Another media “race row”
June 7, 2012 – What is it about football+racism that makes UK media coverage of it seem like something from the Dark Ages?
Do words contain demons? Do the terms “negrito” and “negro” contain metaphysical essences of badness? Are these words “offensive” regardless of context and the language in which they’re spoken? From reading the UK press lately, you might think so…
It’s not just the tabloids. The “liberal” Guardian and Independent have run some of the more hysterical (and error-riddled) material – eg see my previous article on ‘churnalism’ for details. (The Guardian published over a hundred pieces on the Suarez “affair” without once mentioning key, hysteria-defusing facts about the case).
This morning’s newspapers “report” a new “race row”. It’s also, apparently, a “race storm”. The Daily Star makes front page “news” of the story, but then few people take The Star seriously – unless the intention is to masturbate. The Independent, you hope, is different. Let’s parse the Indie’s “reporting” of the story, to see if we can figure out what’s going on:-
Dani Pacheco’s use of the word “negrito” in a Twitter message to team-mate Glen Johnson forced the young Spaniard to defend himself on the social networking site [...]
He tweeted: “@glen-johnson good luck negrito!!!!” (Independent, 6/6/2012)
Okay. So, why am I reading this in a ‘quality’ newspaper? “Negrito” can be used as a term of affection – with no racially offensive connotations – by Spanish-speakers (see examples cited by FA’s linguistic experts, below). Pacheco apparently felt he had to respond (or “defend himself”) to a few culturally-ignorant Twitter users. It’s just the usual social-media bullshit, no? The Independent piece continued:-
Liverpool team-mate Luis Suarez was banned for eight matches for using the same word towards Manchester United’s Patrice Evra in a match at Anfield in October. (Independent, 6/6/2012)
Wrong. It might help if the Independent got its facts right. One of the few things that the FA panel, Suarez and Evra apparently agreed on was that Suarez had used the term “negro”, not “negrito”. I thought newspaper reporters were supposed to actually read the official documentation they report on.
The Uruguay international [Suarez] unsuccessfully argued “negrito” was not a derogatory term in the Spanish language, despite its racial connotations in English. (Independent, 6/6/2012)
Hopelessly wrong. Suarez successfully “argued” (or, rather, simply stated) that the term “negro” was commonly used in Spanish (particularly in Latin-American usage) in a non-derogatory, non-offensive, non-racial way. The language experts employed by the FA (his prosecutors) agreed with him on this. Here’s what they said:-
“The term ['negro', Spanish] can also be used as a friendly form of address to someone seen as somewhat brown-skinned or even just black-haired. It may be used affectionately between man and wife, or girlfriend/boyfriend, it may be used as a nickname in everyday speech, it may be used to identify in neutral and descriptive fashion someone of dark skin”. (Paragraph 172 of FA panel’s report)
“…the use of ‘negro’ as described here by Mr Suarez would not be offensive. Indeed, it is possible that the term was intended as an attempt at conciliation and/or to establish rapport”. (Para 190 of FA panel’s report)
On the term “negrito”, the FA panel wrote:-
A Mexican footballer, Omar Esparza, is widely known in Mexico as “el Negrito”. Hernandez, the Manchester United player, has been a close friend of Omar Esparza for many years and refers to him as “el Negrito” in an affectionate way. Hernandez admitted that terms such as “Negrito” can be used with close friends and in certain situations without it being offensive. (Para 353 of FA panel’s report)
All of this is just a click away for newspaper reporters. They also have automated word-searches to make it easier to find the relevant paragraphs (containing “negrito” and “negro”). It’s not difficult to get it right. And isn’t racism supposed to be a serious business? Perhaps worth a bit of elementary fact-checking? Anyway, back to the Independent’s piece:-
When Pacheco received a couple of critical comments in response to his message he wrote: “I Allready (sic) explained in past what Negrito could mean. Good or bad depends how you say it. I always called @glen-johnson it in terms of love.
“Last tweet about it. @glen-johnson speaks Spanish and he knows what that mean when I say it to him. He is one of best mates there for me.” (Independent, 6/6/2012)
So, Pacheco “received a couple of critical comments” from people ignorant of Spanish. This seems to be the full extent of the “race storm” – once you subtract the media hysteria.
I notice that the Telegraph and Daily Mail also covered the story – using the same wording (and errors) as the Independent (that’s probably because they all seem to have sourced the story from this Press Association release). Update: The Mirror ran the story using its own (slightly moronic) “Liver-fool” headline.
Even the Huffington Post covered it, referring to the “negrito” tweet as “another racial PR gaffe” for Liverpool. Hmm… but it wasn’t “racial”, it wasn’t “PR”, and it wasn’t a “gaffe”. Meanwhile, to digress slightly, the BBC’s Panorama documentary has been accused of sensationalism over its football-racism claims.