Post-colonial xenophobia and the Yorkshire cricket scandal

An anti-racism banner hangs on railings outside Headingley, the home of Yorkshire cricket on November 5, 2021
7 min read
12 November, 2021
Azeem Rafiq's heroic whistleblowing at Yorkshire cricket club has unveiled an institutional legacy of xenophobia, Islamophobia, and anti-Asian prejudice. For some this may be shocking, for others, it is an unsurprising continuation of years gone by.

In the UK, a racism scandal at the heart of one of the country’s biggest county cricket clubs has meant the spectre of racism against the South Asian community and the racist P-slur has reared its ugly head this week, but for many in the Asian community, it never really went away.

Yorkshire Cricket Club faced a backlash after a report into a culture of racism described the use of the P-slur against former Yorkshire captain Azeem Rafiq as “banter” which warranted no further action. It was one of a catalogue of racist incidents Rafiq claimed he had faced at the club which he said left him feeling suicidal.

The club’s reaction to the slur as banter was seen as an affront to the local community which is home to one of the UK’s biggest Asian populations and includes cities like Bradford. The scandal also shows that far from being banter, the resonance of the slur remains as acute and oppressive as it always has.

"The controversy around the racism at Yorkshire Cricket Club did not happen in a vacuum. According to figures from the Home Office, reported hate crime offences increased by 123% between 2013 and 2018"

The P-slur has a particular history for Britain’s Asian community like the N-word does for the Black community and cricket fans and the wider community who have had their loyalties tested again and again have once again been left to question how they can be expected to put the weight of their support behind a team and a country which still doesn’t accept them.

It represents the foundations of the marginalisation that many South Asians, particularly in the Pakistani community feel to this day and few can deny the intersectionality between the current wave of anti-Muslim hatred and the historical anti-Asian rhetoric which the P-slur represents.

The controversy around the racism at Yorkshire Cricket Club did not happen in a vacuum. According to figures from the Home Office, reported hate crime offences increased by 123 percent between 2013 and 2018. And the problem shows no signs of going away. UK schools recorded more than 60,000 racist incidents in the past five years.

Normat Tebbit's "Cricket Test" sought to provoke the allegiance of South Asians towards Britain, and is synonymous with the country's forced attempts of assimilating those from its previous colonies [Getty Images]
Normat Tebbit's (R) infamous "Cricket Test" sought to provoke the allegiance of British South Asians, and is synonymous with the country's forced attempts to assimilate those from its previous colonies [Getty]

Despite claims by some that it is simply an abbreviation, it’s not the same as saying Aussie or Brit. These words have not been weaponised to dehumanise people of colour.

The “P-word” represents the hatred and abuse our parents and grandparents faced when they saw signs saying ‘no blacks, no dogs, no Irish’ pinned on doors when looking for somewhere to live and denied them jobs. It also inspired brutal violence and murder.

Racial violence against Asians or ‘P*ki bashing’ as it was known was considered a blood sport among skinheads affiliated with far-right groups like Combat 18 and their violence was legitimised by the media and politicians like Enoch Powell.

Names like Altab Ali a young Bangladeshi textile worker who was murdered in East London and teenage student Gurdip Singh Chaggar in Southall in 1976 were the Stephen Lawrence’s of the Asian community at the time and led to mass protests.

It isn’t just the society’s collective experience of this legacy. Many families have a personal history with the word.

I still remember the first time I heard the word on my first day at a new school in Hertfordshire, a predominantly white area and was a slap on the face especially coming from Luton which is like a mini Pakistan.  

I went from seeing mums wearing shalwar kameez on the school run, to being afraid of wearing Asian clothes in public for fearing being spat at.

"The 'P-word' represents the hatred and abuse our parents and grandparents faced when they saw signs saying ‘no blacks, no dogs, no Irish’ pinned on doors when looking for somewhere to live and denied them jobs. It also inspired brutal violence and murder"

Having a newsagent made us easy targets with bricks through the window and groups of kids shouting abuse in the street on the way to the local shop and no matter how much we wanted to go on the swings, the park was a no-go area.

As a seven-year-old, watching your parents having abuse screamed in their faces for the colour of their skin and the echoes of their hatred through their kids which they showed us in the playground.

I went from a school where I had friends who were Black, Asian White, Muslim Sikh and Jewish to being the only brown face in a school of 1,000 kids. The deputy head got my name mixed up with the one other Asian girl in my school then said all you kids look the same, whereas he could differentiate between all the blonde-haired, blue-eyed girls who were the majority in the class.

I got off lightly – for my brothers and their friends, the word was associated with beatings in school, and with their bloodied noses, facing teachers whose sympathies lay with the perpetrators and dished out detentions to the victims.

There was also a second layer of prejudice – the passive-aggressive racism from your supposed friends and the subtle microaggressions disguised as banter such as not being picked for teams and friends eating your mum’s food then saying you smell of curry after. 

It was to be a word I heard every day, with the same sneering expression until I went to college in London at 16.

While the millennial generation of British Asians have not collectively faced the same kind of racism that our elders were subjected to, it has manifested itself in a different way such as in the lack of diversity and inclusion and barriers against young South Asians in the workplace, the racism on social media and as this incident demonstrates, in sport.

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This current incident shows it has always simmered under the surface, whispered behind closed doors and on the tips of tongues. Post-Brexit, with society’s lurch towards the right-wing, it has become more open again.

While racism exists in all sports, the sport of cricket and the racism within it has a relationship as well as a history with the British Pakistani community specifically that other sports don’t.  

The history of colonialism meant cricket was a big thing in the sub-continent. For kids in the 80s, seeing Ian Botham saying he wouldn’t send his mother-in-law to Pakistan, or watching TV presenters on the BBC litter their commentary with racist jibes during the test series stands out more than Imran Khan holding up the World Cup.

Back in 1990, the Conservative MP Norman Tebbitt made his infamous comments where during an interview with the Los Angeles Times, he questioned the loyalty of ethnic minorities, dubbed the cricket test, which we still hear of today. "A large proportion of Britain's Asian population fail to pass the cricket test. Which side do they cheer for? It's an interesting test. Are you still harking back to where you came from or where you are?" he said.

"Once again fans are being forced to think twice about where to pledge their allegiances, where our fandom will be wanted and accepted and questioning where we really belong"

The cricket test remains in different forms today as we face the need to prove our loyalty over and over, such as saying 'not in our name' when there is a terrorist attack.

It is harder for non-white fans like me to put our support behind the cricket team in the way we did with the football. We felt welcomed by the football team because of the anti-racism stance of Gareth Southgate and players like Marcus Rashford. But it’s hard to support the cricket team knowing that behind the scenes at one of the country’s biggest cricket clubs, it's seen as okay to call people like me the P-slur.

Perspectives

These days, many fans of Pakistani origin who are buying t-shirts and watching the T20 are third-generation Asian children whose parents were born in the UK, and as each generation comes of age, links to the homeland become more distant.

However, once again fans are being forced to think twice about where to pledge their allegiances, where our fandom will be wanted and accepted and questioning where we really belong.

Alia Waheed is a freelance journalist specialising in issues affecting Asian women in the UK and the Indian subcontinent.

Follow her on Twitter: @AliaWaheed