Next, explain to students that people have been campaigning to challenge all types of racism in the UK in a range of ways. Some organisations have focused their efforts on schools – The Black Curriculum, for example, is a social enterprise that campaigns for Black British history to be taught in schools – whilst others have focused their efforts on putting pressure on the government: for example, the Runnymede Trust, a charity and independent race equality think tank, conducts research and analysis on race inequality in the UK to start debate and policy engagement.
But it is not just organisations campaigning: anti-racist campaigners have been speaking out against racial injustice for decades, and since the murder of George Floyd in the US in May 2020, hundreds of thousands of people have taken to the streets and/or taken the knee to protest against racial inequality, prejudice and discrimination.
Inform students that they will be thinking further about the act of taking the knee, focusing on UK football. Then, share the following information with them:
The act of taking the knee against racial discrimination was first initiated by the American football player Colin Kaepernick in 2016. Kaepernick refused to stand to the American national anthem before a match, stating: ‘I am not going to stand up to show pride in a flag for a country that oppresses black people and people of color.’ In America, as well as in the UK, there is vast racial inequality, and people of colour are harmed by the historical discrimination built into societal institutions.
The act of taking the knee was not widely supported at the time in the US as it was deemed unpatriotic: the National Football League (NFL) national anthem policy was amended to prohibit players from kneeling,
and Kaepernick’s protest cost him his career.
However, the murder of George Floyd in May 2020 changed the public perception of taking the knee. After Floyd’s murder, American football players began to kneel during the national anthem to protest against police brutality, with support from the NFL,
and the act soon spread around the world, with sports stars, politicians and the general public taking the knee to stand against racial discrimination.
In the summer of 2020, major Premier League clubs in the UK began matches by kneeling to both call for justice for George Floyd and to stand against racism in all forms.
The England football team continued the commitment to this anti-racist act, opting to kneel before every match in the Euros in the summer of 2021.
The reception of the England football team kneeling was mixed, with some fans booing the players, and some public figures – including politicians – criticising the team’s decision to kneel: the Home Secretary Priti Patel dismissed the act as ‘gesture politics’ and stated that fans could boo the players if they so wished.
Despite this opposition, the England team continued to take the knee before matches in a stand against racial prejudice and to call for racial equality.
When the England team lost the Euro 2020 final against Italy in a penalty shoot-out, the racial prejudice that exists in the UK was brought to the fore: Marcus Rashford, Bukayo Saka and Jadon Sancho were all racially abused for having missed their penalties. The abuse of the players received national condemnation and highlighted the need to continue fighting against racial discrimination. As a consequence of this, at the start of the 2021–22 football season, the Premier League announced that players would continue to take the knee before matches.