or, Musings on the Racism “Revival” Pt.3
First off, credit where credit is due. This part of my investigation of racism in football was originally going to be drawn from this website, which investigates the differing opinions on race in South America. Then, during Sunday’s high-profile media debacle, when Luis Suárez refused to shake Patrice Evra’s hand, the ensuing Twit-storm saw a well-regarded Liverpool fan and Twitter enthusiast @jwidnell tell critics of Suárez that we probably hadn’t even read the FA document about the Uruguayan’s punishment. This was a fair point. I had only, to that point, read one page summaries in the media, and such a summary could be incredibly misleading. So I read it, and in the process discovered information that validated not just this part of my musings, but everything I had written on the topic thus far.
So here we go (again):
ANSWERING DEFENCE 3: “Suarez is South American and doesn’t understand European racism”. This is the most interesting defence of all. As residents of The Wirral have been uncharacteristically quick to point out, to suggest that a Uruguayan should be judged by Anglo-American cultural values is to apply some kind of hegemonic cultural imperialism. The BBC were quick to point out that:
“Probably the most revered figure in the history of Uruguayan football is Obdulio Varela, captain of the side that won the World Cup in 1950. His nickname was ‘El Negro Jefe‘ – the black boss.”
“Among Suarez’s team-mates these days is Maxi Pereira, who is known as “El Mono” – the monkey. It is a nickname which, apparently, is given and accepted with no offence meant or taken…”
This is all very interesting, until you consider the FA tribunal evidence that observes (entry 174) “In Colombia, the word ‘mono‘ (literally, ‘monkey’) is used to address light-skinned people or people whose hair is lighter than pure black“…
Calling him a monkey is no more “racist” than this cheeky comparison:
Double standards? Not quite. Racist monkey abuse harks back to the era when Christians justified their treatment of black slaves as morally permissible because, they argued, Africans were of an inferior “savage” race. This was compounded by (Christian-influenced) science of Enlightenment-era Europe, which decided that paler “Caucasians” were the original race of Adam and Eve, and that other races were degenerate offshoots related to animals. Early scientifc racist Georges Cuvier wrote: “The Negro race… is marked by black complexion, crisped of woolly hair, compressed cranium and a flat nose, The projection of the lower parts of the face, and the thick lips, evidently approximate it to the monkey tribe: the hordes of which it consists have always remained in the most complete state of barbarism.” As such, he placed the dark-skinned “Ethiopian” race at the foot of his hierarchy of races, and the idea of African people being connected with monkeys was born. This all before Charles Darwin would accurately postulate that we are all, in fact, just naked apes.
So, the monkey insult has specific connotations of white Christian colonialist supremacy when applied to people of African descent. As to Suárez’s argument that he applied the term “negro” to Evra in a “friendly” manner, the following entries in the FA report complicated this immensely.
169. In Uruguay … some people who self-identify as black object to the use of the word ‘negro’ as a term of address, as they say it highlights skin colour when this should be irrelevant; they point out that the term “blanco” [white] is rarely used in this fashion. [the implication that "white equals standard" is why "coloured" is no longer acceptable]
170. The word ‘negro’ can have pejorative connotations, as it may be associated with low class status, ugliness, vulgar behaviour, noisiness, violence, dishonesty, sexual promiscuity etc. In the River Plate region, for example, ‘los negros’ is sometimes employed as a general term for the lower classes and especially for lower-class people whose behaviour is deemed vulgar and not “respectable”. [animal associations abound in these adjectives]
171. Thus the word can be employed with the intent to offend and to offend in racial terms…
172. The word ‘negro’ is by no means, however, always used offensively. The term can also be used as a friendly form of address to someone seen as somewhat brown-skinned or even just black-haired. It may be used affectionately between man and wife, or girlfriend / boyfriend, it may be used as a nickname in everyday speech, it may be used to identify in neutral and descriptive fashion someone or dark skin; several famous people in Uruguay are known as ‘el negro/la negra such-and-such’. [i.e. context plays a major part]
168. It is important to grasp that the word “negro” is ambiguous in all countries and regions of Latin America. [...]
186. [the words] would be understood as offensive and offensive in racial terms in Uruguay and Spanish-speaking America more generally.
When adding context:
241. [Suárez's] facial expression was hostile towards Mr Evra, he was speaking forcefully to him, he looked Mr Evra up and down and then reached out and pinched Mr Evra’s bare left forearm. This was an unpleasant and petty gesture which appeared designed to aggravate Mr Evra, and was likely to have that effect.
Suarez at first claimed that he was trying to “defuse the situation” with the pinching action in his witness statement. Later, under cross-examination, he claims he was trying to show Evra that he “wasn’t untouchable” (entries 246 & 247). The possibility of the statements’ confusion through mistranslation – that Suárez’s lawyer attempted to blame the discrepancy on – was highly unlikely, as the finalised English and Spanish drafts were shown to Suárez and his interpreter, and read and signed before the trial. Suárez signed a document that he later contradicted.
Suárez also altered his description about the reasons for using the word ‘negro’ so that instead of being a “friendly and affectionate” manner, it later became “conciliatory”, a wording specifically used by the Spanish language experts whose testimonies he had since read. Liverpool executive Damien Comolli’s witness statement makes it clear that Suárez said “Porque tu es negro“, or “because you are black”, meaning that he wasn’t using a “friendly” noun, but an adjective. Furthermore the adjective is part of a statement that is of questionable intent, relating as it does to the question “why did you kick me?”
Both Comolli (in Spanish) and Dirk Kuyt (in Dutch) also apparently “mishear[d]” what Suárez said to them, which is confusing because Suárez fails to correct Comolli when he relates the allegations to Kenny Dalglish, or correct the written testimony that was submitted in his (signed) name.
All of that is essentially academic, though. What the essence of the case came down to is that:
FACT 1: Suárez has admitted using a term (‘negro‘) which is based on race.
FACT 2: Evra was racially offended by this.
FACT 3: When someone offends you sufficiently, the least you can expect is an apology.
FACT 4: Suárez failed to apologise.
If Suárez had acted like a man and simply apologised off the bat for causing offence, none of this – the reports, the T-shirts, the tribunal, the ban, the backlash, the hate-Tweets, the jail-time, the handshake controversy, these long-winded investigations into the nature of racism – would really have been necessary.
Which means Suárez is either:
a) a racist;
b) a child-like ignoramus who is ignorant of global cultural concepts like race, religion and castes; or
c) a child-like idiot who was too vain to apologise to an opponent for offending him, or shake his hand and say “let’s get on with it, and media nonsense be damned”.
I like to think that it’s c). Either way, unquestioned defence of Suárez is more than a little dubious. It can just about be excused in supporters, who are typically less than philosophically astute, but Thierry Ennui found Kenny Dalglish’s absolute refusal to see any wrong-doing both dangerously incendiary and offensive. Clearly, so did Liverpool’s owners and backers. Of course as it stands, some of this may have came to light in June when the Terry-Ferdinand affair hits Crown Court, but that’s another story entirely. So ultimately, when is a racist not a racist? When they’re too ignorant (or arrogant) to admit that they may have accidentally caused offence.