a racist? No, well, not today. And probably not yesterday. There’s a short blog post on an Aldershot website which describes Hylton as a nice guy. I like to think this he is. I like to think he made a mistake. I like to think that his ban was proportionate to his crime and that now he’s served that ban that his slate is clean. If he commits a more serious crime, then he similarly should be subjected to a more serious censure.

If he were caught being racist under an Oxford contract, then he should be subjected to whatever disciplinary processes are in place at the club – and it would help to understand what they are. To be honest, I’m not that bothered what they are, but it might help if the club could explain their policy towards this sort of thing to give fans something official to debate around. Do fans want the club to take an ultra-moral approach and only sign players who have an entirely clean slate? This will narrow our options and reduce the likelihood of success.

The point is that neither the media nor the fans should act as a kangaroo court for these players. It is a painfully reductive way forward, the marginalising of people who, perhaps, did a bad thing, but ultimately made a mistake.

In the end, there is no real value in all this handwringing, I sense the club, or at least the fans, are beginning to consume themselves in angst. And what value does that have? 

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Oxblogger is a blog about Oxford United.

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