Racists slip on their own banana skin
By reacting to the provocation in a sardonic way, Daniel Alves toppled the racists who persist in inflicting their primitive conduct in football stadiums worldwide
In the imaginary Book of Species, which is still found on the bookshelves of football history, Brazilians have been appearing as monkeys for least 90 plus years. For example, the Brazilian team members were called “macaquitos”, i.e. “monkeys” by an Argentinean newspaper in the South American championship held in Chile in 1920. Brazil was annoyed but for the wrong reasons. Mario Filho (1908-1966) wrote in an appendix to his book O Negro no Futebol Brasileiro (The Black Man in Brazilian Football) that “the question shattered the image the Republic needed to build of itself, leaving behind the vestiges linked to slavery and miscegenation at a time in which eugenics was the order of the day’. (This was a reference to the view in those days that Brazil should gradually move from being a multi-colored society to one in which the whiter element would become dominant.) The Rio writer Lima Barreto (1881-1922), who was of mixed race and poor, said football was “above all, a factor of dissent”. He pointed out in a famous ironic comment, that “our revenge is that the Argentineans do not make any distinction in Brazilians´ colors; all of us are macaquitos for them”. On Sunday April 27, this Book of Species unfortunately gained a new edition but at least it was revised and updated. According to this 2014 version “we are all macaquitos”.
It was 30 minutes into the second half of the game between Villarreal and Barcelona when Brazilian player Daniel Alves went to take a corner for Barcelona. A banana was then thrown in his direction. The 30-year-old defender with green eyes from Bahia state who is of mixed race, “pardo” as formally described in Brazil´s census form where people identify themselves by color, reacted unexpectedly as far as the public and certainly the aggressor were concerned by picking up the banana, unpeeling it and putting it in his mouth.
This was the eighth case of racism on Spanish pitches in the current season alone. It would only have raised some feeble protests had it not been for Alves´s mocking reaction and the entry into the scene of star player Neymar, Alves´s team mate in Barcelona and the Brazilian national team. On that very Sunday night, Neymar posted three pictures on his Instagram account. In the last, he appeared eating a banana along with his son, Davi Lucca, who was holding a soft toy banana. In the caption, Neymar wrote the hashtag #somostodosmacacos (“#we are all monkeys”) in four languages: Portuguese, English, Spanish and Catalan. By last Thursday this post had received almost 580,000 thumbs up and legions of celebrities — from the world of sports, arts, politics etc. — repeated the gesture in support of Alves. However, it was later learned that Alves´s reaction to the racist attitude of the Villarreal supporter actually started being formed a month ago in conversations with Neymar. The constant racial aggression by some football fans set off a red light among the members of Neymar´s staff. One of the reasons for this alertness was that Neymar himself said in 2010 that he had never been a victim of racism because he was not black. Neymar´s father and Eduardo Musa, one of his closest advisors, were so concerned about the racist provocations occurring in the Spanish championship that they contacted the Loducca publicity agency of São Paulo. “They told me Neymar could not keep quiet,” said Guga Ketzer, vice-president of creation and a partner in Loducca, who created the hashtag the player used. “It was a pro bono public action, Ketzer said.
The news that the picture of Neymar and his son and the forceful hashtag had been the result of a publicity campaign was a setback to the entire anti-racist reaction triggered by Alves´s attitude. Alves denied there was any link between his response in the stadium and Neymar´s “action”. “He (Neymar) ended up saying that they were preparing a campaign but obviously I did not think about anything like that (at the time of the game). There was nothing arranged in advance,” Alves told Daniel Setti, who interviewed him in Barcelona for VEJA (see more below). Faced with the negative response to the way in which Neymar had entered the row, Ketzer come out in defense of his client: “What mistake did Neymar make by making a public demonstration in a professional way? Is this really opportunism?” he asked. “Although Neymar and Daniel Alves had coordinated the reaction, the initiative was extremely intelligent. Daniel destroyed the racists. It doesn´t matter if he planned his action or not. The supporter who took the banana to the stadium had also planned his attitude,” claimed anthropologist Roberto Da Matta. “Black players overwhelmingly earn more than their detractors and this annoys the racists.” Philosopher Luiz Felipe Pondé said: “Many people are jumping on the band wagon and only want to look nice in the picture but the origin of Neymar´s campaign is intelligent. To pick up a banana and say that ‘# somostodosmacacos’ is much more creative than taking legal action”. Television presenter Luciano Huck, who is often associated with politically correct “feel good marketing” was criticized for launching a tee-shirt with a #somostodosmacacos hashtag that cost R$ 69. He rejected attacks that he was being an opportunist in his Facebook page. “I don´t want to and I am not going to earn a cent from this. (…) 100% of the income from this initiative has always gone to the voluntary sector,” he said.
