Scyld Berry, cricket correspondent for the Sunday Telegraph and former editor at the prestigious Wisden Cricketer’s Almanac, is currently defending himself from allegations of racism following a less-than savory comment about Pakistani-born Australian cricketer, Usman Khawaja. But while his comment was certainly clumsy, and his subsequent explanation even more so, Berry’s poor wording does not make him a racist.
The comment in question (now removed from the article) came to the limelight when Berry reported that Khawaja — currently a part of the Australian team trying to salvage some pride after losing the iconic Ashes tournament to age-old rival England — may be dropped from the team for the upcoming match, which would mean, ”Australia’s experiment with their Asian immigrant population will be shelved.”
Suddenly — and, going strictly by gut reaction, understandably — Berry found himself in more hot water than a bag of Lipton at the Royal Wedding, as blogs all over the world called for an apology (or worse). Of course, this meant that the columnist found himself in the highly unenviable position of trying to prove that he isn’t a racist. And in that most unenviable of positions, Berry tried to follow up and ultimately wrote a jumbled mess that doesn’t even address his clumsy mistake.
In a subsequent op-ed, the former editor of cricket’s most respected publication provides several examples as to why he shouldn’t be considered a racist. He states, “it is an observation I made without any attempt to disparage Khawaja, but as an attempt to portray the unique position in which he finds himself as the first Muslim to represent Australia.”
He then compares Khawaja to numerous English cricketers of South Asian origin that are always on the fringes of national selection but have been largely “marginal players,” and offers much praise for the man, stating “Personally I think if he had appeared 10 years on from now, from what I have seen of his qualities, he might have become Australia’s first Asian captain.”
Berry also presents a position on racial integration in cricket, claiming that he has spent “a lot of time and money” trying to provide inner-city youths with access to cricket, while also organizing tournaments that really helped many South Asian players gain more exposure to proper cricket. He ends the article by stating, “PS My wife is an Asian immigrant, originally Indian, and we have been married for almost 30 years.”
Keep in mind that Berry’s words are nothing but positive. It’s beautiful, for example, that he discussed the routine discrimination that Khawaja faces at airports (ironically, Khawaja is a licensed pilot) in spite of his celebrity status. It’s also commendable that Berry has done so much work for the South Asian community in England. Plus, his life is seemingly a testament to the viability of interracial marriages.
Unfortunately — and this is sad, because it’s all really sweet — it’s all bloody irrelevant because Berry still does not clarify what he meant with that comment. Instead of actually replying to the readers’ concerns, Berry goes off on tangents trying to prove his open-mindedness. And it does absolutely nothing because his original comment—one that challenges both Khawaja’s credentials and the Australian cricket board’s integrity—remains unaddressed.
It’s understandable that the man is a bit flustered; after all, the charges against him are deadly serious. But we as a society need to realize that, by constantly evoking “racism” over some poor bloke’s twisted tongue devalues the legitimate racism that still plagues cricket. Dean Jones calling bearded-Muslim Hashim Amla a “terrorist” was racist. Harbajhan Singh referring to black-Australian Andrew Symonds as “a monkey” was racist.
Berry’s comments — clumsy at best, stupid at worst — are not racist.
George Dobell, senior correspondent at ESPNCricinfo and a noted opponent of the racist attitude on display by one conservative British politician, tweeted his support for Berry, stating, “It pains me to read this nonsense about my friend @scyldberry He's as good and decent a man as I've met in cricket. And in NO WAY racist.”
That Dobell even had to offer support is partially Berry’s own fault — he said something stupid and wrote a follow-up that barely addressed it — but the fact that he even found himself in that position is an embarrassment and he only reacted as gracefully as most of us probably would have.
But what this episode teaches us is that the “racist” allegation is terrifying and should be used cautiously. If we just keep throwing that word around, it will indict people that are innocent and lose meaning altogether.