From Wythenshawe to Westminster: The Theopolitical Charisma of Marcus Rashford

“One hand cyarn clap” – one hand can’t clap – a popular St. Kitts proverb reminds us. Born into a Caribbean family settled in south Manchester and part of the Windrush generation, Marcus Rashford is a Young King. He, together with other well-known and less well-known black athletes, has a particular charisma. This is a capacity to change political decisions through making the state better. Rashford’s betterment of the state is animated by a leadership’s power ‘from the ground’, that develops not from sitting in Parliament, but through a enlivened connection between his body, faith, family’s history, and the one of his  community in South Manchester.

In Summer 2021 my son, Kamau, in the wake of the 2020 European cup’s England loss of the final on penalties, commented on an iconic picture of Rashford, Sterling, Saka, and Sancho captured on a football, national training pitch. He described them as “Young Kings”. Kingly players who have been enduring racial slurring, and yet, as Marcus Rashford has shown, steadily changing ways of a nation. 

As a second-generation Caribbean English man, Rashford is a particularly interesting figure. He is part of a multibillion televised and branded football industry, which also uses exploitative conditions of labour, such as toward some who have built their recent stadiums across the world , and mediatically linked, as many other stars, to luxury brands. Yet, as a Young King, Rashford unfolds a self-narrative of his “down to earth” origins, from the Council Estate of Wythenshawe. He embodies a lived, theopolitical important charisma of many Black athletes. With a theopolitical  charisma I mean a power exercised from the ‘bottom up’, through the body, its senses and narratives as they are informed  by faith and   growing up  in  a specific locality. This theopolitical charisma interrupts in humble, yet efficacious ways, top-down decision of state politicians. 

Rashford’s Christian faith, which is also central to his Kittian grandmother and mother, and with his profound identification with this south Manchester urban locality puts in motion a sovereign force that is moved by a “ground” where, in his words, one starts life “twenty meters behind”. This, in such a way, that he successfully twice elicited a reversal of Boris Johnson’s and the conservative government’s political decisions, against the suspension in the governmental provision of free lunches and vouchers for children of low-income families during the COVID restrictions in 2020. And then, again, turning around  the government’s unwillingness to extend food support during the school holidays. In the end, Boris Johnson, as the Guardian’s newspaper put it, “bowed to the better judgment of the 23-year-old footballer”.

Rashford has a tattoo on his left oblique of himself as a young boy, standing in front of the house in the neighborhood where he grew up, a football ball next to him, a glimpse of a training field to the side. The tattoo is an incarnated relation to his own history, to his house and the ground on which he played as a young child, to his simple origins, the care of his mother and the family who helped him growing up into the footballer he now is—a reminder of a humble past. Yet, this tattoo is also an inscription, a form of incision on the skin, of his child being onto himself. That incision gives him strength by being an incarnated reminder of the family, neighborhood, and the very ground which produced him.

Nested in an athletic, elastic, training, and goal scoring body, Rashford has engaged in a multiplicity of educational and child-welfare oriented spearheaded initiatives, his theopolitical charisma manifesting in a work of undoing injustice. Rashford does not represent a state top-down intervention, classic to a nation-state sovereignty which may well resonate with a god-like abstract nature of the law – too many times enacted in exclusionary and violent ways toward black youth. But Rashford reminds us that a hand can never clap on its own. In a theopolitical movement that  incites to ‘be better’ (in an agonistic effort) rather than antagonistic to the state,  he shows an incarnated way to bettering from the ground up by being connected (literally, to a force that is continually, positively enlivened through and from his Wythenshawe locality). In a humble way he orients toward a work of undoing injustice, where God may well be aligned with the impossibility and the wish not to represent a timeless law, but instead theopolitically orienting toward making and re-making this timeless law, through a lived, enfleshed force and charisma from a ground up. A different Young Kingly charisma that Boris Johnson may have never enlivened.

Then Rashford reminds us, even in a football industry which is also clearly exploitative, that tattoos are intimate spaces with ourselves, carrying a potency of the history that makes us. That a little black kid can go from knocking the ball around his mother’s yard to agonistically making life better for a whole nation, and that we are all nourished by soil and places through which we are grown into life, and by so doing we may give forms to potent theopolitics– a condition of life, in fact, we potentially all share. As such Rashford and other Young Kings show that humble  and  transformative political impulses for  social,  economic and racial  justice do emerge from a ‘sport pitch’  – where we can utterly enjoy a game, while also  impelled to listen to, and partake in this transformation. 


For a longer version on this theme see:


Leave a Reply