Monday, 13 August 2012

black & british

how great it was to watch a black british person by the name of mohamed farah win the 5000m at the olympics this morning.  for several reasons.  first, because it was a great peformance.  but second, because in that moment, he was completely accepted as british by the whole of the british-supporting crowd.  it was a moment where he got to belong.

mr farah was not born in britain - he is somali by birth.  he is the kind of person that the anti-immigration crowd complains about.  one of those "mooslems" that are let into the country to steal jobs and ruin the uniquely british way of life.  a potential terrorist even?  but i haven't seen any noise from that lot today.  i haven't seen any implication that this particular gold medal (or the one he won for the 2000 metres) are any less british gold medals that any of the others.  in this moment of victory, he is completely embraced as british, without any hint of the foreign.

i have no idea if mr farah identifies as muslim or if faith plays a large part in his life.  but one thing i've found when googling the correct spelling of his first name is that it isn't that easy to find.  he is known across all the papers, and on his wikipedia page as "mo".  i only managed to find the "mohamed" in a footnote on wikepedia.  on the face of it, it seems quite erasing of his muslim heritage.

what would be interesting is how this came about.  it is quite possibly a firm decision by mr farah, made for any number of reasons.  it could be that by erasing his identity made his own life easier, made acceptance that much less difficult.  it could be that his cultural and/or religious identity just doesn't matter to him, and he prefers the snappy one syllable moniker.  it could be that "mo" sounds that much more anglicised, and helped him fit.  or it could be that it's a name that has been foisted on him by the media, in much the same way as "brangelina" or "posh & becks". of course i can only speculate, and i certainly am not going to be judging him for his choices.

maybe there is some conclusion to be drawn here about sports & sporting events being able to overcome things like racism & bigotry.  but then, given the recent behaviour of certain sports fans in europe, and the testimony of various players of colour about how they are treated on a sports field, that certainly isn't universally true.  no, i think it's more about appreciating this one particular moment when a somali british person is embraced and celebrated by all his compatriots, and wishing this was how it is in all contexts.

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