Ben Douglas, Daily Mail, June 19, 2015
At first glance, they look like any bunch of young lads sitting down to a meal. In this case, they happen to be the England Under-20s football squad. Look more closely, though, and you will see a startling fact: one table is entirely inhabited by black players, the other by white.
The same pattern can be seen in other pictures taken at the squad’s training base during a tournament in France last month.
Exercising in the swimming pool, six white players line up alongside each other, while the black youngsters gather together at the other end of the pool. And on a line of training bikes, it is the same story. Black and white separated by colour.
So what are we to make of it?
It is clear there is no animus between the groups. Indeed, other pictures taken during the tour show the squad training, laughing and joking together with no divisions at all. They are comfortable and happy in each other’s company. And yet as we can see, more than once–in social and sporting situations–the group seems subconsciously to divide in two.
There is clearly no racism at play here, in either direction, but the pictures illuminate an element of British society that I, as a black Briton, know is too often ignored, not least because in this politically correct age it is deemed taboo.
Look at playgrounds and parks, youth clubs and nightclubs and you will see this pattern repeated time and again. Whites will socialise with whites, blacks with blacks, and Asians with Asians. They effectively segregate themselves.
The same applies at school gates when parents arrive to collect their children. I don’t believe this springs from racism, either conscious or unconscious.
Undoubtedly, attitudes to race in Britain have been transformed in the past 50 years: in the Fifties and Sixties, some whites–to their everlasting shame–wouldn’t even have shared the same swimming pool with a black man like me.
So why do different ethnic groups still not integrate fully with one another? This is not just a British phenomenon. Some years ago, a black American psychologist wrote a book pertinently entitled Why Are All The Black Kids Sitting Together In The Cafeteria?
Shared experiences and habit play a role but, in Britain at least, does part of the reason lie in multiculturalism?
This fashionable dogma is obsessed with instilling respect for diversity and celebrating different groups’ beliefs and traditions. The result has been not, as was hoped, a society in which people of various backgrounds mix freely but one made up too often of separate communities.
Could it be that in the process of respecting the differences between us all, we are–inadvertently–quietly reinforcing cultural barriers which separate black and white?
That, in my view, is what we are seeing in the football pictures; the result of multiculturalism in microcosm, allied to the natural human impulse to gravitate towards what is familiar and therefore reassuring.
It is fascinating to see this social divide among young footballers in particular, partly because many of them will have grown up in urban schools where numerous colours and creeds rub along together, but also because the sport has made such efforts to stamp out racism in recent years.
It has come a long way since vile and moronic fans used to throw bananas at John Barnes on the pitch. Since then, there has been a massive influx of black talent, coupled with the Football Association spending millions on its laudable Kick it Out campaign.
That, however, is not to say that the game does not still have issues to resolve. Remember that it was only four years ago that one of our country’s most prominent players, England star John Terry, was caught calling fellow footballer Anton Ferdinand a ‘f***ing black c***’.
I know Anton’s brother Rio socially and was struck by his erudite and principled stand against what he perceived, correctly in my view, to be a continuing racist undertone in this country.
Ironically, I expect the talented young men in these pictures will be among those who finally stamp that problem out.
For my part, as a man who is biologically from Caribbean stock, yet raised by middle-class white parents in Teddington, South-West London, I have long experience of the challenges that come with bridging the racial divide in all areas of society.
If racism is to be eradicated then I believe we must all work harder to integrate ethnic groups in everyday life.
This will take effort, education and willpower but if we can do it, society will be all the stronger.
The segregation in some of the pictures from this football tour may not be intentional, but it reminds us that we all have work to do if we want to say we have genuinely left the problems of the past behind.