Race-work, Race-love

Archive for July, 2012|Monthly archive page

‘It’s Just a Nickname”: AntiBlackness & AntiAsian Racism in Latin American Soccer

In Uncategorized on July 8, 2012 at 1:33 am

Soccer is probably one of the most ignored arenas in the study of racism. A sport that has the ability unify families and friends, reinforce nationalism, and where instant gratification is not a cultural norm, it is also the place where the most vile racist moments have occurred.

As a race analyst and avid soccer fan since I was a little girl I have followed how racism plays out, how certain racial ideologies continue to be reinforced, and how easy it is to ignore the blatant racism that many soccer players of color face in this particular sport.  For example, it was common to hear people’s audible surprise when they saw Black Ecuadorians march out to represent their country.  “I didn’t know Ecuador was an African country” was a comment that was said quite often of the team.  Fans are very often faced with these kind of racial assaults. But the soccer players get it worse.

Black soccer players have been on the forefront of calling out these racial assaults. Mario Balotelli,for example, an Italian soccer player of Ghanian descent, has been quoted as saying “I will not accept racism at all…If someone throws a banana at me in the street, I will go to jail because I will kill them.”

Mark von Bommel, captain of the Netherlands soccer team, has pointed out how people, namely reporters and fans, try to ignore racial assaults on Black soccer players by saying “Open your ears. If you did hear it, and don’t want to hear it, that is even worse.”

The UEFA (The Union of European Football Associations) has since tried to reinforce a zero tolerance policy and began an anti-racism campaign.  The UEFA has acknowledged the following: “UEFA has a zero tolerance policy when it comes to discriminatory behavior and has given the power to referees to stop matches in case of any repeated racist behavior.”

FIFA has a similar policy.  FIFA states:Discrimination of any kind against a country, private person or group of people on account of ethnic origin, gender, language, religion, politics or any other reason is strictly prohibited and punishable by suspension or expulsion.

But what if the referees do not know what racism is?  Or what it sounds like when racism happens?  How are we sure that FIFA fully understands what racial discrimination looks like on the field?

To answer this question we can look to UEFA 2012 Euro Cup. The final game was between Spain and Italy.  The  first gol — made by David “El Chino” Silva, a player for the Spanish national team.

David Josué Jiménez Silva was the first player to make a gol for the Spanish team during the UEFA 2012 Euro Cup. His gol against Italy firmly placed him among the elite of soccer players – and as a player to keep an eye out for in the 2014 FIFA World Cup.

At first read, his heritage is not so clear.  Then, you hear the announcer yell “El Chino!”

“GOLLLLLLL de El Chino SILVA!!!!!”

When I first heard this, I thought my mind was playing tricks on me.

“El Chino EL Chino EL Chino lo hizo!!”

Woah, I thought.  Are they calling Silva  — El Chino?

So of course I went on the hunt. According to different sources David Josué Jiménez Silva’s mother is of Japanese descent.

Japanese descent.  His mother was not born in Japan.  But, she is of Japanese descent.

Yet, Silva’s nickname in the soccer world is “El Chino”.

Hearing him being called El Chino by announcers and other twitter soccer fans so many times made me a bit uncomfortable.  So I tweeted the following:

First tweet: “It’s common in Spain & Latin America to call anyone of Asian descent “Chino”. Wonder if he is cool with being called Chino Silva. Hmph.”

Second tweet: “Silva is the player that made the gol for Spain. Announcers keep calling him “Chino”. Racism in soccer is very common. ‪#Euro2012‬ ‪#euroESPN‬

Third tweet: Balotelli, Italian soccer player, has been very outspoken on racism he received as a Black soccer player. But they wouldn’t call him “Negro” openly.

Fourth tweet: “Silva, who is of Japanese descent on other hand, gets openly called “Chino”. It’s getting on my nerves. ‪#Euro2012‬ ‪#euroESPN‬

Those tweets made people respond in the following ways:

From Octinomos@DennesDeMennes@BlancaVNYC it’s called a nickname #euroESPN

Then I received another one that has since been deleted.  The twitter responder wrote something insanely derogatory about people of Asian descent to justify Silva being called El Chino.

Finally, another who also seemed to have deleted his response tweeted that yes the player does get called El Chino, but he felt that it was only meant as a nickname and not as a “racial slur”.

It’s interesting that my second tweet, as shown above, created a racial stir, enough to get these kinds of responses and a retweet (but with no comment in return).

If the twitter interaction above is any indication, racial confusion is alive and well, particularly as it affects people of Asian descent.  We do not know fully know how racism is affecting Black soccer players; but it is very empowering to see that certain players are responding to these racial assaults not just through interpersonal interaction but through media and even the soccer federations.

But what about other soccer players of color?  It is becoming increasingly clearer that “it’s just a nickname” needs to be further analyzed.  Would referees or announcers know when they are racially microaggressing a player?

And what if Silva said it was ok to call him “El Chino”? Would it make the nickname more acceptable?

I contend that even if Silva is “ok” with being called “El Chino” it is still not suitable for a soccer federation and its announcers to continue to call him “El Chino”, particularly if they are trying to build anti-racist campaigns.  For one, Silva is not Chinese.  He is not even of Chinese descent.  Calling Silva “El Chino” continues to perpetuate the racial ideology in Spain and Latin America and among Latinos in the U.S. that it is appropriate for us to continue to call Asians “Chinos” simply because it is easier.

Secondly, we don’t call white soccer players “El Blanco” and we do not overtly call Black soccer players “El Negro” (I say overtly because words like “Negro” are still being hurled at players in private). Why is this acceptable to do to players of Asian descent?

Finally, this example points to the well-rehearsed perspective that is commonly attributed to people of Asian descent, particularly those in the US  — that of the “passive” Asian.  By saying, on Silva’s behalf no less, that it is “just a nickname” we take it upon ourselves to speak for a whole race of people. It denies the vast impact that racism has on its soccer players of color. By us ignoring this “one incident” we deny the opportunity for referees and soccer announcers to learn about the different ways racism manifests; the ways that racism differentially and differently impact people of color.

A nickname may not be a racial slur.  But is it possible that the cumulative impact of accepting a nickname such as “El Chino” could end up resulting in a slur?  In a racial assault?  In racial violence?

David Silva has an excellent record in soccer.  But since he has helped Spain win the UEFA Cup and with his very distinct “nickname” we might see a different kind of racism appearing more publicly as we did with basketball player Jeremy Lin of the Knicks. In a way, Silva’s nickname (while signaling an alert to racial analysts) could also bring attention to the ways that racism impacts athletes of Asian descent.  To do this, we must first begin with critiquing, analyzing, dissecting nicknames with racist tones with which we have become all too familiar and comfortable.

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