‘White Lives Matter Burnley’. That was the message flown over the Etihad Stadium shortly after kick-off between Manchester City and Burnley. To some, this may not seem problematic. Indeed, few would argue with the individual words of that statement whatsoever. White lives should matter, not just in Burnley, but everywhere. Yet Jake Hepple, the Clarets fan responsible for the banner, has been sacked by his employer and handed a lifetime ban by the football club.
So why is it that the incident sparked such controversy? The issue rightly had by many is not with the language itself, but with the message it portrays. It offers a direct challenge to the BLM movement and attempts to undermine what BLM represents. Systemic white privilege has existed across the world for centuries, so the value of the lives of white people has not been and is not currently, questioned even remotely.
The killing of George Floyd however illustrates the harrowing truth that, in today’s society, there are far too many individuals who fail to recognise the importance of Black lives. BLM is a movement that strives to unite people in a push for racial equality, not divide us based on the colour of our skin.
That is the very simple reason why Burnley captain Ben Mee and manager Sean Dyche both strongly condemned the banner which, as Watford captain Troy Deeney (who is a part of #PlayersTogether) correctly explained, attempts to prohibit the growth of the BLM movement, which is beginning to bring about significant social change.
For far too long within our society, Black lives have not mattered. That is what BLM is about. It does not state that Black lives matter more than White lives. Just that they matter. Black Lives Matter. Period.