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Suarez: 'It's as clear as mud'

Tony Schumacher on what is - or isn't - in a word

Written by . Published on December 22nd 2011.

Suarez: 'It's as clear as mud'

I remember my first day working on cruise ships well. I said hello to my boss and she sent me off to find my cabin while she carried on drinking (it was that kind of job).

I disappeared below decks and started to look... and look... and look. Eventually I landed on the right deck and found my cabin door to be locked. I banged on the door... nothing. I pressed my ear to it and heard John Lennon, not THE John Lennon, just his greatest hits CD blaring out. 

While John sang "Stand By Me" I stood by the door instead. 

Surely, if a racist word is said with the intent to cause offence, the person saying it must be racist

I hammered again and again until eventually the music lowered slightly so I hammered once more and finally the door angrily flew open and an irate black man in a blue pair of Y fronts glared at me over the end of a Marlboro. 

"It's not f**king loud!" he shouted,

"It f**king well is!" I shouted back. 

He slammed the door in my face, and, although I didn't know it at the time, I had just met Norman. And he was going to become one of my greatest friends for life. 

Norman was Costa Rican, his father was black and his mother was mulatto (his words) and he was one of three brothers. We lived together for about six months in a space about seven feet by ten, him in the bottom bunk and me in the top, in each other's pockets 24 hours a day, seven days a week. 

He called me "Fawlty" after Basil Fawlty and I called him the Major (we had come into possession of a video of the two series of Fawlty Towers which had become our staple TV when drunk). 

Whenever Norman walked into a room where I was sitting he would shout: "Morning Fawlty!" and I would reply "Morning Major!" and he would laugh like a drain whilst the sundry nations that made up the crew would shake their heads at the Odd Couple. 

One melancholy night, a long way from his wife and daughters, as we sat on deck, drinking and looking at the stars, Norman said: "I hate being black Fawlty, all my family are light skinned. I'm the only one who looks black." 

I expressed surprise and he continued: "Where I am from it is seen as being a little bit poor, a little bit common, it makes life hard for you. I'm glad my kids are light skinned like their mother, I'd go crazy if my negritos were black." 

I'd never heard "negrito" before, I'd heard Norman use the other "N" word before though, we'd even discussed it one night. This was in the days before various rappers had reclaimed the word and I had been sitting in the bar when Norman had referred to a friend we were playing dominos with as a "Lucky n****r." 

"You can't say that!" I challenged.

John TerryJohn Terry"No." He replied pointing at me with his ever present Marlboro, "YOU can't say that." 

Later we had discussed the etiquette of various racial slurs, if etiquette could ever be used to describe such words, Norman had explained that only a real friend could use a derogatory term; he told me that using a word that should offend - and it not offending - was a way of showing the closeness of the two people speaking.

"You could call me a n****r and I would love you for it. It would show me how close we were. But if you called one of the Jamaicans in the bar one, they would stab you." 

"I wouldn't call anyone that! It's a terrible thing to say." 

"I know, and that is why I would love you, but you could call me it," he explained. "Do you understand Fawlty?" 

I didn't, and I never did call him it. 

"Negrito" further muddied the waters; Norman tried to explain that it was a real term of endearment, of love. 

"I would use it to my wife, it means I love you. Or about my kids, it means "my loves.” 

"But you are glad they aren't black!"

Why are you English so stupid?" he said, not for the first time to me. "You should learn Spanish, then you will understand." 

I still don't understand, and I'm not sure I ever will. 

The FA do though, apparently. They've managed to get to the bottom of the "negrito" conundrum before me (and also, incidentally,before they sorted out the alleged incident involving John Terry). 

I assumed they must have had access to someone who understood the nuances of Central and South American terms of endearment and insult, some etymologist who specialised in slang and banter. 

But after searching the FA's own site I'm even sure exactly who is on the disciplinary committee let alone know if any of them are experts, at time of writing I am waiting to hear back from them with some details of the decision makers in this matter. Although I'm prepared to wager there was nobody from Uruguay sitting at the long table in Soho square, in fact I'll bet there was no one black either. 

One can only assume that the Suarez matter was ushered through the disciplinary process so quickly because he had accepted using the term "negrito" to Evra, who, in his defence, has stated that he doesn't believe Suarez to be a racist. In essence what Evra is saying is that it isn't the person who is racist, it is the word. But surely, if a racist word is said with the intent to cause offence, the person saying it must be racist? 

Unless of course, the offensive word wasn't said to cause offence? 

Confusing isn't it? It's all about opinion, context, nuance and history. An awful lot to consider when peoples reputations and millions of pounds are at stake.

One has to be certain, and I don't understand how certain the FA can be if even the complainant in confused. 

Another thing I would have to ask is why, unlike the John Terry incident, is that if they FA are so certain why aren't the police involved? The FA have convicted Suarez of using racist language, so with that conviction must come the certainty that a serious offence has occurred. 

Anyone can make a complaint that another has used racist language, surely if all of those white men on the FA board of directors are so insistent in making a stand against racism they should take it all the way, unless of course they know it wouldn't stand up in a real, open court that didn't fear being criticised by a baited press. 

Alex FergusonAlex FergusonOf course what can we expect from a group of people about whom a well known Scottish manager recently growled: "The disciplinary panel is a dysfunctional unit. I don't know what they are doing. There is no consistency for a start and I didn't expect to get any. They can do what they want down there." 

And that's only what Alex Ferguson thinks, God knows what Kenny Dalglish has to say on the matter. 

