Racism in any context is upsetting. It is, plain and simple, something that makes right-minded folks angry. But what’s particularly vexing about Donald Sterling’s racist remarks is he employs African-Americans. That he’s a racist is a problem by itself, but that he’s a racist with power over black people is an issue that needs to be remedied as swiftly as possible.
The stereotypical ignorant uncle is not like Donald Sterling in one crucial way. When he whiskey-grumbles some slur at Thanksgiving dinner, he is, in the grand scheme of things, not inflicting much harm. He’s being a jerk, which is reason enough to tell him to quiet down, but he is ultimately just some guy whose opinion doesn’t count for much.
The sort of people who throw bananas at black athletes are the ignorant uncles of the world. On Sunday, some dolt in the crowd at Villarreal’s Estadio El Madrigal tossed some yellow fruit at Barcelona’s Dani Alves as he was lining up to take a corner. Alves, who says he’s faced abuse like this his whole career, proceeded to eat the banana, forever redefining the notion of what it means to be a creative wingback. After the game, it was reported the fan has been banned for life from the Madrigal.
Aside from Alves devouring racism whole, this was not an atypical event. It’s a thing that happens, particularly in Europe, from time to time, along with fans making monkey noises at black players. UEFA, FIFA and the various national soccer federations try to crack down on it. In this situation, Villarreal did well to kick the fan out and make it clear he’s no longer welcome at their matches, but that is all they can do besides playing in front of empty bleachers, which would be unfair to their thousands of fans who aren’t human hemorrhoids. FIFA president Sepp Blatter (who described the act as “an outrage”) thinks soccer can change the world, and it’s the one thing I think he’s not entirely wrong about, but it can’t expunge racism from a culture.
Alves said the best he can do is take this kind of dumb spectator rage in stride, but in a wonderful development, some of his colleagues are making sure he doesn’t have to do it alone. When Brazilian club Corinthians saw the incident, the team got together and posed with bananas, using the hashtag #SomosTodosMacacos. (Em Inglês: We are all monkeys.) The hashtag went viral, and now, all over Instagram and Twitter, there are photos of players with bananas.
This is obviously great, in that it transforms a grim story into one about a community of professionals standing up to a cowardly fool. But what I like about it most is it lays bare the inherent silliness of throwing a banana at an athlete in an attempt to dehumanize them. Because first, who doesn’t enjoy a banana? And second, the banana is one goofy-looking fruit. I defy you to resemble a serious person while holding one. It can’t be done.
This Donald Sterling saga is going to drag out because the NBA can’t simply seize his team tomorrow. He’s an entrenched racist. But an idiot in the stands? You only have to point out the absurdity of his conduct in order to trivialize him and his backward views.
We can’t neutralize the effects of racism. Dani Alves seemed not to care too much about the banana — he was really locked in over that corner kick — but no one would have blamed him if he was upset. All we — fans, players, media and executives — can do is remind Alves and players like him that racial abuse usually comes only from one or a small handful of loud morons whose opinions don’t count for much. And if we can have a laugh as we do that, all the better.