First let’s clear up some misconceptions: as a term of address, Negro in South America means ‘man of the people’, ‘salt of the earth’, an archaic reference to the dark skin of the natives who lived there before the Europeans colonised. As such it is now used as a casual interjection to mean mate, pal, dude. I’m a Negro, you’re a Negro. That guy who wears crocs and socks and doesn’t know where the local bar is, he’s no Negro, but we are. There are no negative undertones, and any racial connection was lost a century ago. In fact these days it’s more often a term of endearment – what’s for certain is that in South America Luis Suarez would happily refer to himself as a Negro. Of course that doesn’t mean it was being used as such when he was not chin-wagging with Evra, nor that Suarez isn’t a twat, which he is, but to avoid any confusion, the word itself isn’t racist.
Calling someone a black c*** is, of course, racist. Black as a word is not insulting, but to use it as part of an insult turns the whole phrase into a racist taunt. So, to say black man isn’t racist, but to say black c*** is. Unless you are a remarkably tactless gynaecologist specialising in African women. But that doesn’t happen. Similarly, you can be wantonly racist without using any racial language at all, you know who you are.
But what’s the big deal? I thought we’d got past all this racist nonsense long ago. Racism isn’t prevalent in football, just look at the Premier League: there are no pay differences between colours or creeds, all nationalities and races play alongside each other, hugging and celebrating together and suffering defeat in mutual support. If ever there were a pluralistic ideal its football.
But there’s obviously a problem, because if there are no racist actions in football, that doesn’t mean there is no racist language, and although it may on the surface appear just as trivial as any other casual insult, racist language is something we must repel. Racist language is more than just insulting. It’s demeaning. It makes light of the centuries of oppression and bloodshed that have gone before. It renders the suffering of millions pointless. Calling someone a c*** is an insult to them, calling someone a black c*** creates a division in society based on colour that has an entire race being insulted. Of course you can argue that we won’t truly be an egalitarian society until racist language is treated with the same casual disregard as any petty insult, that’s to say until it provokes no reaction, but really, what good of campaigning for equality and freedom if the first thing we do with that freedom is to hark back to the same oppressive ways that went before?
What’s worst is the impact of racist language. So powerful are the emotions it engenders that racist abuse has the potential to make people believe they are part of a put-upon subdivision of society; an isolated and oppressed underclass. The exact sort of situation that leads to hatred, social schisms and violence.
Are people really that mean? Is that what they want? To insult an entire race? To mock the suffering of generations? Of course not. The truth is that racist language still exists not because people are racist but because people are lazy. It’s the easiest way to provoke a reaction; it’s the basest and simplest way to offend someone. It’s an unimaginative and yet always successful insult. If you think about it, racist language is much more demeaning to the user. It makes them look simple. So if John Terry uses such language, something which I emphasise remains only alleged, only he comes away looking bad.
Great, so why the fuss? We know JT’s not really racist; we know he doesn’t shun people for their skin colour. If it turns out he uses stupid words then only he looks a fool, so what do we care? Just as when he got up to extra marital shenanigans, what does it matter to anyone other than the people involved? Except in this case the fact that he’s a role model does matter. And as if to prove the point unequivocally, some Chelsea fans rose to the occasion in Belgium and displayed the influence he has. True, they didn’t use any racist words, nor did they use any insulting words, but the sentiment was clear enough. And it was as base and unimaginative as any playground bullying. I thought we had a bit more pride in our chants, I thought they were a bit more cerebral. Yes they can be insulting, and they wouldn’t be chants if they didn’t taunt, but let’s at least put in some effort and make ourselves look good.