Friday, July 16, 2010

Media Justice & World Cup Racism

Cross posted from my Media Justice column.

***I began writing this early last week prior to my computer needing repair. It is now a bit dated, but I think it’s a dope read nonetheless!***

While attending my sister’s wedding in DC a few weeks ago I got into a disagreement with my father about the FIFA World Cup. You see, I’ve started to watch the FIFA World Cup and, to the surprise of no one, have been cheering for the African countries with teams. I’ll be honest; I want to see an African team play in the final in South Africa. At the same time I am cheering for teams that are more African than others; i.e. Brasil, Honduras, and Switzerland (I have affectionately named the Black Swiss players: Bliss). Our disagreement came about when I said to him that I think the World Cup can educate and bring to light a lot of social issues and possibly lead to some forms of social change and social justice. He disagreed.

I gave him two examples of how I see the FIFA World Cup being an important space for beginning work around activism, and both have come out of the media. First, the history of FIFA World Cup players speaking out against racism is phenomenal. In 2006 there was an entire campaign regarding ending racism that FIFA World Cup teams and players participated in while in Munich. The themes were “make new friends” and the anti-racism message of “say no to racism.” Granted, the racism message from the last World Cup reminds me of the “just say no [to drugs]” campaign the Reagan Administration promoted; I still find the efforts useful and important.

This is an issue that I find still prevalent today, around the world, not just in the US. Several African and Black players have expressed and shared their personal stories about racism within the sport. Earlier this season, Samuel Eto’o, a player from Cameroon who has played on Italy’s soccer team and other international leagues, has shared his hopes for how the World Cup can begin to shift ideologies about race. He shares:

It's always been a very tough journey for African footballers, and it's still tough today. I suffered a lot. I had to deal with it so often I found ways of making a point against racism.

Eto’o has experienced a huge amount of racism while playing the sport. Here’s an interview he gave discussing his perspective and treatment as a player for Italy:

This film clip has also made the rounds highlighting racism within the FIFA World Cup, not only among players and coaches, but among fans as well. Here we see more of Eto'o and specifically one game where he was the recipient of racial slurs and name-calling while on the field. Additionally, we hear more Black and African players share their testimonies as well. The clip is pretty intense and may trigger some things for some viewers so please take this as a TRIGGER WARNING:

When my homegirl Angel responded to this video she asked something along the lines of: "why does the US newscaster think people living in the US would not understand the instances of racism occurring abroad?" I have to ask myself the same question. It's such an erroneous and ethnocentric way of viewing the rest of the world! Assuming that those of us living in the “post-racial” US experience no more racism or any –ism for that matter is a false idea of what role we play in creating and sustaining racism and xenophobia (and other -isms) around the world.

I then shared with my dad what my homegirl Maegan wrote about regarding Brasil and if they go to the final for the FIFA World Cup. She shared that Newsweek published a story regarding Brasil’s communal celebration and support for their team if they went to the final. Author Mac Margolis asks the question "What does it mean that so many in the global workforce grind to a halt during the most-watched sports event in the world?" Margolis opens with some complaints about the early closing of a bank he uses and the potential that his daughter’s kindergarten class may be canceled if Brasil makes it to a certain level of the FIFA World Cup.

I share Maegan's sentiments about this story as she writes:

No word on the positive community of futbol fans watching the games. Everything has to be monetized and have a value placed on it (as if the futbol industry in and of itself weren’t lucrative enough). This perspective is no accident, Brazil and Chile both have been centered in South America as examples of democratic and economic success following years of military dictatorships. This doesn’t erase the reality of the widening gap between rich and poor in either place.

And I am especially thinking of Brazil now that floods in the Northeast have killed at least 41 and disappeared at least 1,000. About 100,000 have been left homeless.

I'd like to also add how many US researchers and scholars from around the world have looked to Brasil as an important way to examine race. Most recently I read an article by scholar Howard Winant, of Racial Formation In The United States: From the 1960s to the 1990s fame. Winant examines what we know about the current racial situation (classifications, census data collection, identity politics, and intersections of class, color, race and gender) in Brasil. His article: Rethinking Race In Brazil examines the literature (and it is vast) and asks some questions about progress.

By Sunday, in the Netherlands versus Spain final for the FIFA World Cup, I find myself cheering for team Netherlands simply because of my Pan-African bias. When the four teams left in the FIFA World Cup were primarily European I know many of my friends and peers lost interest. They started to call the game the "European Cup." I know this sentiment very well.

At the end of the day and at the beginning of the FIFA World Cup Final, I decided I really didn’t care. I took a nap in the middle of the game, but before I did I sent a tweet saying that team Netherlands is more diverse than team Spain and that makes me choose sides. Putting on my sexologist hat, I appreciated the role the Netherlands plays in a worldwide platform regarding sexuality education, access to contraception, policies on sex work, same gender marriage, and I dig their ‘multi-party system’ of politics. Yet as an activist, I don’t forget the colonization both countries have engaged in all over the world.

I had a lot of these thoughts as I watched the World Cup and I know I can’t be alone. My homegirl Maegan was using the World Cup as an opportunity to teach her children about the history of the world, specifically colonization by both countries. This is why she’s a radical Mamí of Color and a “Mamita Mala.” Imagine what education could be like if these conversations occurred and we challenged our thinking on how sports defines nationalism and embodies forms of liberation and communal celebration. This is what I tried to convey to my father. He wasn’t trying to hear it. At least he wasn’t at that time, but I know he’ll hear it in another way at another time.

Finally, my hope for the World Cup is that with all the vuvuzela jokes, I do hope people become more comfortable saying vulva as opposed to all the other botched up words people use. A femme can dream can’t she?

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