A HISTORIC PUNISHMENT
“You can sleep with [black people] You can bring them in, you can do whatever you want. The little I ask you is not to promote it on that … and not to bring them to my games.” This comment by the owner of the Los Angeles Clippers basketball team, Donald Sterling, led to a public stoning for this 80-year old American real estate magnate. Sterling complained during a conversation with model V. Stiviano who had posted a photo of herself standing next to the legendary former basketball player Magic Johnson. Stiviano, who is of black and Hispanic ancestry, denied that she had leaked the tape to the TMZ gossip site and that she had done so without Sterling´s consent. Stiviano also denies, against all the evidence, that she is the lover of the former head of the Clippers who was summarily banished from the sport last week.
Beyond the strategy of the action, Neymar´s initiative more than Alves´s gesture was not unanimously welcomed by defenders of the black cause. Historian Renísia Cristina Garcia Filice in Brasília said: “Daniel responded in a mature way to the provocations but Neymar, by claiming we are all monkeys, reinforced the myth that we live in a racial democracy. Handling this situation by making a joke reduced its seriousness”. Reacting angrily to racial aggressions is common among sportsmen. One good example is the Italian forward Mario Balotelli. Every time he touched the ball during the 2012 Euro cup championship, the rival supporters imitated monkeys. After scoring a fantastic goal in the semi-final against Germany, Balotelli took off his shirt and challenged the racists by showing off his black muscles. Reactions like this may be legitimate but they usually end up making little difference — as is also the case with the punishments and campaigns by Fifa and Uefa and the actions of heavyweight sponsors. An attitude like that shown by the US National Basketball Association (NBA) which banned for life the owner of a team for making racist comments would be a good example for football. Villarreal was shocked by the extraordinary repercussion from the Daniel Alves case and quickly located the supporter and punished him by banning him from its stadium for life. The Spanish police caught and held the criminal for a few hours and then named him as 26-year-old David Campayo Lleo, an instructor in the club´s lower levels, and released his picture.
There is a recurring idea in academic circles that football arouses primitive emotions more than any other sport and can lead supporters to break the bounds of civil behavior. “The very movement of kicking is an act of aggression, regardless of how nice and agile the player is performing with the ball,” said Anatol Rosenfeld (1912-1973) in Negro, Macumba e Futebol (The Black Man, Macumba and Football). “Football is our modern version of the Roman gladiator fights,” said Luiz Felipe Pondé. “The problem is not sport but people. You still find remnants today of the cultural and political base that fed slavery. They are the same main racial issues that are present in modern society,” said sociologist Harry Edwards, emeritus professor at the University of California, Berkeley. The “modern society” Edwards refers to has still not caught up with the change in the scientific view of race. From the biological point of view, individuals who can mate between themselves and reproduce belong to the same race. This concept that has been accepted for decades was recently taken further when it was discovered that there could be a greater genetic variation between two Swedes, for example, than between one of them and a black African. In other words, there is only one race: the human race. The other elements are cosmetic differences of no importance.
“THERE WAS NOTHING ARRANGED IN ADVANCE”
Daniel Alves, 30, is the foreign player who has played most for Barcelona apart from Lionel Messi. In six seasons with the club, the Brazilian has won 16 trophies. He spoke to VEJA about bananas, racism, xenophobia and spontaneity.
Was picking up the banana and eating it a spontaneous gesture?
Absolutely. It is not my style to do something and think what is going to happen afterwards. I live by instinct and my instinct at that moment led me to do what I did. I took up the banana and ate it. It is true that Neymar had spoken to me after a game against Espanyol, in March when people were throwing bananas on the pitch and said that if one of them had fallen near him he would have put it in his mouth. He ended up saying that they were preparing a campaign but, obviously, I did not think about anything like that. There was nothing arranged in advance.”
