Former Liverpool winger John Barnes hits back at critics over racism comment

Former Liverpool winger John Barnes sits down with Offside Rule Exclusives to discuss his critics and racism in today’s game, writes Charlotte Duncker.

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John Barnes has hit back at journalists and pundits who have claimed he is a racism apologist.

The 56-year-old, who was racially abused during his time as a player, was recently criticised for defending Manchester City midfielder Bernardo Silva and in the past has been lambasted for supporting ex-Liverpool forward Luis Suarez.

“People call me a racist apologist. Jonathan Liew did a piece saying that John Barnes is making nobody accountable. I say I’m making everybody accountable,” Barnes told The Offside Rule Exclusives. “What gets to me is when people want to dip their toe in and talk about [how] terrible [racism is]. Then when I want to continue this conversation two days later, [they say] ‘oh, no, that’s old news now…’ So I phone up Sky and say ‘can we talk about this?’”

City star Silva was given a fine, a one match ban and ordered to go on an education course after a tweet he sent about Benjamin Mendy was ruled to have constituted an “aggravated breach” of the Football Association’s rules on social media behaviour because it appeared to reference the French left-back’s race.

But Barnes did not agree with the FA ruling. “[Bernardo Silva’s tweet] isn’t even unconscious bias. He’s seen an image that he thinks looks like Benjamin Mendy. Regardless of whether we think it looks like Benjamin Mendy, he [Silva] does. Why is that unconsciously racist? He’s not showing a representation of anyone’s race, because Benjamin Mendy is a black human being and a sweet is not a race. So that’s not comparing any racial stereotype,”

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Barnes continued: “There is absolutely nothing wrong with making representations of race, colour or ethnicity. If you make a negative representation, that’s when it can be punished. But that’s not a negative representation because you cannot compare. What would have been racist is if you showed Kyle Walker and that sweet. Kyle Walker’s black, but he looks nothing like that sweet – that would be the old [stereotype] that [black people] all look alike. Of course, that for me would be racist.

“We have to get away from this negative image of black skin and big lips. I know that from a history of colonialism that was portrayed as negative. But in 2019, we have to then stop self-loathing as black people and see images of [ourselves] and embrace it.”

The former winger also criticised the England team for failing to leave the bench after suffering racist abuse in their Euro 2020 qualifier against Bulgaria which was overshadowed by the behaviour of some of the home support.

“I’m not an advocate for walking off the pitch, but if you decide that’s what you’re gonna do, then you do it. So, my question is, why didn’t they do it? Because they did it for the first two times in the first half, in the second half. It was happening again, and they chose not to walk off the pitch,” Barnes said. “I’m questioning the authenticity of why they’re doing it in the first place, because we’re told that we are going to walk off the pitch at any racist abuse… You had an opportunity to make a statement. The biggest statement is: we’re leaving this pitch because this is wrong.”

Follow Charlotte on Twitter @charduncker


The Offside Rule Exclusives is a monthly podcast series from the makers of The Offside Rule (We Get It!).

You can listen to the full episode with John Barnes on Audioboom

Or download via iTunes

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