The worst thing about the way politics has gone over the past 18 months or so is that it has confirmed that the very worst people in every website comments section is an actual living, breathing person with a vote and a corporeal life. They walk among us – hell, they are us.
Of course, being part of the liberal metropolitan elite, this came as something of a revelation. You know about the bubble by now, you don’t need to hear it again – just know that as someone who works from home most of the week, my bubble is not so much fine, shimmering soap as it is three-inch-thick cast iron.
One area where I felt my lovely leftie bubble had been badly punctured, however, was when I would talk to people about the Mark Sampson scandal. Intelligent, progressive people whose opinions I otherwise generally respect had a really odd habit of adding a ‘yeah, but’; as in, “yeah, it seems like he’s probably said something racist, but…”.
What would follow would depend on the speaker’s knowledge of women’s football, ranging from “she does seem like a bit of a troublemaker” to “she comes across as bitter and twisted about it” to “she wasn’t good enough to play for England anyway”. All of which raise the question: exactly what perfect messianic figure do you have in your head who could blow the whistle on disgusting things without you weighing in on their character?
I don’t for a second think those people are tacitly adding “…so it’s fine for him to be racist” to their “yeah, buts” – it seems more like a bitchy misfire in the perfectly understandable and acceptable attempt to consider both sides of the issue. But the problem with giving voice to your judgements of the whistleblower is that it draws the conversation away from the perpetrators and onto the character of those who are calling it out. The whistleblowers and victims end up in the dock in the court of popular opinion just as much as those they are accusing.
"The accuser becomes the accused. It's a horrible situation to be in"
— BBC 5 live Sport (@5liveSport) October 18, 2017
Over the past couple of days, we have seen in vivid detail the god-awful way the FA has handled this entire affair, with their approach veering anywhere between wilful ignorance and cynical cover-up. This enormous Twitter thread from the Guardian’s Daniel Taylor, who broke the Sampson cover-up story, is an extraordinary litany of increasingly unbelievable incompetence and cynicism at the highest levels of an organisation that already had a pretty poor reputation for mismanagement.
Though it is heartening to see that most of the public response on the issue is nothing but condemnation of the FA and praise for Eniola Aluko there is still a significant amount of the ‘yeah, obviously that’s racist, but…’ going around.
‘Yeah, buts’ are not helpful. ‘Yeah, buts’ only serve to discourage future whistleblowers from coming forward – about racism, about homophobia, about violence, and as we see time and time again, including very recently, about sex abuse.
The effect of ‘yeah, buts’ is, in large part, what allows high-profile people to get away with their unthinkable crimes time after time. When you know that you, the victim, are going to be scrutinised in just as much detail as the person who has offended against you, you can’t help but stop and seriously weigh up whether it is worth putting yourself through that for months and months on end. The gossipy ‘yeah, buts’ are just as much a part of the construction of that wall of silence as the vile ‘she was asking for it’.
It does not matter whether you like the whistleblower’s attitude, or what they have done in the past, or whether the resolution of their grievance is of personal benefit to them. The public interest in encouraging people to come forward with these kinds of offences is far too important to let our judgemental nature take precedence. No excuses. No rationalisations. No ‘yeah, buts’.