I'm not here to defend Suarez, nor am I here to condemn Evra. I wasn't there, I never heard what was said, I never heard how it was said and I'm not sure I fully understand how it must have made Evra feel. 

But one thing I am certain about, if I couldn't understand and see the nuance through the clear blue sea of the Caribbean how could the FA see it through the muddy waters that surround it here?


Follow Tony Schumacher on Twitter @tonyshoey

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8 comments so far, continue the conversation, write a comment.

AnonymousDecember 22nd 2011.

It doesnt matter if suarez is a racist or not. It doesnt matter if in uragay a word or phrase is acceptable. In western europe where suarez has lived for years the use of the N word or any word that is or apears to be a derivation of it is extreamly offensive (and against the law in this country). The FA have punished suarez and quite right too.

I dont belive its a grey area and alot of whats been said by LFC and in the local press in his defence is embarasing for this city because people should be standing up and saying what he did was wrong.


1 Response: Reply To This...
Edward BarrettDecember 22nd 2011.

Completely understand your point-of-view, AD, and I largely agree with it. The exact nature of the word - or, as you put it 'any word that appears to be a derivation of [the N word]' - does matter, though, as does the intention, context, etc.

Evra is black; the Spanish word for black is 'negro'. To describe him as black is not an insult, in any language. To insult him, using his racial heritage as part of the insult, is.

Whether or not there is a grey area (interesting use of a colour metaphor, given the topic) may be clear to the FA committee, but it is currently far from clear to many people, as the full wording of the FA ruling, and the reasons for it, have not been released.

AnonymousDecember 22nd 2011.

Beyond the point of what 'negrito' could mean, the FA have not actual proof that he said anything to evra, and have condemned Suarez mainly to stop others from being racist, instead of actually punishing anyone for any racial-abuse claims

Christina CowanDecember 23rd 2011.

Thanks Tony for taking the time to write about this issue. I have been wanting to write about this for a few days but just haven't had the chance.
I was living in Uruguay for 6 years and with a Uruguayan partner in a totally Uruguayan community.
I therefore think that I am somewhat qualified to comment on this issue.
My name to my "family" in Uruguay is "negrita". They love me and they call me negrita like the scousers say "love" or "queen" or "princess" or any other such term of endearment. (I have white skin by the way for people who don't know me.)
The Uruguayans say "negrita" to anyone, white or black when they are chatting to you, trying to get your attention etc. They mean absolutely no harm when they say it.
Uruguay is a country of mainly white people, of European origin. However, they have people of Brazilian origin who are much darker (mulatto o moreno). These people will be called negrito in the same way that I am called negrito.
When I read about this incident with Suarez I read somewhere that the conversation went something like "Don't touch me you South American" by Evra, to which Suarez replied "Why Negrito?".
If I was investigating this incident and with my knowledge of the word "negrito" I would be questioning more what Evra meant by "You South American". To me, this sounds much more menacing and racist that Suarez's reply. So, why isn't Evra being investigated in the same way? Think about it.. if someone said to you on your holidays "Don't touch me you English!" would you feel offended?? I would want to know what on earth they wanted to say with a remark like that.
With regard to Suarez's other offence of showing the middle finger to the crowd, again, this is nowhere near as offensive in Uruguay as it is in the UK. The Uruguayans do this daily as if it is nothing. It means the same thing more or less but the people are not so offended there as they are here. It is not as strong.
And as regards to Suarez showing his finger to the crowd, I personally would want to do a lot more that show my finger if I was a footballer and I was having disgusting insults hurled at me by a crowd of uneducated animals who have no respect or morals.
I don't agree with putting the finger up but whilst football fans are shouting abuse like they do nowadays I think that footballers are justified in a reaction such as this one.
My question is "Why don't footballers receive any cultural guidance when arriving from other countries and playing in a totally different country to the one in which they have grown up? If the FA allows them to do this then the FA should prepare them sufficiently for the job before kicking them down when they make a mistake and making life very difficult for them when they are thousands of miles away from everything they know and their loved ones.
Suarez appears to have dealt with all of this in a mature and disciplined manner and he is a credit to Uruguay.
His fellow Uruguayans have backed him 100% and they all state that he is a good person who has displayed any act of racism during his whole career in Uruguay.
I only hope that he is able to somehow enjoy his Christmas here with his wife and daughter. When a nice person visits our country and they have to spend Christmas away from their home and family the last thing that we should be doing is making it worse for him!
Written By Christina Cowan (Evertonian!!!)(Club Nacional de Uruguay!)

Christina Cowan shared this on Facebook on December 23rd 2011.
Stuart CuleDecember 23rd 2011.

No reason to think that Suarez is racist in the sense of descriminating against different races on a daily basis but this case is actually quite clear. He has repeatedly sought to wind up an opponent by using a term that relates to his colour. The ignorance Suarez is using as his defence is not accepted.

After more than 4 years in Europe, he should know what is acceptable and if there was doubt his club should've educated him as to what the Kick Racism out of Football campaign was all about.

Suarez is a very talented player but his lengthening charge sheet tells you what sort of individual he is. His club should be getting him to change his ways rather than glorifying him.

NorthernGeezerJanuary 6th 2012.

I'm pretty sure that if Saurez used the word 'negrita' to Evra, it wasnt meant as a compliment, or a term of endearment.

London RoadJanuary 7th 2012.

Bear in mind a lot more stuff has come to light since before Christmas when this article was written and the comments were made. All people had was speculation before the full body of evidence came to light which was only a week or so ago

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