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#WeAreAllMonkeys: Swallowing Racism Can’t Be the Only Way to Beat It

When faced with a spectator who threw a banana at him during a football match, Brazillian soccer star, Dani Alves, merely picked up the banana and ate it.

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Racism is a pervasive stain in European football. During matches, European football spectators frequently make “monkey noises” against black players on the field, and often throw bananas at them. With little action from their football clubs, players are expected to just deal with it on their own. So when Alves actually ate the banana thrown at him during a match, the world rejoiced.

Alves later explained his actions to the media:

“We have suffered this in Spain for some time. You have to take it with a dose of humor. We aren’t going to change things easily.”

Neymar Júnior, a footballer who plays with Alves, posted a humorous photo of himself eating a banana, with the hashtag, #Weareallmonkeys. The post went viral, as did the hashtag. Fans and footballers across the world are now posting under the hashtag #Weareallmonkeys to express solidarity with Alves, and expose the racism in football.

The message is “if you can’t beat racism, just eat it.”

And yet, there is something very uncomfortable about white people posing with bananas and declaring that “we are all monkeys.” We may all have evolved from monkeys, but only black people are ever associated with monkeys from a historical white supremacist viewpoint. Black football players in Europe are the ones who have to actually deal with being reduced to a racist caricature every time they step on the field. It makes more sense to acknowledge this racialized reality than hide behind the hashtag #Weareallmonkeys.

When faced with racism, Alves did not hide. Kudos to him for the way he handled the situation, with such humor and class. He didn’t stoop to the level of the spectator, and now there is more discussion about racism in soccer than ever before. Yet, his response is squarely in the “white-centered comfort zone,” in that it is a response that most white people can understand. Perhaps Alves realizes that in his world, people who react negatively to racism get abused much more than the abusive racist spectator. His response to the banana-throwing is the only sanctioned response to racism, and therein lies the other problem with #Weareallmonkeys.

We cannot preach how Alves or people of color should respond to racism, and this is where “We are all monkeys” fails to inspire any real change. Alves’ response to the racism cannot be the only sanctioned response to racism in football. We should not expect to just “swallow racism” and go about our day. We should expect football clubs and associations to deal with the situation seriously and swiftly.

In the recent past, Mario Baloteli, a black Italian footballer, who faces much racism from spectators and the media, has made it clear that he won’t eat the bananas thrown at him:

 “I will not accept racism at all. It’s unacceptable. If someone throws a banana at me in the street I will go to jail because I will kill them.”

Unlike Alves, Baloteli faced much outcry for his no nonsense response to racism. He was even taunted with bananas after his comments. Yet, no fans or football professionals started a hashtag in support of Balotelli. In fact, when Balotelli expressed that he would leave the field if racially abused during the UEFA European Championships in 2012, Michel Platini, the president of UEFA at the time, threatened to make the referee book him. Balotelli was expected to deal with racism as a consummate “professional” — to not react in the face of adversity, not acknowledge the racism thrown at him, and to carry on indulging the spectators as if he was partaking in a minstrel show.

Balotelli shouldn’t be expected to deal kindly with racism, and to just swallow it. Nor should Alves or any black footballers who are pelted with bananas frequently. As people of color, we should not be expected to stand tall in the face of such virulent attacks or turn the other cheek.

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By Prerna Lal

Prerna Lal is undocumented, unafraid and unapologetic. As a founder of DreamActivist, Prerna helped to create a robust network of highly-organized and diverse undocumented youth with digital engagement capacity. Since then, her model of organizing has been used by immigration organizations across the country to end deportations. Her work and commentary for immigrant rights has been featured in newspapers such as The New York Times, USA Today, CNN, and magazines such as the US News and World Report, as well as international outlets in a dozen countries.

Prerna currently resides in Washington D.C. with her same-sex U.S. citizen partner, and has been a Board Director at Immigration Equality, an organization that works on issues around LGBT immigrants, since 2010. She is currently working on publishing her first book.

One reply on “#WeAreAllMonkeys: Swallowing Racism Can’t Be the Only Way to Beat It”

Insightful commentary. Though you’re right– I can’t say that what Alves did wasn’t enough, because I’m not in his shoes–when I first heard about this, I was a little disappointed by his response. Not disappointed, but kind of annoyed that he felt he couldn’t do more. Or something. I don’t know. What I do know, however, is that we only accept, like you say, a “white-approved” rejection of racism. There’s something really visceral I feel about this notion of literally (?) swallowing racism. Why must this man swallow this bitterness? That’s what people of color have to do–swallow it. Always swallow it. Or else. Look at the other athlete you mentioned–Baloteli gets no support–because he performed an unsanctioned act of defiance. We must always comport ourselves as people of color, even in the face of pure vitriol–because even our “friends” or “teammates” (NOT allies, by the way, because they wouldn’t do this) only like us when we are meek lambs (of course, we can be lions on the field–that’s where our unbridled, raw power is appreciated in all of its unfiltered glory). When we comport our bodies and thoughts. Kind of makes me think of Richard Sherman. Another unruly black body. Again, thanks for the insightful piece.

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