Did you feel angry when the banana fell at your feet?
It is much better if you are harassed to try and respond with something that is more intelligent. That´s why there was all this repercussion from this episode. If I had reacted in any other way, more aggressively, it would be nothing more than another episode of prejudice in football.
A lot of comments have been made on Facebook and Twitter saying it was an opportunist attempt to take advantage of your gesture by people who have never criticized racism before. Is this so?
It was not opportunistic. We have to use our status as public figures to improve things, leave a legacy or do something that helps develop other people´s minds. As long as these attitudes are from the heart, they will be welcomed. It doesn´t matter if there is marketing behind it.
Leaders of the black movement felt uncomfortable with the hashtag #somostodosmacacos. What about you?
The hashtag is irony. What we want is for everybody to understand that we are equal. The gesture in my case was a Brazilian way of reacting, handling things in a more light-hearted way rather than being confrontational about these things.
Is there any solution to racism in football?
People who are racist will not stop being racist. They might start having some respect but will continue to have a bitter feeling.
Did you experienced anything similar when you were still playing in Brazil?
No. It never happened to me.
But there certainly have been recent episodes of racism in football in Brazil…
I think it is a reflection of what is happening in Europe and some people copy these kinds of things in Brazil. However, every action leads to a reaction. Tinga (the Cruzeiro player called “monkey” in Peru) had an attitude and complained. The referee from Rio Grande do Sul state (Márcio Chagas da Silva who found bananas on the roof of his car after a game) had an attitude, mentioned it in his report and publicized the photos.
Off the pitch, have you ever suffered from racism in Spain as an ordinary person?
People close to me have. They have gone into a store and nobody attends them. You don´t need to insult someone to be racist. I don´t want to generalize and say that everybody in Spain is racist but things are complicated for foreigners here.
Does racism exist in Brazilian society?
Also! The fact that I am talking about Spain does not mean it does not exist in Brazil. It exists but it is just not as explicit.
History shows some notorious cases of black sportsmen reaffirming their racial origin. When Americans Tommie Smith and John Carlos went to the podium to receive their medals in the Mexico Olympic Games in 1968 for the gold and bronze in the 200 meters race, respectively, they made the salute of the Black Panthers revolutionary group. In the 1970s, boxer Muhammad Ali said in his autobiography that he had thrown the gold medal he won in the Rome Olympic Games (1960) into the river in response to not being served in a restaurant restricted to whites. In The King of the World, David Remnick revealed that the episode was invented to support the black activist Elijah Muhammad, Malcolm X´s mentor. Ali simply lost the medal and never threw into the river.
The history of racism in football in Brazil is mixed up with the very beginning of the sport. Mario Filho said that the clubs were initially for the elite and did not accept black players in their teams. A certain Carlos Alberto who played for Fluminense even put rice powder on his face in order to play (which ended up being the Rio team´s nickname). The star player Arthur Friedenreich, the son of a German and a black woman, spent an enormous amount of time before the game plastering down his crinkly hair which showed his origins despite his green eyes. “The comb and hand was not enough. He needed to twist his hair with a towel into a turban and put it on his head,” wrote Mario Filho in The Black Man in Brazilian Football. Paulo Cézar Lima, known as Caju, who played in the Brazil team that won the World Cup in 1970 — faced problems when he returned from Europe with a high reputation. He was intelligent, fluent in French and Spanish and at ease with the fact of being a very successful sportsman but he was often regarded as arrogant because of his attitude.
The first black member in the US Supreme Court, Thurgood Marshall, was accused of advocating his own case when he issued a ruling in favor of admitting African-American pupils to a school in Arkansas in 1957. He responded by saying he was not worried about the future of black children but about the whites whom he said had been taught since they were small that the way of obtaining their rights was to break the law and challenge the legal authorities. With his gesture, Daniel Alves — who was born in Juazeiro where the blacks, with their fifty shades of blackness, have an unshakable self-confidence — did not only make a contribution to his own cause but also to that of all of us humans, all too human.
With additional reporting from Alexandre Salvador, Fernanda Allegretti and Renata Lucchesi