Whether Luis Suarez is a racist or merely the victim of cultural misunderstanding is irrelevant in the wider context of racial equality.
The murky water that will leave Luis Suarez stranded from premier league action for eight games has raised the question of what exactly constitutes racism. The notion that ‘my negrito’ is a commonly used phrase within the South American vernacular has provided those who support or at least empathize with Suarez with an easy kop out that suggests the Liverpool striker to be a victim of cultural misunderstanding. It should be noted however that the villain of this particular piece has been living in Europe for the last four years, and by now should be aware of such sensitivities surrounding such terminology. I would argue that the above arguments both against and in defence of Suarez detract from a much more pressing point about the value of black people within both South American culture and our own in Britain.
If we are to consider the fact that black communities within South American countries such as Uruguay have not experienced the same scale of social mobility or political uprising in comparison to those in the United Kingdom we can begin to scratch the surface on an overwhelmingly complicated issue that shapes our fundamental understanding and attitude toward race and colour. In England we are challenged to question the way in which we address the black community, as their cultural prominence within society provides them with a platform from which they can express what they deem offensive or acceptable. This voice is essential if minority groups are to stand any chance of being heard above what in reality is an all to often a cruel, intolerant and racially divided world.
Whether Luis Suarez is guilty of a racially motivated barrage of verbal abuse or merely the victim of a cultural misunderstanding becomes irrelevant in the broader context of a person’s value within any given society. We must not be afraid when looking at cultural differences to be critical of the values that we deem to contradict our own. The fact that the English seemingly stood alone in our outrage toward Sepp Blatter’s latest racial faux pas should not be interpreted as us being out of step with the rest of the world, but as a reflection of a society in which those who are susceptible to racial abuse are invited to shape what we as a whole deem acceptable. I would consider the language used toward Patrice Evra to be patronizing in the least, and at most an insight into a pecking order which black people most certainly do not top the list. This is not to accuse a nation or even an individual of being racist, but we must question the idea that even in a seemingly ‘friendly’ or affectionate context that it is acceptable to refer to or define someone primarily by the colour of their skin.