So today was an uncomfortable first.
I was accused of being a football fan and being prepared to support a homophobic regime in order to keep access to my beloved sport. The regime in question was Qatar and the sporting event was the next World Cup.
The message I posted on social media that prompted such an accusation was this:
My post attracted an angry response, challenging my assertion that the English players had acted as positive role models and ambassadors. I must admit that it took me back a bit.
Feelings are running very high after Italy’s victory in the Euros, which put an end to England’s dreams of securing its first international football trophy since 1966. It can lead us to take such polarised views that understanding becomes impossible. And it can lead to us being characterised according to lazy stereotypes. The truth is, I am not a football fan at all. My sport of choice is Rugby Union, as those who know me well will attest. And a quick search through my social media activity will soon reveal my commitment to Equality, Diversity and Inclusion.
Stereotyping is the fertiliser of discrimination. It relies on the tiniest smidgen of data to feed a whole philosophy. A single word spoken can be enough for someone to form an opinion about you that subsequently informs their comprehensive judgement of you. Simply disagreeing with someone can be enough to define you in the most derogatory way. Stereotyping in this way is especially counterproductive when it is deployed as part of an argument that seeks to challenge bias and discrimination. Using stereotyping to challenge stereotyping is like drinking fifteen pints to prove you are not drunk.
And discrimination is a door closer. Instead of opening up your world, it close it down, reducing it to something blander, poorer, meaner. It's like locking yourself in a cupboard. Where is the sense in that unless you are hiding from a murderer?
I chose not to accept the offending characterisation of me. I asked to connect with this person and to continue a dialogue with them.
Sadly, my comments didn’t make the kind of headway I wanted.
Discourse and meaningful debate only happens when we are open to engagement. That means listening, seeking to understand, choosing our words carefully, not leaping to early conclusions. The alternative is polarisation which simply drives people further apart.
There will always be debate about how we show our support for Human Rights and seek to promote them. The time for debate about whether we should have Human Rights in the first place are long gone in some parts of the world, but sadly not in others. Even in the UK, there is government-sponsored challenge to our human rights obligations. So, walking away from a World Cup is definitely a powerful protest option, but not the only one. Quiet acts of defiance and protest can be just as powerful, especially when you are operating on the world stage. And disagreeing over the mechanisms of protest does not mean that you disagree with the idea behind the protest.
It is unlikely that my social media partner and I will reach full agreement on the how, but I hope that, through continued engagement, we will understand each other better, and be less quick to judge. We have opened the door a little so the light can begin to filter through.