“Yes! We Have Bananas”: The upcoming World Cup and issues of Racism in the football field

Marina Fuser is a doctoral researcher at the University of Sussex in Film Studies. She is currently at UC Berkeley, researching with Prof. Trinh Minh-a. Her research includes Feminism, Postcolonialism, Post-structuralism and cinematic experimentalisms. This week, Marina reflects on racism on and off the football field.

The Brazilian football player Daniel Alves’ response to a racist attack became a trend topic on the social web. In a match where his team Barcelona was playing against Villareal, a spectator threw a banana at a player on the field, which is not something very uncommon in the history of European stadiums. His response, however, brought awareness to the attack, once he chose not to ignore it or feed the provocation with further aggression, but instead, he chose mockery: he ate the banana just before he kicked the ball.

Since long before Rabelais, mockery has been a powerful political tool, but it is often taken for granted by activists that claim it for seriousness. In fact, racism is a serious issue that needs to be addressed, especially in a continent where racism became a solid basis of a colonialist culture which prevails in a modern conception through different levels of nationalisms, which leads to intolerant attitudes, such as xenophobia, islamophobia, ghettification and other forms of exclusion. The contemporary glamorization of the age of Queen Victoria, whose empire rested upon the colonization and oppression of a big chunk of the world, is quite emblematic. With the financial crisis, with the failure of the European Union as a promising hegemonic block and with the present level of unemployment and gentrification in big urban centers, the rise of racism and intolerance bursts.

In 2014 the World Cup will be hosted by an emergent country, but on top of all it will be hosted by “the country of football”. Brazil is the only country which has been five times champion of the World Cup, and has in its tradition the name of the world’s best football player in history (Pelé), but it is also a country of multiple contradictions. Protests against predatory public investments in detriment of primary sectors such as health and education, as well as financial laundering involving the building of stadiums have taken over Brazilian streets since last year. The military police has been responding with violence and brutality, arresting hundreds of non-violent activists, throwing bombs of tear gas and rubber bullets at unarmed crowds. Through the use of force and a rigorous process of militarization of public spaces, the World Cup is about to take place, perhaps without the support of part of the youth that is usually engaged in the football culture; a culture which represents one of country’s main postcards.

It is not by accident that the incident of a Brazilian soccer player eating a banana has drawn so much attention. For one, it has brought visibility to the issue of racism, reverberating in the world’s main media sources, from the mainstream news agencies to Indy media and human rights’ social webs. The banana has been received with a rather critical laughter, laughter as in the Bakhtinian designation: Daniel Alves made a mockery of the banana thrower, emphasizing the ridiculousness of an action that was meant to offend him. He has brought to evidence that the only Neanderthal present in the stadium was the fascist that threw the banana. His response made people laugh, and it sure made people think about an issue that is often invisible: racism. Not only racism, but racism in the context of football in the year of a World Cup. The video quickly became viral in the social media landscape, and it has echoed through interesting debates. Overall the public opinion seemed to condemn the banana thrower, which expresses some progress in terms of where we are at as far as racism (which by all means, does not mean that public opinion is exempt from racism on a deeper level).

On the other hand, something awkward happened: apparently, Brazilian media was invaded by opportunistic white and not so white celebrities criticizing the banana throwing, with selfies and hashtags claiming that “we are all monkeys”. At a first glance, I thought that this was interesting; after all, we all come from monkeys, so there should be racial equality. The phrasing “we are all monkeys” with the verb to be in the present tense feeds the illusion that racial equality is already a reality. In Brazil, black people are still situated in the basis of the socioeconomic pyramid, occupying underpaid jobs and living in the slums. Black people are often victim of police violence, an institution that criminalizes poverty and is not color-blind by all means. As Edgar Morin stated, “we are all sapiens, sapiens demens”, we were all once monkeys, but we also transgress boundaries of “normalcy” (whatever that is). The guy who threw the banana at a football player has crossed the line, but this line remains quite blurry. This line is trivially crossed on a daily basis and no one does anything about it, least of all, Brazilian mainstream media. If Brazilian TV (Globo) avoids bringing this up and when they do, it reinforces it, why do they care now?

The answer, my friend, is publicity. There seems to be a publicity campaign to sell the image of Neymar, who by irony has publicly announced that he’s not black, as a symbol for racial equality. It is a campaign to advertise the World Cup and its merchandise, as a positive event, the perfect make-up after the death of a few workers during the construction of stadiums and the international repercussion of police violence against protesters related to the World Cup. This hypocritical campaign, however, had an interesting counter-effect, just like the banana that was thrown at the football player: it opened a gap to widely problematize racism on a political key, and criticize the media’s silence toward this touchy issue. Just like my Indian friend Kritika has pointed out: “When life throws bananas at you, eat them”. It is up to us- artists, intellectuals, educators and opinion shapers, to use this gap to politicize this debate. Don’t expect Fox News to do it for you. They won’t.


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