Tuesday, June 13, 2006

Why you should support Ghana...

Italy 2 - Ghana 0

Those of you who already obsessively consult whoshouldicheerfor.com like some kind of fair-trade delphic oracle before every game, as well you should, will be aware that last night saw the World Cup debut of WDM's Most Supportable Team 2006. And I don't mean the USA.

The Herald's Joan McAlpine dedicated her column yesterday to urging Scots to back the sub-Saharan players who have overcome so much to compete in Germany. I'd love to link to the article, but the Herald only put stories online for 48 hours, so I'll just give you this quote instead:

But there are also positive reasons for flying one of those African flags this month. Ghana, for example, has earned the break – which probably explains its place atop the WDM rankings. It has established itself as a beacon of democracy in the continent since 1992.

Its human-rights record has been transformed and it plays a leading role in the African Union, providing peace-keepers for more troubled regions. Determined to root out corruption, it has allowed a "peer review", whereby other African countries scrutinise its governmental institutions and suggest improvements.

It implements nine years of compulsory free education to all children, despite almost half its population existing on less than a dollar a day.

When Ghana plays the US, it will be taking on a country whose average income per head is 25% higher than its own. Who wouldn't wish them well?

I couldn't agree more. Except that the average Ghanaian actually earns just one sixteenth what the average American makes.


...and why I'm not.


Despite all this, I've broken ranks and, as with many Scotland-free tournaments before, backed my (other) ancestral homeland, Italy. It's a matter of some amusement to those that know me that I demonstrate loyalty to a country I've never visited and which is, let's face it, a bit dodgy (27th most supportable nation out of 30, let's not forget). This does get on my nerves, but I'm lucky - if my great-granddad had been called, say, Asamoah Gyan rather than Giovanni Francisco Bertolini, I would still be visibly black - and I'd be more likely to face doubts about my Scottishness than my Ghanaianness.

The excitement in the build-up to this World Cup was marred a little by media reports that non-white fans were being advised by both neo-nazis and anti-fascists to stay away from some towns, particularly in the Brandenburg area near Berlin. They "might not come out alive," warned one German anti-racist activist. Sadly, his fears were shared by well-meaning friends of mine in Berlin and Potsdam.

Government policies and posturing that treat immigration as a social problem to be cured, and migrants and asylum seekers as the perpetrators, little better than criminals, has done little to help combat this xenophobia.

I might have difficulty persuading acquaintances of my Latin credentials today, but not so long ago Scottish Italians faced just the kind of xenophobia and persecution faced by some immigrant communities today. When Mussolini joined the war in 1940, my great-granddad was interned without trial in a British prison - an enemy citizen, he was not to be trusted on the streets of Alloa. His son, on the other hand, was evidently good enough to be shot by a sniper while serving King and country in the Argyll & Sutherland Highlanders at the battle of Singapore.

Italians struggled to find work, and 'Help wanted - no Italians' signs were not uncommon in shop windows across west and central Scotland. Racist rioting broke out, notably around Edinburgh's Leith Walk, where the Valvona and Crolla delicatessen still sports the hardboard hoarding put up to protect it from the spate of window-smashing, arson and violence that was visited on the Italian community by 'patriotic' Scots.

In my grandmother's school, girls were called by their christian names and never belted for misbehaviour. As a 'Tally', though, she was addressed as 'Bertolini', and enjoyed no such amnesty of the tawse.

Giovanni Francisco, or Gaga, did everything he could to help his family negotiate anti-Italian Scotland, even refusing to teach them Italian - he saw what trouble speaking a foreign language could lead to. That's why I can't speak Italian.

My family came to Scotland as economic migrants. That convenient group of immigrants that it's okay to hate - they're just coming over here to steal our jobs. As far as I can tell, the only reason why this has not been used as an excuse by some 'reasonable person', who is only thinking of Scotland's welfare, to invite me to get on the first spaghetti boat back to Livorno, is because I have the good fortune to be white.

So don't fall for the spin - the immigration detention centres, the quotas, the dawn raids, are not about whether someone is an 'economic migrant', or an asylum seeker 'genuine' or 'bogus' - they are about racism, and government pandering to gutter-press xenophobia. And if you still believe we should send them home, fine - but you have to kick me out first.

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