Christian Wade provides a global perspective on the movement to end racial inequality

Christian Wade - Buffalo Bills players arrive at One Bills Drive for voluntary off-season workouts. April 15, 2019. Photo by Bill Wippert
Christian Wade - Buffalo Bills players arrive at One Bills Drive for voluntary off-season workouts. April 15, 2019. Photo by Bill Wippert

As Christian Wade enters his second calendar year of trying to carve out an NFL career after a very successful pro career in rugby, he's been moved by the protests against racial injustice that have canvassed the United States and almost 20 other countries including his native England.

"The whole issue of systemic racism is a global issue," said Wade. "Obviously, it was sparked by all the events that have been happening over here. But the issue of systemic racism is a global thing. So I think everyone around the world has responded in a way that you wanted to respond I guess."

Wade was a very successful rugby player in Europe, but unfortunately wasn't immune to social and racial prejudices. They didn't take place within his sport, but rather out in public. Though Wade deems his experiences as minor in comparison to some of the egregious acts committed by the police officers in the US, most recently in Minneapolis and Atlanta, unlike professional athletes in America, be a black professional rugby player doesn't insulate you in the same way.

"In terms of racism, there hasn't been too many cases of that going on in the game of rugby because the racism is basically covered up within this system," he said. "Being a middle to upper class sport there aren't many black players traditionally. That's begun to grow over the years and me personally I haven't really had any issues with race, whilst being in rugby, but there have been small instances where before now you would have turned a blind eye to it."

Wade does, however, remember two specific incidents that brought about widespread protest in England. Back in 1993, a black English teenager, Stephen Lawrence, was brutally murdered in a racial hate crime by a pair of white attackers while the teen waited at a bus stop. It took 20 years before his assailants were convicted.

The other involved the London police. In 2011, a 29-year old British man of color was shot and killed by police with officers claiming that the victim, Mark Duggan, was armed and shot at them first. Duggan had a handgun in his possession, but it was a gun that could only fire blanks.

"It was said that he fired at them first, but when it was checked the gun hadn't been fired," Wade recalled. "And there was no evidence of him shooting back so that was something that sparked mass riots and looting and stuff. That was on a similar scale to the what's going on now but obviously there wasn't a worldwide reaction. And that's why this one this time is pretty significant just because people have had enough. And it's about time some change starts to happen."

Wade believes the scale of the protests and demands for change will lead to action on the part of elected officials. He's confident there is real momentum to this movement.

"I believe it'll be different this time just because there's obviously been a global response. And obviously before it's been isolated within the countries, namely England, and then in America as well," he said. "And I think this time with the power of social media, all the different cases that are happening people are catching it on film so millions of people are able to see what's really going on. Now it's more difficult to turn a blind eye because we're all human. Just because of the color of our skin doesn't mean that we should treat anyone of color differently and it all starts with education. That's the way I see it.

"Right now it's all about raising awareness and this needs to change, that needs to change. But until we all become educated in how this all came about and we all realize or agree on this is something that needs to change. I don't think there's going to be much change or anything will be substantial unless we educate ourselves, and actually learn about what it is that we need to change."

Wade has been doing what he can to educate his friends in the white community who have checked up on him amidst what has transpired in the US knowing he's on this side of the Atlantic.

"We've had some talks," said Wade. "Some people seem very keen about trying to learn and educate themselves. Some people actually have already seen certain things that they didn't know of. I did a podcast, and I've had a lot of positive feedback where, namely white people are very shocked, and were very unaware of a lot of stuff and the struggles that I've gone through personally and also a lot of other people of color too. I think it's just been an eye-opening period for everybody."

But Wade wants to see greater awareness lead to actionable results.

"A lot of people are trying to educate themselves and try and find out what's really been going on," he said. "Trying to uncover the truths that have been hidden or destroyed and try to recover those, so that we can actually start making proper decisions, putting in real policies in place that are going to be sustainable for all races."

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