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.
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.