Powar denies racism after ‘coconut’ jibe sent on Twitter
QUESTIONS are being asked about Piara Powar’s suitability as the figurehead of a European anti-racism body after he was accused of making racially abusive comments towards an Asian football supporter.
Powar heads up the Football Against Racism in Europe organisation, sometimes referred to as the FARE Network, and has been very outspoken about Luis Suárez, Liverpool FC and Liverpool supporters since the incident with Patrice Evra first came to light.
Yesterday an Asian Liverpool supporter received a message on Twitter, from @PiaraPowar, calling him “a coconut”.
The insult came after the supporter had asked why Powar had not made any comment on news that a Manchester United supporter had been charged for alleged racial abuse at their game against Stoke City earlier in the week. Rather than respond publicly, the private message was sent and contained what can be considered to be an example of racial abuse: Don’t be a “coconut.”
Although Powar is yet to take steps to explain his intended meaning of the term, it is a term used as a way of accusing someone of betraying their own cultural roots and pandering to “white” opinion. It relates to a coconut being white on the inside and brown on the outside.
In some contexts – between friends for example – it can be seen as harmless and no offence would be taken. In other contexts it would be taken as a deeply offensive insult, and certainly that would seem to be the case where it is used when addressing a stranger.
In 2010 Shirley Brown, a Bristol politician, was found guilty of racial harassment after using the term when talking to Jay Jethwa, a fellow politician who had moved to the UK from India 24 years before. The remark was found to be “purely gratuitous” and it was ruled that “there was a potential for, albeit minor, public disorder and stimulation for racial hatred.”
The victim, Ms Jethwa, explained how upsetting the comment had been: “I was completely shocked and I was numb. I was very, very upset and distressed.
“The word is doubly insulting as it insults both me and the white population.”
The message Powar responded to was perfectly reasonable:
“@PiaraPowar Interesting how u haven’t given your opinion on the news that a #mufc fan was arrested on Wednesday for alleged racial abuse”
The response was far from it:
“Get lost Singh. Have no false consciousness. Don’t be a coconut.”
After making the comment the Powar locked the Twitter account and blocked a number of others who had asked a similar question.
For clarity, the arrest of the Manchester United fan was on Tuesday night after a Stoke City fan made a complaint that a spectator was shouting abuse at Stoke players. The Press Association reported the incident on Friday:
“Howard Hobson, 57, is accused of a racially aggravated public order offence and using threatening words or behaviour to cause harassment, alarm or distress.
“Hobson, of Weaver Walk, Openshaw, Manchester, was arrested at the Manchester United v Stoke City game on Tuesday.”
Powar had yet to make any comment whatsoever on the incident and the following morning he was asked why not. A reminder of his comments following the incident at Anfield in January, when Tom Adeyemi was the victim of alleged racial abuse, was also sent to Powar.
Those comments from Powar came on January 7th:
“Are LFC fans going to do this at every game, support the mistakes made by their own man by abusing others? 25% of PL [Premier League] players are black.”
One fan, allegedly, had shouted racial abuse. Powar was now talking like it was part of the fan culture at Anfield.
The comments – made from the same Twitter account that made the “coconut” jibe – were widely reported in the mass media. His mudslinging was once again hitting the headlines and because of his position his comments were not being questioned. Despite there being very little information available about the structure, funding or accountability of FARE his comments were taken as authoritative by the mass media. His past as the spokesman of Kick It Out perhaps plays a part in that, although it is unclear why he left Kick It Out and the organisation are still to fill the role he left vacant.
Without going over the reasons many Liverpool supporters (but not all) had for being supportive of Suárez and critical of the process the comments from Powar caused a lot of offence. Fans supportive of Suárez were not supporting racism or racial abuse – they just didn’t believe he was guilty of either. Fans who commented on the Adeyemi abuse allegations agreed en masse that if the allegations were true they wouldn’t want that supporter inside Anfield again.
Today, to those who aren’t yet blocked from seeing Powar’s comments on Twitter, he remains defiant in his comments. He was asked if his message was rude:
“The private messge? Yes it’s very rude. Racist? If sent 2 someone of same ethnic origin, religion, heritage? Try harder.”
Also, having blocked a number of Liverpool supporters and making the rest of his comments private to his selected audience, he said there was “no chance” he would allow Liverpool fans to see the rest of what he had to say:
“Wake up to hundreds of LFC fans who want to follow. I wonder why? #nochance”
Again, assuming all Liverpool fans are the same, he decides none of them should be allowed to hear what he has to say about them.
Powar’s ‘coconut’ comment, sent privately, smacks of bullying. If the Asian fan doesn’t go along with Powar’s way of doing things he’s betraying his roots. Powar seems to be suggesting that non-white LFC fans should forget their true feelings and stick with Powar – purely because of skin colour. If Powar feels he’s done no wrong then he needs to explain; instead he carries on slagging people off through Twitter.
Some will argue that use of the phrase “coconut” is not racist. Indeed Powar has tried to do so himself. But the person he aimed it at, and others who saw it, deem it to be highly offensive. For Powar not to realise that his comment could cause offence – whether any was intended or not – suggests he is in the wrong job. If the offence was intended he certainly shouldn’t be in the job.
Not that it took this comment from the man for many people to reach this conclusion about him. Powar and FARE have shown no interest whatsoever in engaging with Liverpool FC or its supporters at any time since news first broke of Evra’s allegations about Suarez. Emails from Anfield Road to FARE remain unanswered, and have done so for some time.
Powar has restricted his opinions to himself and his 347 followers now. In the absence of some credible explanations and some long overdue apologies it’s best it stays that way. And if Lord Ouseley and Kick It Out are happy to be associated with him then that raises serious questions about their credibility too. They need to distance themselves from him or their campaign will suffer – especially when they preach so much about “zero tolerance”.
Powar has had enough airtime, but if the other anti-discrimination campaigners allow this to be swept under the carpet without explanation then they have also had enough airtime. Time someone else got the cushy jobs.
Maybe it’s time they listened to John Barnes a bit more too.