Two years ago the Chairman of the Spanish FA, Angel Villar Llona, declared that racism 'does not exist' in Spanish football. Fast forward to Sunday April 27 and Barcelona full-back Dani Alves was pelted by bananas thrown at him by racist Villareal fans. Villar Llona’s statement two years ago was out of touch with reality, but is even more so in light of yet another overtly racist targeting of a La Liga player.
Alves' response to the incident was to eat the banana on the pitch, which has been met by widespread applause from predominantly white football journalists. The incident led to Alves’ teammate and compatriot Neymar posting a photo of himself eating a banana on Instagram with the hashtag #WeAreAllMonkeys. This has now taken off and began trending across social media outlets with other footballers such as Ivorian midfielder Yaya Toure, as well as Argentinian striker Sergio Aguero also posting similar photos with the hashtag. By Monday over 100,000 people had used the hashtag as people appeared to be rallying to combat racism in football. These footballers sharing their photos and showing 'solidarity' with Alves are apparently 'trolling' the racists in question, which is supposedly a good and progressive thing.
People have spoken about 'not stooping' to the racists' level, implying that Alves' reaction was the best course of action. Alves was not the first player and will not be the last player to be targeted like this. Last year, when then AC Milan midfielder Kevin Prince-Boateng led his team off of the pitch due to racist chanting in a Serie A game, there was not the same media attention. Prince-Boateng was not the recipient of patronizing hashtags. This was a very much stronger stance to take against racism, it was not worse or better than Alves’ handling of it. Nobody can criticize Alves for handling the issue as he did. But, it is important to remember that there is no perfect response and that we cannot merely brush over the issue of endemic racism by eating a banana. This is a case of privileged white people telling non-whites how to react. Had Patrice Evra for example punched Luis Suarez in the face for persistent racial abuse during a Liverpool vs Manchester United game, the same journalists who are applauding Alves (most of whom have never suffered racial abuse) would have been quick to condemn Evra’s use of violence, probably calling it a poor way to conduct himself.
The problem with the #weareallmonkeys popularity is that it fails to recognize the deep layers of racism or the way in which racism is fostered through a system that privileges whites over non-whites. If anything it glosses over the issue, making it into a joke. The complexities of racism and how it can take on many layers is overlooked. Anyone who posts a photo eating a banana with the tag is automatically seen as not being racist and as showing solidarity with Alves and victims of racism more generally.
This suggests that through solidarity we are all the same and share the same burden. It is offensive for anyone to claim that a white person is the same as someone who has suffered direct racist abuse and offensive to suggest that this is unimportant. By doing this we are ignoring their own position of privilege, when in reality we are not all the same and we are not all born with the same degree of privilege. These people did not and will not suffer having bananas hurled at them, be taunted in the streets (or at football matches) or be targeted by police because of the colour of their skin. That is their privilege and any movement that doesn’t recognize this is not combating the issue.
This doesn't get to grips with the racism that exists within football and society as a whole. It is taking the easy option and sweeps the major issues under the carpet so that everyone can feel better about themselves. Brushing over the chants and claiming that we're all in it together is not going to make racism go away.
White people, ignoring their own privilege, eating bananas, declaring themselves to be monkeys, is not very likely to end racism or truly address what underpins racism and the power-structures that exist within our society. Alves is not a monkey, none of us are, so why pretend?
As was tweeted at me ''people want easy solutions. They don't want to interrogate their own privilege and complicity in letting racism fester.'' Until we really examine privilege we will not be any closer to truly eradicating racism. Having received racist abuse in January 2013 Dani Alves said that the campaign to fight racism in football was ‘’a lost war’’. Unfortunately the #weareallmonkeys campaign only confirms what he thought, rather than rectifying it.