Trigger warning for racist and violent language and images
On Thursday night, Montreal Canadiens player P. K. Subban scored the winning goal against the Boston Bruins in Game 1 of the Eastern Conference Semifinal.
Predictably, Boston fans were outraged. In this case, though, with Subban as one of the few black players in the league, their anger took a sickeningly racist turn.
It was so bad that the n-word was briefly trending on Twitter in Boston. Seriously. Think about that for a minute. Think about how many people must have been tweeting one of the vilest, most degrading racist slurs in our language in order for it to be trending in a city the size of Boston. That is not just a few racist fans making everyone look bad -- that is a whole fucking lot of people trying their hardest to make Subban (and all people of colour) aware of just how unwelcome they are among white people.
Even worse, one fan tweeted this image (the account has since been deleted):
This is not a fluke. This isn't even the first time Subban has experienced a slew of racist tweets -- the same thing happened while he was playing for Canada's Olympic hockey team. This is not a little blip in an otherwise decent system. This is white people telling you what they really think of people of colour. Seriously, you don't have to scratch too deeply to find the violent, still-beating heart of racism in most white folks. All it takes is your favourite sports team losing a playoff game, and out it comes.
You know what the real kicker is? I bet the majority of the people tweeting these things would say that they're not racist. They would tell you that they have black friends. That the n-word is just a word, and anyway how come black people can use it and they can't? They would tell you that it was just a joke. It was all just a stupid joke. Stop being so sensitive, jeez.
I can't believe that this needs to be spelled out for some people, but: white people using the n-word is not a joke. Making references to slavery is not a joke. And Jesus Christ tweeting a picture of a noose at a black person is not a fucking joke.
The spectre of white violence is something that black people face every day. They live in a world where knocking on a white person's door to ask for help after a car accident can result in them being shot in the face. They live in a world where defending yourself against an attacker can result in imprisonment, but meanwhile if they are murdered, unarmed and vulnerable, their killers can get off scot-free.
They live in a world where a man can shoot and kill a black teenager because their music is too loud, and then not have the jury find enough evidence to convict him of first degree murder. They live in a world where deep-seated systematic oppression hounds them at every turn. To top it all off, they live in a world where white people are taught from birth to fear everything about them.
The Boston fans tweeting slurs at P. K. Subban aren't an isolated minority. Donald Sterling, the racist owner of the Los Angeles Clippers, isn't just a throwback to an earlier age where racism was acceptable. This is the racist landscape that we live in, and to which all white people, on some level or another, contribute.
We need to acknowledge that every time we downplay events like this, every time we tell someone not to be so "sensitive," every time we write stuff like this off as something other white people do, we are just making matters worse. Before any real change can take place, we, as white people, need to accept that fact that we all participate in and benefit from a system that privileges our interests above all others. And we need to understand that this same system makes life not just difficult but frightening and dangerous for people of colour.
Boston Bruins president Cam Neely issued a statement this morning, saying, "These classless, ignorant views are in no way a reflection of anyone associated with the Bruins organization." Unfortunately, the truth is that they are a reflection of people associated with the Bruins organization -- perhaps not people employed by it, but certainly people who publicly cheer for the team and therefore contribute to how people outside of Boston perceive the Bruins. This statement is a start, but there needs to be more. We need more people calling out racism in sports -- and everywhere -- in order to affect change.
We need to show Subban and all other people of colour that we've got their back.
p.s. GO HABS GO
Follow Anne Theriault on Twitter: www.twitter.com/@anne_theriault