Kevin-Prince Boateng has told ESPN that this remarkable year, the causes he’s fought for throughout his career, and the biases he’s faced throughout his life, have been magnified to unprecedented levels.
The death of George Floyd in May catapulted the ‘Black Lives Matter’ movement into the consciousness of an international, digitally aware population, forcing people to consider their place in the global dynamics of power and prejudice like never before. Floyd, a Black man, died in Minneapolis while in police custody after a white officer knelt on Floyd’s neck for more than seven minutes.
For Boateng, the events of 2020 represent the culmination of a career trying to raise awareness and combat racial injustice, beginning in 2013 when he walked off the pitch in a friendly between AC Milan and Pro Patria in the face of racist tormenting.
However, they also represent the start — he hopes — of a greater realisation of the pervasive inequalities that continue to exist, and the prejudice that was allegedly evident in Istanbul Basaksehir’s Champions League clash with Paris Saint-Germain on Tuesday.
“Finally!” he began. “It’s been seven, almost eight years, since 2013, and we had to wait until 2020. We had to lose other brothers, other people until we finally stood up, we finally got heard, and everybody started talking and opening their mouths.
“There was a long time when I was the only person talking about it, when I had a possibility, and now finally I’m happy,” he added.
“I’m relieved that everyone is on the same train, it gave me joy to see that there are people out there who are willing to fight for it and go against all of the odds.”
However, while the 33-year-old, who is currently on the books of Italian Serie B side Monza, was delighted that the movement has been sustained beyond the news cycle, and remains present seven months after Floyd’s killing, he has called on people to be more proactive and less passive in their support for racial equality.
He continued: “I spoke to friends directly and I said: “I don’t care that you’re posting a Black picture [on social media]. Thank you, you’re showing that you understand or you see what’s happening, but I want you to post a video, to say it.
“I want people to see your face and say ‘I stand with my Black brothers, I support them, Black lives matter and we are all the same.’ I wanted more of that, to get people emotional because they have to understand how we’re feeling.
“I know it may be difficult for a white person to understand how a Black person is feeling when we’re being racially abused, but to be there, to be on our side, that’s what we needed.
“It was all just a little bit slow for me because it was the right moment in that moment to show your support.”
To continue to raise awareness for racial equality, and to celebrate the progress of the Black Lives Matter movement, Boateng has collaborated with Puma to produce a special boot — bearing the BLM name — and symbolising the fight for equality that he carries with him onto the pitch.
Despite the progress made, it’s clear there’s still much awareness to raise.
“Many people are talking about it but they don’t know why they’re talking about it,” he added. “They’re saying ‘Black Lives Matter’ but yeah, why do they matter? What do you feel? What’s your experience?”
Despite his frustrations with some purported expressions of support, Boateng has reaffirmed his delight with the continuing momentum and visibility of the fight, and the allyship he has encountered from non-Black teammates and friends.
“It gives you wings,” he noted. “Because of the pain and the anger you have inside, when the people around you stick to you and show you that they are with you, it gives you wings, it makes you fly.
“I’m happy with what’s happening, I see it’s keeping going, it’s not stopping like the news.
“When a tragedy happens, people don’t talk about it anymore, it’s always like that, but this is still going, it’s still moving forward, and you see ‘Black Lives Matter’ everywhere.”
For Boateng, the son of a Ghanaian father and a German mother, the protest against Pro Patria represented the start of his public battle against racism, but his experiences of racial prejudice stretch back much further.
“I grew up in Berlin, with a lot of different nationalities, from everywhere; Spanish, Italian, African, Arabs, Turks, Russians, from Poland, everything,” he continued.
“I grew up in Berlin, but I was Black, so for them I was Black, even though I’m half German.
“I didn’t know what I was, because for the Germans I wasn’t German enough, for the Black people I wasn’t Black enough, so I was always in the middle. There was always this feeling.
“I have a lot of mixed-race friends; they’re always the same, they’re aggressive, if someone’s looking at them it’s like, ‘Why are you looking at me? Is there something wrong?’ We don’t believe in ourselves yet because we don’t know who we are.”
While Boateng’s younger brother — Bayern Munich defender Jerome –opted to represent Germany, Kevin-Prince chose to turn out for Ghana, a decision which he credits with helping him understand the both duality and singularity of his racial identity.
“My roots are Ghanaian and my roots are German so the puzzle came together,” he remembered. “I could be stronger and have more of a voice after understanding who I am and where I’m from.
“I’m mixed, I know both sides, so I was more confident. I could say: ‘Yes I understand you, my Mum is white, my uncles are white. I understand you, my father is Black, my uncles are Black. I have one grandma Black and one grandma white, so I get you both.’
“Getting there was hard. There were a lot of tears, a lot of sadness because you don’t know who you are, but it gave me a lot. Now I understand really what it means to be black, and I understand what it means to be white because I understand both sides.
“All of that racism, then going to Ghana, and playing for Ghana, all gave me so much, because I understood who I am and where I’m coming from.”
Sports leagues have embraced the movement, and while Premier League players — for example — continue to take a knee before fixtures in solidarity with BLM, Millwall fans’ recent revolt against the gesture, and the controversy that overshadowed Istanbul Basaksehir’s Champions League clash with PSG, hint at the chasms that still exist.
“We have to educate, we have to get the education before we talk,” Boateng added. “We’re not just angry because we wake up and we’re angry. We’re angry because we want the same possibilities as you, we want the same.
“Maybe we don’t get killed [in Europe], but we don’t get the best jobs, we don’t get to be the Number 10 and the captain in the team. There’s a reason, and it’s not because we’re not better.
“I always had to be the best, I had to show something more, something different, and that’s my message.
“We want the same possibilities, we want the same chance, and if there’s someone in front of me who’s Hispanic, or from Turkey, or Arab, and he’s better than me, then he should get the spot, no problem, but give me the possibility to show that I’m maybe on the same level.”