No, Dele Alli, your virus video isn’t funny: Neil Humphreys
Asians do not need footballers adding to coronavirus-related fear and abuse
Dele Alli has offered a compelling reason for keeping professional footballers away from social media.
His global reach exceeds his understanding of global issues.
That is not a criticism, but an unavoidable quirk of granting a young man such a broad platform.
Alli is 23 years old. He has almost seven million followers on Instagram. Those two figures are incompatible.
The Tottenham Hotspur midfielder's video on his Snapchat account, which mocked an Asian man while making a joke about the coronavirus outbreak, was soon deleted and an apology swiftly followed.
And now, inevitably, the backlash begins. Alli must be racist. He is xenophobic. He is stupid. He is cancelled.
He could be any or none of these things. Who knows?
In the video, Alli wears a face mask, zooms in on an Asian man and then pans to a bottle of antiseptic hand wash, suggesting that he is prepared for the coronavirus.
As a result, the footballer now finds strangers fumbling around in his headspace as they determine his underlying motives and prejudices without ever having met him.
It is possible that a mixed-race man, who endured racist abuse himself growing up in England, suddenly decided to post a video with racist undertones.
But it is perhaps more likely that a cosseted multi-millionaire had little, if any, awareness of the latent Sinophobia that is increasingly slipping into daily life.
And Chinese communities need an elite footballer mocking them like they need to be spat on in the street (yes, that happened in Italy).
When he posted the video for a laugh, Alli presumably was not aware that Asian communities across Britain are reporting a significant rise in racist incidents since the coronavirus outbreak.
Having spent a few days sunning himself in Dubai, he was out of the country when a Chinese student was physically harassed in Sheffield for wearing a face mask and when two Leicestershire students - mistakenly thought to be Chinese - were pelted with eggs.
If Alli was not familiar with those incidents, he is unlikely to have read of middle-aged Australian women shouting at Asians in supermarkets, telling them to "stay home" and "stop spreading the virus".
It is also fair to say that Alli has not recognised the subtle differences between the various media labels for the coronavirus (Wuhan virus, Chinese virus, China virus) and those describing the flu in the west.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, in the United States alone, the flu has already led to more than 19 million illnesses, 180,000 hospitalisations, and 10,000 deaths this season.
No one has called the deadly illness the American Flu, the Caucasian Flu or even the Western Flu. It is just the flu.
No one, to my knowledge, has made a video mocking the illness either, with a footballer standing near an elderly white guy while panning across to a flu shot.
Without knowing it, Alli's video tapped into pre-existing racial fears and prejudices that go back years, if not decades.
His silly punchline - panning across to the hand sanitiser - unwittingly made that Sinophobic link between Chinese culture and hygiene.
As early as the 1920s, New York immigration authorities were making a connection between germs and immigrants and segregating Chinese, Mexicans and African-American for so-called public health reasons.
Check any social media forum today and you will read similar accusations being shared widely, with fake news sites inflaming stereotypes concerning Chinese culture, cuisine and personal hygiene.
The coronavirus did not create hordes of racists overnight, but it did rip off the scab to reveal those Sinophobic impulses that lie beneath.
And Alli inadvertently ticked each box. Face mask. Asian face. Hand sanitiser.
The stereotypes were all there for his followers' amusement.
Whatever his intended joke, he gave an open goal to others to make that unconscionable link between Chinese communities and hygiene.
He did not know what he was doing. How could he?
He was not aware of the historical roots of Sinophobia and probably was not keeping abreast of the rising number of racist attacks against Chinese either.
But he is aware of how many followers he has across hundreds of different countries and cultures. That is the point.
He cannot possibly be expected to understand all the difficulties that exist for his diverse global audience, but he should not add to those problems either.
Alli did the right thing in saying sorry. But it would have been best, if he had said nothing at all.