Cavani’s Racial Charge — An Injustice
When I was in secondary school, I was by far the most dark-skinned person in my school (at least as I remember it). Before I ventured out into the world of the workplace which made me encounter the Senegalese, Congolese and the Sudanese, the only person who I knew was darker than me is my cousin, Yinka.
My skin color is so striking that I was often described to others by the color of my skin.
“The boy who got first position in JSS 1M is that dark boy.”
It was the norm for teachers, classmates, and even parents of my classmates to call me “Baba Dudu”, whose import is lost in translation but is directly translated as “Black Father”.
Baba Dudu can be an endearing term or it could be an offensive term depending on the context.
Yes, context. That’s what determines if I will blush or boil.
This came to mind as I reflect on an incident involving the Uruguayan striker, Edinson Cavani.
On November 29, 2020, Manchester United was losing to Southampton by 0–2. Cavani was introduced at halftime and his introduction changed the course of the game at St Mary’s. Cavani scored twice, including the added-time winner, as United staged a stunning comeback running away with a 3–2 victory. It was a delightful victory celebrated by Man Utd fans all over the world, including on my newsfeed here.
Fresh from the victory, Cavani shared the victory images on Instagram and a fan congratulated him, to which Cavani responded, “gracias negrito!”.
That was when all hell broke loose. He was branded aa racist and the post was subsequently deleted.
Responding to the uproar, Cavani released a statement,
“The message I posted after the game on Sunday was intended as an affectionate greeting to a friend, thanking him for his congratulations after the game. The last thing I wanted to do was cause offence to anyone.
“I am completely opposed to racism and deleted the message as soon as it was explained that it can be interpreted differently. I would like to sincerely apologise for this.”
But the Football Association, the governing body of association football in England, would accept no such apology. On January 1, 2021, Cavani was suspended for three games and fined £100,000.
In their wisdom, the FA said,
“A comment posted on the Manchester United striker’s Instagram page was insulting, abusive, improper and brought the game into disrepute contrary to FA Rule E3.1.”
Cavani chose not to contest the charge out of respect for the FA and the “fight against racism in football”, with the Uruguayan posting an apology on social media late on Thursday.
“I do not want to extend much in this uncomfortable moment. I want to share with you that I accept the disciplinary sanction knowing that I am foreign to English language customs, but I do not share the point of view.
“I apologise if I offended someone with an expression of affection towards a friend, nothing further in my intention. Those who know me know that my effort always seeks the simplest joy and friendship!
“I appreciate the countless expressions of support and affection. My heart is at peace because I know that I always expressed myself with affection according to my culture and way of life. I send you a sincere hug.”
“My culture and way of life.”
The FA charge sounds ridiculous to me. Cavani wrote in Spanish, not in English to that fan.
Generally, negrito is not considered a racial slur in Latin America where Cavani comes from. In fact, where he comes from, it has a positive meaning.
“It’s about questions of translation or context,” said Mark Sawyer, director of the Center for the Study of Race, Ethnicity and Politics at the University of California Los Angeles.
He emphasized, “It’s often a term of endearment.”
It’s obvious that from the usage Cavani meant no harm. To therefore see the FA punitive punishment looks to me highhanded and overbearing.
Why should supposed standards of English language be imposed on a person’s native way of speaking?
It is ironic that the FA has committed injustice under the guise of fighting racism by refusing to note the complexities and contexts of this word.
Cavani was punished for speaking his own language because a word he used in his own language sounds racist in a language he does not speak.
Does that not sound racist AGAINST Cavani?
It’s also telling that the FA did not invite the fan in question to ask if he is offended or pleased that a superstar he adores responded to him on social media.
No, this is not only about football. It is a slippery slope the world is slipping into in the name of fighting for blacks.
Injustice should not be fought by injustice.
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