A popular schoolboys’ riddle to denote a newspaper as ‘Black and White and Read All Over’ has become relevant to the social media world of today. The digital world that we live in has made the life of every individual far more transparent and open.
The world is flat was stated by Thomas Friedman very aptly in his book. One’s actions, verbal or written or comments, as well as one’s movements are now available with just the click of a finger. The length and breadth of our universe can now be easily accessed with the enormous knowledge, material, and content floating in the internet cloud hovering around us.
The internet has transformed our very existence. Celebrities, unfortunately, are balancing on a double-edged sword. They need to be or become a part of the fast interactive world. They cannot afford to behave like an Ostrich by burying their head into the ground, hoping to stay away from it all.
The history and the DNA of one’s movements and life in the present as well as in the past is like an open book that can be researched or found if required. The world of social media has recently hit cricket on account of some racist comments on twitter. England’s latest cricket debutant, Ollie Robinson, has been the culprit in this case. The tweets that he is guilty of were sent eight years ago, maybe in casual jest and humour when he was a teenager still to understand the ways of the world. Unfortunately for him, his budding Test career has come to a standstill, as he has been suspended from playing cricket till the matter is sorted.
One does feel sorry for him, as the incident did take place many moons ago. As much as one is against any sort of racial remarks by any individual, Robinson’s state of mind, his values and reason for him to make such a remark needs to be understood before pronouncing him guilty.
I can recall a racial incident that I was confronted with when I was playing for Ballymena, a cricket club in Northern Ireland. I was the professional and my counterpart, in the opposing team, was a South African cricketer. A request was made to keep me out of the dressing room as the South African cricketer would not change if I was present. Naturally, my team was aghast and in no uncertain words told him to go and take a hike. We won the match comfortably and I hit the racist professional for three sixes on the way to victory.
Over time, we became friends and he even came over home for a “curry”. He explained the reason for his discomfort as it emanated because of the life they lived in South Africa. He grew up in a racial regime and so could not mentally come to terms with sharing and interacting with a coloured individual. Playing cricket in Ireland was a cultural learning experience for him and one forgave him once he apologised for his
behaviour as he was naive and uninformed in the way in which he perceived people around him.
Cricket before the onset of television, stump microphones, and social digital mediums was full of uncalled for and rude statements and at times racial remarks. The word sledging was prevalent right from playing school cricket up to the highest level of the game. The history of international cricket is full of some funny and unprintable anecdotes. In 1970s sledging had become a part and parcel of the game and at times racial remarks were made, not to hurt, but to unsettle the player.
Every team indulged in it and, unfortunately, the weaker ones had to face the brunt of it. Although it may seem like an unfair and serious issue, cricketers then took it in their stride. The incidents were normally left behind once one left the field, though not necessarily by your very own teammates who enjoyed a banter in the dressing room later.
In the Indian cricket scenario because of our caste, social and religious differences, racial remarks were quite common. One took it in one’s stride, as at the end these remarks were referred to as ‘gamesmanship’. However, playing against the Parsees was always a treat. Their colourful language was not just a retort aimed at their opponent but also at their own teammate if they erred.
The Parsees are a fun loving community and batting against them had one in splits of
laughter as one expected a funny verbal response to every delivery one faced. One therefore played against them and took their remarks without any malice.
Michael Holding, the great West Indian fast bowler, has correctly said that education and educating the entire human race is the only way to stop racism. The Indian Premier League (IPL) and the other T20 leagues around the world are wonderful concepts to break the ice among cricketers. The IPL has already shown the change in the way foreign and Indian players respect one another.
The Corona virus has taught everyone one major lesson. The virus does not differentiate between whites, browns, blacks, poor, or rich. The entire world is at present fighting the pandemic together. Cricketers too need to fight racism as a community and eradicate it completely. Education is the only way forward and so whether white or black, the only way out is “read”.
(Yajurvindra Singh is a former Test cricketer. Views expressed are personal)