“What a horrible person Suarez is - and on top of that he’s racist”
In this post I would like to briefly present the argument that Luis Suarez is not racist. Or at least, that we have no evidence to suggest he is. I will try and justify my argument from a cultural linguistic perspective. But first, let me present a little bit about myself, so you can judge the extent to which what I say might be worth taking into consideration.
Now let’s get to what happened on 15 October 2011. On a football pitch, Luis Suarez addressed Patrice Evra, in Spanish, using the word “negro”. (Patrice Evra presumably has a decent level of Spanish). Suarez was subsequently fined, banned for 8 games, and branded a racist by most of the population of the UK.
The word “negro” (literally, “black”) in Spanish is used in a way that simply cannot be translated directly into English because of the connotations it brings with it. In the Spanish speaking world, physical attributes are often used within sentences like these, without necessarily having any negative connotations. So you get phrases like:
· “Qué onda, güero?" – Literally “What’s up white [boy]” – which I might translate as “What’s up, man/dude/mate? (I am called this when I play football in Mexico all the time).
· “Buenos dias, morenita” – Literally “Good morning, brown [girl]”- which I might translate as “Good morning, honey/darling/love, etc”.
· “Bien hecho mi negro” – Literally “Well done my black [man]” – which I might translate as “Well done my son/mate, etc”.
There are countless examples of these types of phrases in Spanish and they are not considered racist. We even have them in English, albeit not as commonly used as in Spanish, and almost never when referring to skin colour. For example, on seeing a particularly tall friend who I have not seen in a while, I might say something like "Hello, big lad, long time no see!".
But getting back to the point, “racism” must surely be defined as discriminating against a person because of their race. If Suarez had said something along the lines of “I kicked you because you are black” then that would surely fall into the brackets of racism. But as far as I know there has been no evidence that Suarez said any of those things. He might be racist of course, and given his other misdemeanours it wouldn’t be beyond the realms of imagination, but by saying something like “por qué me diste, negro?” (“why did you kick me, man/dude/mate etc”) he is not discriminating against Evra’s skin colour. The entire population of Spain, Latin America, or anyone who has spent long enough in a Spanish speaking country to understand the nuances of the Spanish language will surely back me up on this point.
Now for an even more controversial suggestion: if anyone is being racist in this debate, it is the English Football Association. What they are basically saying is: “you can come into our country, but don’t say words in your own language that sound like words we don’t like in our language”, which essentially means “you can’t speak Spanish (properly) in England”, which is going some way towards something like “we don’t accept other cultures in England”. If we really want to create a multicultural, anti-discriminatory society, we need to truly seek to understand the natures of the cultures that we (supposedly) accept to be part of our communities. The British high horse can no longer be sat on in this new society. Evidently though, we are a long way away from this society.
I am not expecting many people in England to support me in this view. I have discussed it with friends and family and they can't understand where I'm coming from. But I've also discussed it with many people in Latin America and they agree with me. And just to reiterate, this comes from someone who finds Luis Suarez as appalling as the next person.
So have I convinced you? How might you translate phrases like “por qué me diste, negro” into English? Comments welcome.