I have been called nigger exactly 4 times in my life.
–The first was when I was very young, no more than 10, and strayed into a swimming pool locker room area, when my neighborhood was still wrestling with integration. It was accompanied by physical violence upon my person. I was stunned and confused in my youthful innocence.
–The second was as a middle teen, when a very young Hispanic kid in the neighborhood that was still wrestling with its change, decided he would mimic his parents. It was just silly, and moderately vexing.
–The third was tangential, more than 25 years ago when my first wife (who is white) was labeled a “Nigger lover” by a passing carload of enlightened souls. I called upon all the cycling speed that I had in an attempt to catch up with the car, having no idea what I would do when I got there.
–The fourth was about three years ago, whereupon I just looked at the guy and said something to the effect of “Is that all you have, a 300-year-old word? How about a real insult?”
Reactions change over time.
When I first started going to matches at the Camp Nou, one of my very first matches in fact, a young, wealthy kid made monkey gestures at me to his father. The father chastised him, and I went on with enjoying the match, and subsequently losing my car, but that’s another story.
People who say, in the Sergi Busquets debate, that he must not have called Marcelo a “mono” because of the way Marcelo reacted, I am going to go out on a limb and suggest that they don’t quite understand the scar tissue that forms on your soul over time. But there are other possibilities.
–Perhaps he didn’t respond because in fact, it didn’t happen.
–Perahps he didn’t respond because he didn’t want his club to go down a man.
–Perhaps he didn’t respond because in a sport in which monkey chants at Brazilian and black players verges on routine, he’s so used to it that it doesn’t even faze him any longer. As Dani Alves, who was the subject of monkey chants at the most recent El Clasic in their house said, you just can’t react to that crap.
When Jose Mourinho accused us of being in cahoots with UEFA in a cabal working with referees to guarantee us a path to European success, our board called an “extraordinary” meeting to collectively condemn the charges as well as issuing a complaint of our own to UEFA.
These charges were so absurd that for us to issue a huffy denial just made the club look as stupid and petty as the people making the allegations.
For me and I can only assume many cules, the Busquets allegations are an immense leap more serious than the UEFA nonsense. These charges strike at the very core of our “mes que un club”-ness.
FC Barcelona is a global entity. It pays UNICEF to be carried on the shirt. It has foundations such as MES (I have two jackets, one match shirt, four t-shirts and a cap) that helps sports and education in the Third World. It has a foundation in affiliation with its former striker, Samuel Eto’o. It presents itself, whatever the meaning and derivation that any individual attaches to “mes que un club,” as so much more than a football club. FC Barcelona is a citizen of the world, and an eminently responsible one.
It’s something of which, aside from the sporting accomplishments that bring cules such pride, we can point to and stick our chests out even further. It’s part of the pride and joy that made me decide to become a soci. How can anyone not want to support such a cause? The club wins on and off the pitch.
But FC Barcelona also has an unpleasant history of monkey chants at the Camp Nou. It must be said that this is also different from the Busquets charges. What fans in the stands do is one thing. What a player in the employ of the club does is precisely another. As one of the representatives of that club as it takes its stand on the global stage, if that person is alleged to have made a racist remark at an opponent, the club should take the matter very seriously, far more seriously than a sore loser carping about credulity-shattering conspiracies.
This is because in the face of all of our humanist enterprises, it should be noted that racism is a simple question of humanity. Racists try to take it by making their targets sub-human. In the U.S., for too much of its history, blacks were considered 3/5ths of a human. But at least it was a human, right?
Not a monkey.
The debate in the aftermath of my last post has been edifying, and honest. It’s also struck new levels of forthrightness for any blog that I have ever visited. It’s been brilliant, to say the least, in keeping with this space and its denizens. The best part is that we don’t all agree. We aren’t supposed to.
For the record, I don’t really give a crap what Busquets did or didn’t say. The video is there for people to watch. Different people watch the same video and reach different conclusions.
At this point, at this crucial time, it is what the club says that is most important in this matter. Because this isn’t a matter of guilt or innocence, it’s a matter of faith in your institutions. And right now, my faith is on very, very shaky ground.
I first signed up for my soci card because I had faith in FC Barcelona as an institution as much as a sporting enterprise. That made it worth being a soci even if I never got to take advantage of any of the benefits of membership. Its exploits brought me joy on the pitch, and I could explain to people what this MES business was and meant, and also feel joy.
Further, this time is such a crucial one because in light of its president’s comments about African players in La Masia (something else swept under the rug by events), and the club’s decision to attempt to control foreign membership, it isn’t entirely inappropriate to ask what our role as a global institution is right now, and is it still a humanitarian one?
So, so much from one simple-but-serious allegation.
Qatar Foundation has pride of place on our shirts now, with UNICEF relegated to secondary status, pending decisions by sanctioning bodies in governance of the Liga and European competitions. People have been snickering and saying “See, you guys are just another club. You sold the shirt.”
I defended the club against those claims, making it clear that “mes que un club” stood for so much more than a mere slogan. I still believe that, even if my faith is so, so shaky. That club has a responsibility to restore the faith that I, and so many other of its devoted supporters, are questioning right now.
People ask “How can Busquets be a racist when he has played with Henry, Eto’o, The Yaya, etc, etc?” And that’s a valid question. The answer is “I don’t care, because this isn’t about Busquets.”
Can someone say racist things and not be a racist? You betcha. If it happened at all, he might have been trying to wind up Marcelo to get him carded, something Busquets has been rather adroit at in Champions League semi-finals. And when you want to get someone wound up, you choose the most hateful, hurtful thing to make that happen. It isn’t beyond the realm of possibility. But there again, I don’t care.
My still-beloved club has an obligation here. As someone who remembers the monkey chants leveled at Roberto Carlos, my cule heart swelled with pride as we rolled out with Eto’o, Henry, The Yaya and Abidal, all in the same starting lineup. Not because I’m black, but because that decision went beyond sporting desires. It showed that this club was indeed “mes que un club,” that despite what some people in the stands might say and/or feel, the club says that these players are who we want to go to war with and they deserve your respect and accolades.
At Tuesday’s match, the ovation for Eric Abidal was soul-stirring. It was one of the club’s best collective moments, full stop. Abidal has been effusive in his statements on what the club has done and meant for him and his family, and said that he wants to retire here, even before the tumor surgery/scare. Guardiola dedicated winning the tie, against the club’s most-hated rival, to Abidal and his family.
That club can’t be in any way, shape or form tolerant of racism, right? Exactly, says our faith. But if the Busquets allegation is so absurd, so beyond the bounds of credulity that the club can’t be bothered to respond to such silliness, then why did it respond to the so-much-more impossibly stupid Mourinho ones about cabals?
Because the club was besmirched, right? Well, the club is being besmirched right now, in a way that spits in the face of every humanitarian effort and gesture that it has made. Defend the shirt. Players sweat and bleed for it, supporters scream, exult and cry over the shirt, rich men in paneled boardrooms do battle, all over the shirt. And right now, the shirt is under attack, because these allegations spit on the club crest as surely as if someone strolled out to the middle of the Camp Nou pitch and defaced the crest.
Busquets and Marcelo can say and do what they want. Silence from those players doesn’t say very much. But silence from FC Barcelona, a sporting and humanitarian entity on the world stage, speaks volumes. It speaks with a sadness-inducing eloquence that, for this cule and soci, is heartbreaking.