The Reality of Racism

"He was born in Italy. He grew up two hours from Milan in a little town named Concesio, taken in by a white Italian couple when he was 3 years old. Balotelli’s birth parents are immigrants from Ghana, and although he looks like them, he sounds like his provincial neighbors, speaking with the well-known Brescian accent… An old underground cartoon sums up the local attitude. It shows a deep trench at the edge of Northern Italy, with a clear message: Let’s get rid of the Africans."

Whether through oversight or sheer indifference, there’s a tendency in soccer to minimize the significance of racism. Sure, we constantly see headlines outlining the latest incidents, and of course, there are those journalists, fans and players who refuse to let the issue rest, but for every Kevin-Prince Boateng or Mario Balotelli who makes a stand publicly, there are countless other members of the community who unwittingly rationalize bigotry.

"Those fans aren’t representative of the fan-base." 

"Every community has a few idiots."

"You wouldn’t understand, it’s a cultural issue."

While each of those statements may be true, they nevertheless downplay how each incident is indicative of social trends. Are those Ultras who use Nazi-insignia part of a fringe group outnumbered by the perfectly reasonable members of the fan sections? Of course. Does their willingness to show their political allegiances in the terraces hint at changing cultural realities? Definitely.

Unfortunately, most works on the topic of racism in football begin and end in the stadium, and rely on simple assumptions as explanations. The number of Neo-Nazis in the fan group is small. Let’s ban them from the stadium, and we’ll have fixed the problem. But the problem goes beyond the pitch, into the homes of every ethnic minority who deals with the stresses of discrimination on a daily basis. 

Which is why Wright Thompson’s recent piece investigating the root of racism in Italian soccer is so significant. From sitting with Ultras who still revere Mussolini, cringing under a variety of curse words and Nazi chants thrown towards African players, speaking with Africans stranded in Italy pursuing long impossible careers in soccer, discussing the importance of a new Italian cabinet member, an immigrant from Africa, to the role of nascent political parties and unemployment trends, Thompson tells a complicated story, but one that must be read.

The roots of racism are bubbling to the surface; it’s time we acknowledged them. [Posted by Maxi]

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