John Barnes: Systemic racism must be challenged

Former England footballer John Barnes has said it is “more important” to tackle systemic racism than intermittent racist incidents.

The anti-racism activist told Sky News’s Sophy Ridge On Sunday programme that “racism was understandable” because of what people have been wrongly taught about others for hundreds of years.

He said society should now challenge those views and “deconstruct” misconceptions that are held about different groups of people.

His comments come as thousands of people took part in Black Lives Matter (BLM) demonstrations across the country on Saturday following the death of George Floyd in Minneapolis during an arrest, with more demonstrations planned in London, Bristol, Glasgow and Edinburgh on Sunday.

Black Lives Matter protests
Further Black Lives Matter protests are planned to take place on Sunday (Brian Lawless/PA)

Asked what steps can be taken to make society less racist, Barnes, 56, said people should look beyond the “visible signs of racism”.

He said: “Because that happens intermittently, what continues to happen throughout every single day of black people’s lives in inner cities is the systemic racism that affects their daily lives, and that is more important for us to challenge that than these incidents.”

Barnes, was one of the country’s best-known footballers during the 1980s and 90s, said racism in the UK was “exactly the same” as it is in the US, in terms of its impact on the black community.

He said: “In terms of the disenfranchisement of the inner cities, of the black community not being given access to health care, social care, jobs, housing, it is exactly the same.”

The former winger, who played for clubs including Watford, Liverpool and Newcastle, said he experienced “lots of racist incidents” in his career.

Referencing an incident when a banana was thrown at him while he was playing for Liverpool in 1988, Barnes said: “I didn’t experience racism, I experienced lots of racist incidents.

“Because that racist incident I went through when the banana came on the field on the Saturday… on the Sunday, Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday, Friday, John Barnes the footballer – famous, lives in a nice house, drives a nice car, people are letting me into restaurants, into bars, into shops – didn’t experience racism whatsoever.”

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