ColumnistsWhy Luiz Suarez must see Red


Posted on Friday, 18 November 2011 15:21

Why Luiz Suarez must see Red


The English Football Association has finally charged Liverpool striker Luis Suarez for racially abusing Manchester United defender Patrice Evra during the 1-1 drawn game between Liverpool and Manchester United played at the Anfield Stadium on October 15th 2011.

At the center of this controversy is the Spanish word "negrito" which was apparently used about 10 times by Suarez in his attempts to taunt Evra during the fiercely contested premier league encounter. The Uruguayan originally denied the allegations categorically but later admitted to media in his home country that he did nothing more than call the French international 'something his teammates at Manchester call him.'

The inconsistency in the player's defense firstly smacks of wrongdoing on his part but even more importantly is his nonchalant treatment of the central term of discord. Indeed the Spanish equivalent of the English word 'black' is 'negro'. The suffix '-ito' that follows renders the term one of endearment implying that Suarez' reference was not bigoted but rather a show of affection and tenderness towards his French counterpart.

A prima facie analysis of the word 'negrito' in Spain or any other country where Spanish is treated as a lingua franca will probably endorse the position of the player on the matter but beyond the context of superficial linguistics is the significance of the color black to the Latin culture.

Unfortunately, the Spanish language is full of idioms and expressions pregnant with a negative connotation for the word black. To be the bearer of misfortune in Spanish is to be the person with a black mark hence the expression 'tener la negra' which en español means to be an unlucky person. It goes on 'trabajar como un negro' in essence means to work like a slave, a throwback to the slave trade and the plight of Africans and people of color in the new world. When the issue of race appeared in the poetry of famous Cuban poet Nicolas Guillen for instance in the 'Negro Bembón' it was to infuse positive values into a racist stereotypical image of the black man within the Cuban society.

So Suarez' argument that his incessant use of the word 'negrito' must rather be viewed in the positive rather than the negative must be taken with a pinch of salt because the above lexical analysis show that the Spanish language is imbued with the negative as far as the color black is concerned meaning that Suarez in his reference to an opposing player who was successfully thwarting his efforts to score in a competitive league match opted for the less than savory meaning of the term when he used it in his reference to Evra.

At a time when the world of football is reeling from the shock statements of FIFA president Sepp Blatter, the English FA must see the Suarez incident as an opportunity to activate the collective consciousness about continued racism in football and society in general as well as the need to take adequate steps to combat it by extending appropriate sanctions to a player whose talent on the field is often obfuscated by moments of bizarre foolhardiness unfit for the beautiful game of soccer.

Editor's note:

On Wednesday, 16 November 2011, Sepp Blatter said "that there was no racism [on the football field], but maybe there is a word or gesture that is not correct." And suggested that "the one affected by this should say this is a game and shake hands." But after his statement caused a stir in the international media, the 75 year-old Swiss said on Friday, 18 November 2011, apologized insisting that his "fight against racism and discrimination will go on". He said: "It hurts and I am still hurting because I couldn't envisage such a reaction ... When you have done something which was not totally correct, I can only say I am sorry for all those people affected by my declarations."

William Manful

William Manful

William Manful is a human rights advocate committed to the democratization of Africa. He has worked as a contributing columnist for afrik- and talkafrique. He holds degrees in french and spanish as well as international relations from the University of Cambridge. Mr manful also writes on philosophy, sports and cinema. He is currently working for the Government of Ghana.


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