I love watching World Cup soccer. It started for me in the 70s. Brazil and Pele had that magic, and the whole world seemed to be watching. The television would take us on tours through the competing countries and I dreamed of travel. And as I grew up and did travel, my childhood prejudices and notions about various races were convincingly washed away.
It was the same feeling as I watched the World Cup this year, from an ESPN app on an iPad. And again, it feels good to see much of the world cooperating for sport, spectacle and profit – with “Say No to Racism” signs surrounding the pitch.
Before games, players and fans are even reading a sort of oath against racism. It’s a good sentiment. I, for one, am prone to dwelling on the failings of humanity, with my current list-toppers being what feels to me as an anti-democratic F-U from the seed companies; the soon-to-be massive influx of gun crime headed to Hawaii due to a recent court ruling; and the way humans continue to mistreat animals.
But on racism, I have a sense that the world is getting a little more educated.
Racism, like sexism, comes in various forms and is often communicated through nuance. There is racism where we are taught to reflexively not like what someone else is doing and racism where we justify our own bad doings as being racially or culturally accepted.
Those who saw the World Cup game where Luis Suarez from Uruguay bit his Italian opponent during a run for the ball saw a crime being committed, in my opinion. It was all caught on film – a chomp on the shoulder that would shave off even the toughest ear of non-GMO corn. The whole world was horrified, as they should have been, by the biter.
Yet in Uruguay, the comments in the blogs are absurdly defensive. They speak of “the culture of biting here.” Fans are calling it corruption within FIFA that Suarez was suspended, and claiming the sanction is racism against Uruguayans who implicitly, whether by culture or race, are compelled to bite people during conflict.
It is really these Uruguayans, however, who are engaging in a type of racism – justifying criminal conduct based on a falsely inferior view of their own culture or race. No one can seriously believe that biting someone during a soccer game is a culturally protected activity.
Similarly, the whole civilized world has condemned cockfighting. The UN even has an official position against it. But locally, we still have people claiming some racial or cultural birthright to engage in blood sport with gambling. Such cultural justification of universally condemned criminal behavior brings a culture down.
We all see the chained fighting roosters as we drive around Kauai. Busts? Never. It is a wrong against the youth of a culture to teach them that their DNA contains some unique gene that makes them enjoy cockfights — and culturally excuses what the rest of the world condemns as despicable.
I was cruising old Youtube videos on the morning of the bite and I saw John Lennon and Yoko Ono singing “woman is the N***** of the world.” Things sure have improved since then, I thought.
Later that day, my friend called. She was driving in Kapaa and apparently cut someone off at the rage-inducing northbound merge after Foodland. The other driver, a young man, pulled next to her and berated her as an “F’ n haole.” She followed him to the next parking lot and got out of her car, explaining to him in her best thick accent “I am from Brazil and I am not a haole.” She couldn’t bear to let his racism go unanswered, so she responded with a little of her own.
A little later that day, my Hawaiian friend who moved back home from San Diego told me “people treat me like I’m a Mexican down there.”
And just last week, the supposed Caliphate of the new ISIS in the Middle East sent a bizarrely polite letter explaining that they will bomb the World Cup if it's held in Qatar – because the game would cause Muslim offense.
At one point, I read that one of Mayor Carvalho’s top five priorities in office was going to be tackling racism. It has strong roots on Kauai — just ask the Brazilian who couldn’t bear to be thought of as haole. Yet I have never heard of any real action taken toward this goal.
Making it an official goal is still a good start though, (and way better than any of the 6 goals against Brazil. Wait, I just opened my refrigerator — now it’s 7).