Monday, 13 February 2012

Suarez and the handshake that wasn't

In her novel about racism in the US Deep South of the 1930's To Kill a Mockingbird, Harper Lee has the lawyer Atticus Finch tell his daughter Scout, after her first day at school with the children of impoverished backwoods bigots, "You never really understand a person until you consider things from his point of view."
In Atticus Finch/Gregory Peck mode, I've been trying to put myself in the mind of the Liverpool fans who have supported their Uruguayan striker Luis Suarez after he was found guilty by the FA of racially abusing the Manchester United defender Patrice Evra and his refusal at Old Trafford on Saturday to shake Evra's hand before the match.
Things that, however irrelevant, one-sided or just plain wrong, might make the attitude of Liverpool fans understandable from their point of view and explain, if not justify, their wearing of Justice for Suarez T-shirts and subsequent booing of Evra could include:
  • The FA/media/Government being biased against Liverpool Football Club and in favour of Manchester United (or even anti-Liverpool and pro-Manchester);
  •  The reputation of Evra for being confontational and deliberately provoking opponents;
  • Alex Ferguson and United fans using the dispute to score points against Liverpool, and in particular their manager Kenny Dalglish;
  •  That Suarez not only had the right not to shake Evra's hand (even if he had said beforehand that he would) but that to do so would have been hypocritical;
  •  That the word "Negro" can be used in Uruguay in a friendly context as the equivalent of "pal" to either white or black people.
The last point is to me the crux.  The other things can be argued over but it is impossible to maintain that the repeated use of the word "Negro" by Suarez to Evra (there is no dispute between the players or clubs that it was used and repeatedly)  took place in a friendly context rather than the heat of a Liverpool-Manchester United match and a confrontation between Suarez and Evra.

It is of course a common narrative on the far-right to turn the victims of racism into culprits. As well as exposing and challenging that poison, we also need to eradicate the poverty and lack of education that serve as its breeding grounds.

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