Tuesday, 14 October 2008

Against thoughtless racism

This is not a post about Real Madrid. It is tangentially related, as the incidents at the Santiago Bernabéu stadium in a friendly between Spain and England in 2004, prompted the English FA's head of communications to request that an upcoming friendly between the two national sides not be played at the same venue. The England coach, Fabio Capello, has distanced himself from these remarks, saying that "I don't decide where England play, it's a decision of the English federation which they will have to agree with the Spanish. For me I don't mind where we play, and of course if it is the Bernabéu, then all the better".

A lot of Spaniards have been scandalised about being tarred with the same brush as a few racist idiots and many feel misunderstood by the English about 'innocent' remarks such as those uttered by then national coach Luis Aragonés about Thierry Henry. Instead of answering these points myself, I leave it to the editor of As, Alfredo Relaño. I don't usually have a lot of time for As, or even for Relaño, but I think his commentary this time is worth translating.

England says that they don't want to play at the Bernabéu, because of the racist chants heard in that stadium against Ashley Cole in the last match between our two nations. At first, in the heat of the moment, we find their attitude offensive, but, on reflection, we should give it some thought. Are we racist? Perhaps we are, without knowing it, like that character of Molière's who spoke in prose without realising. What about the English then, you will ask, and with reason. Well, the English are the English and we are who we are. They were responsible for awful behaviour in their day and found themselves in a multiracial society before we did.

That's why we must give their reproaches some thought, even if they are exaggerated, like this one. For me, the game has to be played at the Bernabéu or not at all. If they don't want to play, then we don't play, and we'll say no more about it. But we have to think about this. Here we don't think we are racist but we speak without thinking: "Tell that black shit that...". We use expressions like "deceive like a Chinaman". We call those who are overly jealous "moors". We use the word "judiada" (jewry) to talk about a treasonous action. We mistrust those who are different. When we were all alike we didn't notice it. Now we are beginning to realise.

People always say to me: "we are not racist. We only jeer the black players from other teams, not our own black players". Well, perhaps that is to be more fanatical than racist, but it is still racist. When you call someone black with the intention of insulting them (I'm not even going to go into doing monkey chants) it's because you perceive being black as worse than not being black and that is racism pure and simple. It's another matter altogether that we don't see it as racism and that those who went through the same problems earlier have to tell us to make us notice. They had to bear that burden before and now seek for us to bear it as well. They may overdo it, as the English FA are doing now, but we must not waste the opportunity.


Lee@guillembalague.com said...

Blimey, I never thought I'd ever find myself agreeing with Alfredo Relaño. Whatever next - I'll befor I know it Ill be congratulating your lot on a win at the weekend - Not likely. Seriously though, while I dont agree with all that Relaño says and while I am uncomfortable with the way that much of the media are sensationalising this and turning in to a Britain v Spain issue - I agree wholeheartedly with the sentiment that this issue needs to be discussed and tackled out in the open. For too long the Spanish have taken the Ostrich approach and if any good comes from the English FA's stance then that will be because its got people talking - as Reano says (Theres me agreeing with him again - shudder)

Anonymous said...

Of course there is racism in every society. In recent days the Spanish have been banging on about how the English have treated other races throughout history. But that is not the point. The most scandalous thing about the whole Bernabeu affair was not so much the monkey chants themselves, but the response from Spanish society and the Spanish FA to them. They chose to ignore the true harm they did and ended up tainting much of Spanish society in the process. It was certainly an opportunity missed.

Gonzalo said...

I agree with you both - which is why I translated Relaño's comments for the blog (this is before I saw Guillem Balagués much stronger condemnation the following day).

The problem lies with the response of the authorities (clubs, government and media) which is very often of the 'who us? they just don't understand' and then go on to point the finger at everyone else's incidents of racism. This is unhelpful as it deflects away from their responsibilities to tackle the issue.

In a way it is very reminiscent of the way things were in Britain years ago with bananas being thrown at black players week in week out in football grounds as 'just a bit of fun'. A zero tolerance attitude is required to stamp this out.

t said...

I have many thoughts on this. Firstly it's interesting to hear the casual racist comments there that were expunged from mainstream Britain 30 years ago. And the refusal of Capello to have anything to do with it. Are we over sensitive on this issue? Reading the Spanish press (example from Marca, how dare they lecture us, they were responsible for Nazism) you'd think they were a nation of cretins. But are their press any more representative of them than our English press?

I also get annoyed at the sanctimonious hypocrisy of the English on this issue.

One thing that strikes me is how often they mention the Spanish Women Moustache thing dreamt up by Piers Moron at Euro 96. I don't think many English people would think of this as racism comparable with monkey chants.
And why do Spanish hacks think it acceptable to dub all English fans as hooligans and animals. No wonder their police are truncheon happy towards us.

Jon @ Just-Football.com said...

Interesting article. The Spanish press have been on the defensive regarding this issue ever since the Spain v England game years ago. In my opinion their over-sensitivity to English criticism only accentuates the fact that there IS a problem with racism in Spain.

The authorities' slack punishments for the numerous racist incidents over the years is the worst part, and if the racist problems in Spanish football are to go away its the responsibility of the Spanish FA to lead the way with harsher punishments.

Gonzalo said...

@t - as you say, the rantings of the Spanish sports press on issues such as these must not be taken as being representative of the mainstream, although a lot of people will fall into line (just like those who read some of the tabloids in Britain). The moustache, thing, like the hooligan thing, like many other examples of national stereotypes are more xenophobic than racist, and somehow do not carry the same social stigma.

@Jon, you are right in that there is a problem and, as I said in an earlier comment, it should fall to the government, media and the football authorities themselves to take the lead in tackling it. But, like an alcoholic, they have to admit they have a problem before they can do anything about it.

t said...

But I've had Spanish people say to me the moustache 'joke' WAS racist, you English are hypocrites etc. They often then go on to bring up the way the English treat young and old people compared to animals, how the Spanish Empire was much more civilised than the British, Jean Charles De Menezes....

It's a really interesting subject I think, where do you draw the line?

Booing national anthems, racist?
Making fun of national stereotypes, racist?