We spoke to Karl Henry about his experiences of racism
Show Racism the Red Card are currently filming an updated version of our Show Racism the Red Card educational DVD. We recently visited the Molineux Stadium to meet with Karl Henry. He told us of his experiences of racism and spoke about the importance of challenging racist stereotypes. Huge thanks to Karl for this interview and for his ongoing support of our campaign - he joined us for an educational event at Wolves last season.
Where did you grow up and did you have any experiences of racist abuse?
I grew up in Wolverhampton and I received racist abuse only a couple of times. There were two occasions as a youngster where I had someone shouting “you black...”; one was a kid that was maybe three or four years older than me and the other time was a lad who was a year older than me. On the whole, I think Wolverhampton is a pretty multicultural place with lots of different ethnicities, so I was lucky enough not to receive too much abuse of that kind.
Did you feel threatened at all by these situations? We ask because the personal impact that racism has on people is often overlooked and people with racist attitudes can change their mindset when hearing accounts of how it made the target feel.
I didn’t affect me when I was younger because Wolverhampton was so multicultural, though I was aware that some people couldn’t deal with my origins and that - when things are different, some people don’t understand it. There are ignorant people around who think it is ok to call people names because they have a different skin colour and it is not nice at all, but I was aware of this and shrugged it off.
This is because my Mother is white and my Dad is black, so my mother had explained to us that people may look at you differently and say things because they don’t understand and it is not the norm for them. I also had my sister, who I am close with, and we would talk about these things that weren’t nice to hear. If it had been a regular occurrence, I’m sure I would be sitting here telling you how much it affected me as I am sure it would have. With there being only two occasions in my whole childhood, I can’t say it is something that has majorly affected me, but if it had happened a lot more often I would have been in bits.
Have you ever encountered racism within the game?
Once, when I was playing for Stoke City, I was a young lad of about 18 and I was on the bench away at Burnley. I was warming up and I heard a few shouts, a few monkey chants and people making comments about me being black. I was very shocked to hear that in football, I hadn’t experienced it up until that point, but I was a young lad in the early part of my career and maybe thought this was something that might happen from time to time. Luckily enough, that has not been the case at all - that is the only time I’ve ever experienced something like that in football and I’ve played over 300 games. It was a complete one-off and I’ve been back to that ground another seven or eight times without hearing anything like that.
I didn’t see who it was that was shouting but you almost don’t want to look up in those situations, you just want to turn around and carry on with your warm-up. It was a horrible feeling and I can only sympathise with those who have had it on a more severe level.
You mentioned Stoke and Jason Euell has said that he was racially abused there in the last year or so. Does it surprise you to hear that?
Yes, it does because I played for Stoke from 11 years old to 23 years old and I received no racism at Stoke or from the people of Stoke. It does surprise me, but you can be 99 per cent of the way there and one idiot shouts a racist remark, which means other people may get tarred with that brush. It is completely unacceptable and I think others in the crowd should take more responsibility by naming the people who do it because it reflects badly on the whole area and all the supporters at a club, which is unfair.
Stoke have also had an added problem with the BNP in that area, as have other areas. Have you ever come across any ideas like those expressed by the BNP?
No, I haven’t, but I know it goes on and I know what the BNP are about. It’s not a good thing and something that needs to be stamped out. I don’t know if everyone involved in these organisations and parties have hatred for other 'races', or if they are just jumping on the bandwagon because their friends are doing it and they are easily influenced.
I can only talk about my experiences and maybe because I am just lucky, I have not had to deal with that issue, or the issues of the BNP, on many occasions.
Do you think that is because you are a footballer?
Yes, I’m sure that if I wasn’t a footballer and was walking down the street somebody may have come at me with racist comments. I think that is what it is like for footballers in general though, some people are very fickle and will tell you to your face how great you are then go slate you off to anybody that will listen afterwards.
It is possible that maybe being a good footballer as a young kid has saved me from getting racist abuse.
We have recently released a film on Islamophobia, which looks at the rise of that form of racism. Have you ever played with any Muslim players and what are your views on the stereotypes attached to that religion?
Yes. Adlene Guedioura at Wolves is Muslim and at Stoke there was Mamady Sidibe amongst others.
I think the stereotypes about that religion and individual Muslims are ridiculous. I hear people saying that Muslims are terrorists and that ignorance is just unbelievably ridiculous, because Muslims are peaceful people.
There is propaganda that goes on, we are told to believe certain things, people are selective in what they want to believe and pick out certain things from the media, but to brand Muslims as terrorists is an absolute disgrace.
The Muslims I know are very nice people and it is the same as stereotyping any other 'race' or ethnicity – just ridiculous. There is the man [Anders Breivik] in Norway who committed the recent atrocity who has not been widely branded as a terrorist, but you can be sure that the world would be using that phrase a lot of it had been a Muslim person. There are bad people in this world like murderers or rapists, people committing all sorts of terrible crimes. If it is a white person they are branded as a criminal and what crime they have committed, but if it is a Muslim then they are continually connected to their religion, which is just ridiculous. If someone is a murderer, they are a murderer and religion should not have anything to do with it, it just gets out of hand.
You can only think it is uneducated people who think these awful things or uneducated parents who cause their children to think in that way.
Things have improved in football with regards to racist abuse, but have you seen a change in your lifetime?
Definitely, especially when you hear some older black players saying it was a given that they would receive abuse at every away ground they went to and that was just standard procedure. So to see how far we have come and to think that it is, compared to the era of those players, almost unheard of in British football is fantastic.
We have come a long way thanks to people like you guys at Show Racism the Red Card and others doing their bit. It is the way it needs to go because we are so multicultural now in all society, not just in football. If you go to London you can see all kinds of different nationalities walking around and I think that is fantastic because you can learn so much from different cultures.
I think that is the way forward because life is too short to be worrying about other peoples’ religion, background or ethnicity – we can learn and live happily.
One other thing we do is to educate people in terms of homophobic bullying and some using the term ‘gay’ as a derogatory term. What do you think makes a bully and what would you say to people involved in bullying?
I think it is maybe someone who has been bullied themselves or someone that has had a difficult childhood. I think kids that are bullies, especially at a young age, have only learned what they know from their parents or other influencing adults around them. You want bullies to be punished but you also need to try and sort out the situation that causes to learn how to act in that way.
Bullying can become very severe and can lead to detrimental effects on a person’s life long after they have left school, so it is something that can’t go on. Kids, as well as adults, have a responsibility to tell teachers if they know somebody is getting bullied or their friend is getting bullied and is too scared to say something.
There is a bigger picture that you may see once you leave school, which is that you don’t need to go through that or put yourself through that every day.
The message I would give to younger kids is that if you are being bullied or know someone who is being bullied, you have to tell your teacher straight away. It is a lot deeper than just teasing someone and thinking it is a just a bit of fun – people go home in tears, they don’t want to go to school and it affects the rest of their lives.
Thanks to Brendan Simpson for this transcript