'Racist abuse of Yaya Touré is a smokescreen, real problem is at home'
A millionaire getting booed in Moscow is nothing compared with people at home never getting the chance to better their lives
I'm not interested in what happened to Yaya Touré at CSKA Moscow – as far as I'm concerned their supporters can abuse who they want because, for me, what happened in Russia is the tip of a wider issue and, quite frankly, something of a smokescreen. For instance, how many black coaches are there in this country? Very few, yet all we're focusing on is CSKA Moscow, and the more we push for clubs like them to get banned or have their stadiums shut down the more we don't need to look at what is going on here.
The truth is that those at the top of British football do not care about getting rid of racism, they just don't want to hear it or see it. As soon as someone like Touré or Danny Rose gets abused in Eastern Europe there is shock and outrage from players, clubs and the authorities, yet no one is speaking about the people living in inner cities like Brixton who, because of their appearance and their background, have become completely disenfranchised from society. Why don't they care? Because the powers-that-be have enough wealth to not worry about these people.
Black players, in particular, should be tackling these issues because ultimately it will affect them when they retire. There are so many intelligent former black players, guys like Luther Blissett and Cyrille Regis, who never got a chance to become a top manager or a top coach because of the perception that surrounds people who look like them. They are black – which, for many, means they are good athletes but incapable of being anything above and beyond that.
To a large extent this is down to unconscious racism and probably 99% of us are guilty of that – I know I am. We all have preconceptions of people based on what we have been told about them and their race and ethnicity.
I still come across managers of a certain generation, those in their fifties and older, who say to me: "I don't see you as black", and think that is a compliment. So what, I don't walk around with my jeans down by my arse, smoking a spliff, so that means I'm not black? These are the attitudes we need to change if black people as a whole are going to progress, and the only way we can achieve that is through education.
This is what footballers have to do – they cannot directly affect society but what they can do is use their standing in this country to make a wider audience aware of the wider issues surrounding race and stress the importance of understanding that what they have been told about a certain group of people is, in the main, wrong.
That, for instance, the best occupations black people can aspire to is being a footballer, or a runner, or a singer. People look at Barack Obama and say: "See, black people can be President" – no they can't. Any black person who has been successful, particularly Obama, has been lifted out of blackness and stands as the exception.
We need to talk openly about perceptions and not be afraid of the fact that we all have different views about different people based on how they look. There is nothing racist about an open, honest dialogue and it is certainly more productive then pointing the finger at the CSKA Moscow fans, or at Luis Suárez or John Terry, and demanding they are punished.
Personally, I don't blame Suárez or Terry for what they did – they are simply products of a society and environment that allows them to think it is OK to speak about certain people in a certain way. It would be far better if instead of banning them and demonising them, the Football Association aimed to educate them and make them see that black people are undeserving of racial abuse.
The truth is that Anton Ferdinand has more in common with Terry than he does with someone from Africa. They're wealthy guys from western culture who both drive Bentleys, both drink champagne and both listen to Tinie Tempah, yet Ferdinand is told he is different, that he is part of a race open to insults? That is ridiculous and, again, is the product of historically incorrect preconceptions.
Racism is never personal – it's about someone saying the group I am part of is superior to the group you are part of. How, for instance, can a handsome, talented, beautiful black footballer be personally affected by a fat, ugly, unemployed fan calling them a black this or a black that? I used to get that when I was playing and I used to just look at the people doing it and think: 'You're abusing me? Look at you, how can you even dare abuse me?!'
That is why it is pointless, and pretty ridiculous, to be worrying about a footballer getting racially abused – in no way are they the biggest sufferers, and, quite frankly, if I was someone like Touré or Rose I'd feel embarrassed if I had to look at someone who was suffering genuine racism and take their sympathy. A millionaire getting booed in Russia is nothing compared with generations of people never getting the chance to better their lives and those of their children.
Physically we are different – east Africans, for instance, are genetically inclined to run long distances in shorter spaces of time – but intellectually and morally we all have the potential to be the same. That is the type of equality I am interested in and is the message I give when speaking at universities and other public forums. And that is what more people involved in football, black players in particular should be doing. Because unless you get rid of racism in society, you can never get rid of it in football and as things stand there will always be these one-off moments when a player is abused or booed purely because of the colour of their skin.
Everyone goes into shock because they thought racism had disappeared from the game but how can it have done when it continues to exist in every other part of society at a more deep-seated, depressing level? Just because someone keeps their mouth shut for 90 minutes doesn't mean that for the rest of the week he isn't a racist, or hold unconsciously racist views, and until that is addressed, there will always be a problem.
Tackling racism is a long and complicated process but one thing's for sure; it cannot be solved by banning a player or closing part of a stadium. The problem is wider than that and if football really cared those involved in the game, players in particular, would worry less about one-off incidents like what happened to Touré when he played for Manchester City in Moscow and more about what is going on around them. Perceptions need to change and for that to happen, education needs to be pushed as the only way forward.