By Nadeem Akhtar
Liverpool’s Luis Suarez has had a very tough week. There’s no doubt about it, from the newspaper headlines to blogposts and broadcast media he has been branded a racist. What is no doubt a very harsh punishment has been welcomed by the FA, the PFA and even SAF himself. I have yet to decide what I think would have been a fair punishment however I prefer to wait for the facts. I wish the media had done the same but as we all know quality jounalism and non-opinionated reports are hard to come by these days.
The initial uproar surrounded two words, one or both of which were allegedly used by Suarez – ‘negro’ and ‘negrito’. Then came the backlash against Liverpool for supporting Luis Suarez, a “convicted racist”. To this I would respond with a quote from the LFC official statement on the matter:
“It is key to note that Patrice Evra himself in his written statement in this case said ‘I don’t think that Luis Suarez is racist’. The FA in their opening remarks accepted that Luis Suarez was not racist.”
And that’s the end of that debate, Luis Suarez was not being racist when he insulted Evra but has been handed down a hefty ban- one which (by its length) implies that Luis Suarez WAS racist towards Patrice Evra. This is the reason LFC and Luis Suarez feel aggrieved by the decision and this is why LFC have responded in the way they have. Whether you like it or not, LFC are entitled to defend their players especially when they firmly believe he has been unfairly treated.
Being part of an ethnic minority myself, i’m a strong proponent of tolerance and harmony between races and cultures. I can understand the need for perspective in this situation. I didn’t jump to conclusions when the reports began, I decided to do some research and make my own mind up.
What I discovered is “negrito” is not a derogatry term in any way and in fact it doesn’t always refer to someones colour. As demonstrated by Dani Pacheco (Liverpool), Thiago Alcantara (Barcelona) and Chicharito (Man United), It is used in Spanish speaking countries openly when referring to friends (whether they are black African or not).
Next up was the term “Negro”. At first i thought this was blatantly referring to the colour black. And although it is an acceptable way of reffering to a black person in Spanish-speaking countries it is clearly a step up from “negrito”. However, Luis Suarez isn’t from Spain so we have to consider the dialect of Spanish that Suarez speaks. “Rioplatense” Spanish is that dialect, and surprisingly one in which “Negro” does not refer to a persons skin colour. Bare with me while i attempt to explain. The most notable example i could find was by football teams in Argentina unveiling banners reading the words “Fuerza Negro” in support of Fernando Caceres who was hospitalised after being shot in a carjacking.
I am not Spanish so I don’t know the literal meaning of the phrase (although I’m told it has something to do with strength) but i do know that Caceres is not Black African and this is clearly not a racial term in Argentina. I understand why it would seem that way even to people from Spain and Mexico, it is, after all a completely different dialect. But whenever i mentioned this to anyone they claimed “Negro” was racially motivated and these banners were from Argentina not Uruguay or Spain. However Rioplatense Spanish is a dialect used in Argentina, Chile, Venezuela and URUGUAY.
After seeing those banners I was convinced Suarez MAY have a case, so I decided to see how common the term is. I did a quick twitter search, (considering the time of year and my extremely limited spanish vocabulary) for “Feliz Navidad mi negro”. The results are plain to see. Its very clear how openly this term is used by many hispanic users when referring to family and friends of which in most cases neither the sender nor the recipient was Black African.
The FA, I am sure knew all of this. It didn’t take long for me to find all these examples but the FA took over 2 months to make the decision to charge Suarez. They did so “Coincidently” just 2 hours after Sepp Blatters handshake comments. Now I am not saying Evra has done anything wrong. I don’t know how true the reports are about Evra’s own insults towads Suarez but it is generally accepted that their conversation took place in Spanish. I am assuming Suarez must have been speaking in Rioplatense, Evra must have learnt Peninsular Spanish (European). Words were used that were offensive to Evra and just a bit of banter for Suarez.
The FA first had to decide whether or not Suarez was racist, as stated by LFC, they decided he was NOT. Then they had to decide whether or not he abused Evra with mention to his colour. From the screenshots above it would seem not, the FA disagree. They have clearly decided Evra, a Frenchman speaking Spanish to a Uruguayan in an English Premier League game was referred to as a black man. Suarez understandably must have been dumbfounded when the allegations of racism were made. I will end with a quote from Tim Vickery, in an article he wrote for the BBC.
“The Round against Racism” was nothing of the sort. In reality, cynically and opportunistically, it was the “Round against Blatter”.
The English FA has now left itself open to the same accusation of cynicism. What Suarez is alleged to have done is wrong, to draw attention to the colour of someone’s skin in a manner that could be construed as pejorative is not acceptable in our reality.
There is a clear case for punishment as part of a process of education. BUT the eight-game ban would seem to go MUCH further.”