On saturday Mohammed Farah, a Somalian refuge, stormed the 10,000 metre event in the London 2012 Olympics grabbing one of many golds that day to help hammer down the the UK as a force to be reckoned with in the medal tables.
I stood in a pub with a bunch of 40-70 year old white, mostly Londoners, in the Sussex countryside as they emotionally tried to help charge the young man shouting “Go on Mo, go on my son, come on Mo, sprint, sprint”.
NEVER in my life did I think I would see this particular group of men standing in front of the TV screaming with passion for a Somalian to win a race. To be quite frank, seeing racists cheer a Somalian was as good a feeling as seeing Mo triumphantly grab the medal. A double whammy of pleasure!
Racism is a deep set emotion, often irrational and inconsistent.
This group of men are the locals in a pub I frequent every few years when visiting my father in East Sussex, UK. They are your typical Middle Aged Londoners (that’s a kind of racist statement in itself!), still living in an age where words like P*ki and N***er are said almost without a thought. To say the environment is uncomfortable for someone like me is an understatement. I have been in many conflicts and arguments but try to keep my cool. I know I can’t change them and part of me is hoping that they are the last of that generation and such heavy British racism will die out with them.
However I have seen this kind of behavior exhibited by younger people in the UK and have found myself in utter hate for my country-folk through what I see as utter inability to accept anything outside your own sphere of existence. It drives me insane.
BUT I am sure when Mo crossed that line 90% of the countries casual and even extreme racists had a hard time not feeling proud. For a racist to exhibit such pride in a black man, and a Somalian refugee no less, shows hope that things can change.
Now of course Mo is in an exceptional place. He is hands down one of the best middle distance runners we have ever had representing Great Britain. He has shown exceptional intelligence and skill, being the only man to beat The Cube as just one example. He has a beautiful family, with a step daughter and twins on the way, and shows a great and loving humble personality that you would be hard pressed not to warm to.
This can often lead to the “he is not like the others” syndrome for these old racists. Of course I have already heard such speak but I am still holding hope for what Mo and other non-white / non-British born athletes at events like the Olympics are doing for the world and racism as a whole.
Somalians in the UK have a very bad rep. I have heard Jamaican immigrants, Indian immigrants and other African’s alongside Brits of all colors all say bad things about “those Somalians”, their lack of respect, inability to even try to integrate, tendency to crime and penchant for “ruining” an area. Men and women like the men in the Sussex pub HATE people from Somalia. That is not an understatement! They think they are stinking goat herding terrorist pirates who sew their wives sexual organs up. You can only begin to imagine how upset this makes me. I try to see all people for their beauty but it sometimes makes me ashamed to have been born a white Londoner and I have to shake off my own irrationality.
Mohammed Farah arrived in the UK along with a storm of fellow country-folk from a torn country. He came to join his British born father at aged 8. Many Somali refugees came to the UK out of fear rather than will. Amongst widespread famine, daily violence and a troublesome Military led government you cannot ever blame them for wanting to make a better life. They formed communities and kept tight knit. We could argue all day about why they were not accepted but the fact is every wave of immigration starts like this. We are also seeing this with many Eastern European immigrants right now, another wave that is having a hard time being accepted.
Where I grew up in South East London Somali gangs were a problem. I have had an attempted robbery at the hand of a Somali gang at least twice in my teens and countless harassments but ALWAYS refused to tarnish an entire nation, or even the boys that were doing such things to me, with any badge of dishonor. Life is tough when you are a refugee, in a new and different country, without the respect of the people living there. It’s easy to gravitate towards gangs, do bad things to survive. This path is all so well known for many minorities and people from a poor background. I have seen many Somali school mates break that mould, become successful businessmen and important parts of their community. However they are never recognised on a larger scale because of utter racism.
Related: I have some major issues with the Olympics, not with the sport itself but it’s organisation and misuse of money. You can read some of my thoughts on that here: Why are the biggest sponsors of the London 2012 Olympics being walked over?
Mo was lucky because he could run fast and play football very well. In his sports teacher, Alan Watkinson, he found a man who looked out for him and harboured his ability bringing him out of the troublesome life he was already heading for. Alan Watkinson was even the best man at his wedding so we can see how important this role model was for him.
I believe the most important thing Mo has done for our country is to prove that Somalian can also be part of the UK. He has embraced the country but he can’t deny his routes. The Somali children, many new refugees, many now 2nd generation have an extremely positive role-model and proof they can excel. Brits have finally accepted a Somali as an icon, Mo is one of the first and I am sure a whole host of others will flood in the coming years.
Every generation has it’s stars who have helped break-up the racist stereotypes for a particular group. Most often these are stars of sports and entertainment and we have many right now asides from Mo. The UK has a diverse background that is growing year-on-year. This is something I have and always will celebrate. I always say there is not such thing as a true Brit as NONE of us have a so-called pure blood line. Myself included, I recently found out I have Russian Jewish descent which was a shock because I only ever knew of Irish. The issue of immigration is a complex one but one that can only be bridged with acceptance and learning of “the other”.
Here is Mo’s triumphant 10,000 m finish.
Racism isn’t dead and it never will be but I believe it will have a harder time being accepted as the youth have more and more role-models like Mo to look up to. In my lifetime I think have seen it decrease in London and this, despite the bad apples, gives me hope.
Now, go hug an immigrant.
Thank you Mo.