Poor Anton wasn’t the only Ferdinand to have endured abuse last season. After that unfortunate incident involving John Terry, every time his elder brother Rio touched the ball in an away game he heard thunderous chants of ‘Anton is a c…’.
Shared misfortune tends to bring families even closer together, and the other day Rio tweeted a counterattack. Upset with his, now presumably former, friend Ashley Cole, who had acted as character witness in Terry’s defence, Rio enthusiastically endorsed someone else’s description of Cole as ‘choc ice’.
For those of you who aren’t up on racial invective, ‘choc ice’ or ‘Bounty’ means black on the outside, white on the inside, what in America used to be called ‘Uncle Tom’. Since all people are exactly the same colour on the inside, the putdown clearly has nothing to do with anything biological. The implication is that skin colour must impose a certain mentality and behaviour, and, if it doesn’t, the offender must be rebuked.
In other words, negritude isn’t always, and never merely, just a chromatic, physical incidental. It’s a metaphysical concept, a sort of noblesse that obliges. One could even go so far as to suggest that, in today’s mostly colour-blind West, it’s practically nothing but that.
For example, it’s hard not to notice that blacks tend to vote in overwhelming numbers, as a rule around 90%, for the leftmost candidate on offer. The assumption is that they are leftwing because they are black. In fact, if we accept that being black is mostly a state of mind, the reverse seems to be true: they are black because they are leftwing.
Going another step farther, perhaps negritude may be defined the same way as Jewishness: one is if one believes oneself to be, and, this side of Hitler, if one doesn’t one isn’t. This point was emphasised by Sasha Baron Cohen in his brilliant send-up of the gangsta Ali G. Mr Baron Cohen, who is and looks Jewish, had no trouble being accepted as a black by numerous interviewees. No blackface or other makeup was required: all he had to do was walk the walk and talk the talk for otherwise sensible people to ignore the evidence before their eyes.
As far as I can tell, and I may well be wrong, things are different in France. Here someone like Jo-Wilfried Tsonga, who, like the Ferdinand brothers, is half-white, is never described as a black tennis player. He is French, and so is his colleague Gaël Monfils who’s 100% black. Moreover, all Francophone footballers born in Africa, such as Didier Drogba, are also regarded as French – even if they moved to France as grown-ups and actually play for their African motherland.
So why can’t the Ferdinands, and they are typical, see themselves, and be seen, as human beings first, British second, English third, Londoners fourth, Peckham lads fifth – and black a very distant sixth? It’s not a question that can be answered concisely, but that doesn’t mean it can’t be answered.
Perhaps a good start would be to comment on the nature of British society, where atomisation isn’t just accepted but actively promoted, encouraging people to stick to the margins. Britishness, steadily undermined by government policy for decades, no longer provides a sufficient sense of group identity for most people. It has to be replaced by tribal loyalties to one’s football team, political party, social class, the country of one’s ancestry – and race.
I once knew an advertising man on a six-digit salary plus bonuses who said he always voted Labour because he was ‘working class’. It wasn’t his mind or conscience that determined his vote, it was his tribe, in this instance defined in social terms. He was ready to dissolve his individuality in collective identity, and let the latter shape the former.
Walk through the streets of any British city, and you’ll see crowds of such downtrodden ‘working class’ lads casually tossing their Armani jackets on the back seat of their Mercs and Beemers [sic]. And, if you’re as lucky that day as I was a few years ago, you could even espy Anton Ferdinand laden with shopping bags from the best brands in Sloane Street.
Ali G wouldn’t be caught dead with clothes that don’t display logos in 80-point type; he unswervingly remained loyal to the values of his phoney race. Anton, however, was on that day clearly a traitor to the code he’s obligated to uphold, one imposed to him by a totally inconsequential biological quirk. Would Rio call him ‘choc ice’ too? All this is too silly for words.