AC Milan’s friendly match against fourth-tier side Pro Patria was abandoned less than half way into the game when midfielder Boateng took off his short and walked off the pitch in protest against racist chants from Pro Patria fans.
Although Pro Patria’s Dario Alberto Polverini attempted to talk to Boateng as he left the pitch (see video below), Boateng was having none of it. To their credit, the other Milan players and officials followed him off the pitch. Other fans remonstrated against those who had indulged in the racist chanting against Boateng, Mbaye Niang, Urby Emanuelson and Sulley Muntari.
Boateng’s courageous action brings that bit closer the day when black players take similar action against racist abuse by fans, other players or referees during a premier league, champions league or other competitive match. Whether Boateng would have taken similar action during one such match is beside the point. The fact is that he was justified in making that protest in this instance. It was the first time that an entire team supported a black player against racist abuse by walking off the pitch with him.
Officials and other players are much more used to pleading with incensed black players to carry on playing, or have replaced a player leaving the pitch by a substitute, as in the case of Roberto Carlos who left the pitch after a banana was hurled at him while playing for Russian side Anzhi Makhachkala against Krylya Sovetov Samara in June 2011.
Throughout history, those in positions of power or who appropriate power to themselves whether through notions of racial superiority, cultural supremacy or otherwise, have always depended upon the power of coercion to control the reaction of the oppressed to the oppressive and dehumanising systems and arrangements that keep them in their place.
So it was in the southern states of America where racial segregation on the transport system further oppressed the very African people the labour market and the economy depended upon to enable the oppressors to enjoy their wealth and standard of living at the expense of those very black people.
And then, one day, 1st December 1955, in Montgomery, Alabama, Rosa Parks refused to give up her seat to a white passenger. Her action followed that of others who had valiantly defied bus segregation laws before her, among whom were Irene Morgan (1946), Sarah Louise Keys (1955) and Claudette Colvin some months before Rosa Parks.
The mythology has it that Rosa Parks was a tired black woman, 42 years old, who had simply had enough and refused to give up her seat on a bus to a white man in the then segregated transport system of the USA. She had had enough alright, because ever since 1932 when she married her husband, Raymond, at the age of 19, she had been active in the civil rights movement. Rosa and Raymond were both indefatigable workers in the voter registration movement in the Southern states of America, deep down in Jim Crow country. Rosa Parks was one of the first women to join the National Association for the Advancement of Coloured People (NAACP), in Montgomery in 1943.
By December 1955, then, she had seen enough, read enough, put up with enough and, in that one encounter, she decided “enough is enough. I ain’t moving no how, I ain’t moving for nobody. If you want me to move, you all go have to move me”.
That is why the NAACP decided to mount a legal challenge against racial segregation in support of Parks following her arrest for civil disobedience for refusing to give up her seat to a white passenger. That one act of defiance changed the course of the history of the United States of America and gave new life to black and other liberation struggles across the world.
In 1956, the United States Supreme Court ruled that the segregated bus service was unconstitutional. Rosa Parks’ single act of defiance was to change the lives of millions of people, not least that of one Martin Luther King Jr.
The young Rosa Parks was hugely influenced by the scholarly works of WEB DuBois and by the activities of the NAACP. In 1988, forty-five years after she joined the NAACP, thirty-three years after she sat down for freedom and seventeen years before her death, she was leaving us this legacy:
I am leaving this legacy to you all…. To bring peace, justice, equality, love and fulfilment of what our lives should be. Without vision, the people will perish, and without courage and inspiration, dreams will die – the dream of freedom and peace.
Throughout history, succeeding generations have enjoyed the freedoms gained through a single act of one individual taking a stand in the name of freedom and in defence of their basic human rights. That single protest by Kevin-Prince Boateng (right) may have not been influenced by Rosa Parks but it was undoubtedly inspired by that fundamental instinct for freedom and for human dignity that has driven change and won freedoms in respect of all forms of oppression in all cultures across the world.
Let that single act be an inspiration for others to act in defence of their right to freedom from racist oppression on and off the football pitch, irrespective of who employs and who reserves the right to transfer or ‘sell’ them. For, surely, to ‘sell’ a black player as a commodity worth millions to a club for daring to cause a match to be abandoned by protesting against racist oppression conjures up too many stark images of selling on uncontrollable and non-compliant enslaved chattels.
You could almost hear the Ancestors cry: How long, oh Lord, how long?
Picture (Home): “KPB” by zeropuntosedici (Flickr – BY-NC-ND 2.0)