06 February 2012

Luis Suarez, Patrice Evra and the Great Racism Fuss

I was as mystified as most Liverpool fans were by the 8-match ban that the Football Association of England imposed upon Luis Suarez as punishment for allegedly ‘racially abusing’ Manchester United’s Patrice Evra during a Premier League encounter at Liverpool’s Anfield stadium last October.

Below are excerpts from the Football Association’s report as quoted by Andy Hutchins on the web site SB Nation. First, the testimony from Patrice Evra:
“In the goalmouth, Mr. Evra and Mr Suarez spoke to each other in Spanish. Mr. Evra asked Mr. Suarez why he had kicked him, referring to the foul five minutes previously. Mr. Suarez replied ‘Porque tu eres negro,’ meaning ‘Because you are black.’ Mr. Evra then said to Mr Suarez ‘Say it to me again, I’m going to punch you.’ Mr. Suarez replied ‘No hablo con los negros,’ meaning ‘I don’t speak to blacks.’ Mr. Evra continued by saying that he now thought he was going to punch Mr. Suarez. Mr. Suarez replied ‘Dale, negro, negro, negro,’ which meant ‘Okay, blackie, blackie, blackie.’ As Mr. Suarez said this, he reached out to touch Mr. Evra’s arm, gesturing at his skin. Mr. Kuyt then intervened. When the referee blew his whistle and called the players over to him shortly after the exchanges in the goalmouth, Mr. Evra said to the referee ‘Ref, ref, he just called me a fucking black.’ 
“Mr. Evra said that after Mr. Suarez said ‘I don't speak to blacks,’ he (Mr Evra) said ‘Ahora te voy a dar realmente una porrada,’ which means ‘Okay, now I think I’m going to punch you.’ To this he says that Mr. Suarez replied ‘Dale, negro... negro... negro.’ At the time, Mr. Evra understood this to mean ‘Okay, nigger, nigger, nigger.’ He now says it means ‘Okay, blackie, blackie, blackie.’ The expert witnesses stated that the phrase ‘Dale, negro’ can be understood as ‘Bring it on, blackie’ or ‘do it, blackie’ or ‘go ahead, blackie.’ ”
This was how Suarez told his story:
“He agreed with Mr. Evra that they spoke to each other in Spanish in the goalmouth. When Mr. Evra asked why he had kicked him, Mr. Suarez replied that it was a normal foul and shrugged his shoulders. Mr. Evra then said that he was going to kick Mr. Suarez, to which Mr. Suarez told him to shut up. As Mr. Kuyt was approaching, Mr. Suarez touched Mr Evra’s left arm in a pinching style movement. According to Mr. Suarez, at no point in the goalmouth did he use the word ‘negro.’ When the referee blew his whistle to stop play, Mr. Evra spoke to Mr Suarez and said (in English) ‘Don't touch me, South American.’ Mr Suarez replied ‘Por que, negro?’ He says that he used the word ‘negro’ in a way with which he was familiar from his upbringing in Uruguay. In this sense, Mr Suarez claimed, it is used as a noun and as a friendly form of address to people seen as black or brown-skinned (or even just blackhaired). Thus, it meant ‘Why, black?’ Mr. Suarez maintained that when he said ‘Por que, negro?’ to Mr. Evra, it was intended in a conciliatory and friendly way. Mr. Suarez said this was the only time that he used the word ‘negro’ in his exchanges with Mr. Evra during the match.”
The FA also went to great lengths to examine the goalmouth incident that had Kuyt intervening to break up the two. Here is an excerpt from the report regarding the incident:
“Mr. Evra stated that the goalmouth incident started when he addressed Mr. Suarez, beginning with the phrase ‘Concha de tu hermana.’ According to the experts, the literal translation is ‘Your sister’s cunt’ and it can be taken as a general swear word expressing anger, although the word ‘concha’ is not as taboo as the English word ‘cunt.’ It is thus equivalent to ‘fucking hell’ or ‘fuck me.’ If directed at someone in particular, it can also be understood as ‘[you] son of a bitch.’ ”

I saw the match live and among the things that I immediately noted was how animated Evra was even before the whistle blew to start it. Frequent camera focuses on Evra further reinforced my opinion that he was being unusually belligerent on the day. I had seen Evra prior to this game; so I knew that he was a feisty character. Still, even the niggly fouls – some punished; some not so – were more frequent than one would have come to expect even from somebody like him.

At the end of the game – which ended a 1-all draw – all I saw was another typically passionate Liverpool versus Manchester United encounter. Since Evra is known as among the Premiership’s ‘hard men,’ the racial abuse accusation that subsequently followed came as something of a surprise. It had ‘sissy’ written all over it and seemed out of character for somebody who would not think twice about kicking his own grandmother if it was necessary to win a game.

In the end, Suarez’s own undoing was his admission of having used the word negro at all. Damning as Evra’s testimony was, the Football Association only has his word to count on. Excepting Kuyt, who broke the two up at the goalmouth, who in a stadium filled with 45 thousand noisy spectators could have corroborated what Evra was claiming?

All Suarez really needed to do was to deny everything that Evra had stated. His admission of having used the word negro, though, touched a raw nerve in the English psyche. Perhaps this stance by English football’s officialdom is at least to publicly and officially denounce what must surely still exist on the streets; and the periodic manifestations of it in football grounds around the nation are but tips of an iceberg that, in fact, continues to be a social problem.

Perhaps, too, the nation is subliminally trying to atone for the slave traders of yore who kidnapped men and women from their African homes to take to lands far and away and never to be seen again. Attempting to stamp out racism is something that I am all for; but failing to see the context – and, therefore, not exercising common sense – of the Suarez charge is something that I cannot agree with.

Is being called negro more offensive than being called a ‘cunt?’ If indeed Evra referred to Suarez as ‘South American,’ are we made to believe that the term did not have a trace of bigotry in it as well? Is calling somebody negro a graver offence than professional fouls that are committed with the intention of hurting an opponent and sometimes to take him out of the game altogether? God knows we see these frequently in the Premiership alone.

Suarez’s ‘cultural differences’ defence would never have held water; albeit, most of us Filipinos will probably be sympathetic. I am sure everyone in this country knows somebody jokingly called nognog; and not that that somebody will ever raise a fuss about it. We all know that the nickname is no more than something used in jest and therefore to be laughed about.

Suarez’s defence that the term negro was something that nobody in Uruguay – a multi-cultural society – would think offensive had a lot of merit. However, or at least for the insular Brits, this was always going to be a case of knowing – or, in Suarez’s case, not knowing – what to do when in Rome. Like I said, it would have served him better not to have offered an explanation at all; but even the fact that he did could have been taken as among the more mitigating circumstances to have at least placed the great fuss in true perspective.

For the record – and I write as a Liverpool fan – the club whilst at its prime had no qualms about bringing in John Barnes – a coloured Caribbean born winger – in the late eighties. Barnes used to suffer monkey chants and bananas hurled at the pitch during his playing days; and no, he did not make a fuss out of it.

For the record, too, Liverpool continues to have coloured players in its books. Would it not have made sense, since the charge was about Suarez being racist, to have interviewed these players as well just to gain proper context? Not that it would have made a difference, since the FA was hell-bent on making a statement, anyway.

An eight-match ban, then? I would have thought a stern reprimand would have sufficed; a few games suspended, at most. The issue is now moot and academic, of course, since Suarez has returned to action. This still does not excuse the FA for its utter lack of common sense. And this you have to have if you want to be seen as capable of being fair…

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