Luis Suarez Charged with Racism: Examining Both Sides of the Case

Nigel S. @@aikibroCorrespondent INovember 17, 2011

Manchester United's Patrice Evra (l) and Liverpool's Luis Suarez during the teams October 15, 2011 1-1 draw at Anfield.
Manchester United's Patrice Evra (l) and Liverpool's Luis Suarez during the teams October 15, 2011 1-1 draw at Anfield.Clive Brunskill/Getty Images

The English Football Association has formally charged Liverpool striker, Luis Suárez with racially abusing Manchester United defender, Patrice Evra, during last month’s match between the two clubs. A statement on the FA’s website reads:

The FA has today charged Liverpool’s Luis Suárez following an incident that occurred during the Liverpool versus Manchester United fixture at Anfield on 15 October 2011.

It is alleged that Suárez used abusive and/or insulting words and/or behaviour towards Manchester United’s Patrice Evra contrary to FA rules.  

It is further alleged that this included a reference to the ethnic origin and/or colour and/or race of Patrice Evra.

The FA will issue no further comment at this time.

There is no dispute that something was said, and according to the Guardian (citing sources at Old Trafford), that something was the word “negrito”, Spanish for “little black guy”. 

The dispute thus seems to center on whether Suárez intended the word in a racially abusive manner.The intent of the Uruguayan is therefore being called into question, as is the particular context of the usage.  But the question can reasonably be asked, “Does it even matter?” 

The context similarly may be useful to understanding what the intent was, but in this particular circumstance would hardly prove helpful to Suárez’ cause.

For beginners, let us begin by acknowledging the convoluted and often uncomfortable situation of being “Black in Latin America.”  Harvard sociologist Henry Louis Gates poked at this hornet’s nest with his widely-acclaimed, if controversial documentary series which dealt with the issue.

It is widely recognized in the area of US Constitutional law that “discreet and insular minorities” are often the victims of oppression by the majority. Their small numbers mean that they are generally unsuccessful at protecting their interests at the polls due to limited political power.

This situation applies to Afro-Uruguayans. According to the CIA World Factbook, people who are identified as “black” constitute a mere 4 percent of the Uruguayan population, and while there may be little overt racism being practiced, the subtle racism pervades. 

As of 1993 only 65 Afro-Uruguayans had graduated from college. There were no black members of the Uruguayan Congress, no black political or union leaders, and fewer than 50 black professionals.  In the entire country.

Thus is it easy to understand how an objectively offensive word like “negrito” could find favor and currency among the 88 percent white population, and why Suárez could state with a straight face (and mean it) that he did not use a racist word against Evra.

This is why his intentions are immaterial.  His defense is that where he’s from the term isn’t offensive.  But has he ever asked an Afro-Uruguayan?  Even if they found the term offensive, would there be anything that this historically marginalized person could do about it?

But all of this is beside the point, ignorance of the law is no defense, to invoke another legal truism.  The fact is that it is against the law in England to direct racist words towards another.  Just because he may not have been aware of this fact does not absolve him of guilt.

It seems disingenuous for Suárez to essentially argue that he was unaware that what was acceptable in Uruguay was viewed as racist in Europe. How could he NOT be aware of the controversial nature of such terms, after plying his trade for over five years in Europe? 

Besides, this is where the context of the conversation hurts him...are we really to believe that he was being “chummy” with Evra during their heated exchanges?

And what of Patrice Evra?  Some have pointed to the fact that this is the fourth time that he is (from their perspective) crying wolf on the issue of racism.  It is really a meaningless point however, as there appears to be no dispute as to what was said.  Evra is not lying.

Just as some have argued that the charge is without merit since “no other Manchester United player has backed up Evra’s charge,” similarly no United player has supported Suárez’ claim that he “called him something his team-mates at Manchester call him, and even they were surprised by his reaction."

If the allegations as they have appeared in the media are true then it is unlikely that Suárez has a leg to stand on, and the FA should act accordingly.  There is no room for racism in football, and in the least, this should serve as a wake-up call to footballers for them to clean up their acts.

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