Thursday 22 August, 2019

A view from the outside: support your teams, but don't forget

A vendor in downtown Kingston displays his collection of Brazilian flags, which have been selling like hot bread. (PHOTO: Ramon Lindsay)

A vendor in downtown Kingston displays his collection of Brazilian flags, which have been selling like hot bread. (PHOTO: Ramon Lindsay)

                                                                  With Karyl Walker

It's silly season in Jamaica, and understandably so.

For the next month a great portion of the Jamaican population will ditch the black, green and gold for the flags and jerseys of the football teams of the countries they are backing to lift the winner’s trophy at the end of the Greatest Show on Earth now taking place in Russia.

The images coming out of Jamaica reveal that most cars are sporting the flags of the big five - Brazil, Germany, Argentina, France and Spain - and other countries now rolling the leather in the most watched sporting event on the planet.

In the days leading up to the tournament’s conclusion and for many days after, many will throw patriotism through the window as the euphoria of the World Cup grips them in its irresistible charm.

But are many of us Jamaicans who are gleefully sporting the colours of some of these nations aware of their racist history and the atrocities carried out in their names?

For my part, I grew up in an era when the exploits of the Brazilian national team and their black players, led by the 'King' Pele, were the rage. I was but five years old in 1970 but since then I have remained a staunch supporter of that country’s football team. It has been embedded in my DNA.

Growing up in that era, when Rastafari was seen as a disruptive element and Eurocentric values were foisted upon us by the elders as the proper way to behave, it was relieving to see a black man at the pinnacle of a sport dominated by white men. In Pele I saw myself being able to conquer the world as a person born with black skin. After all it was commonplace to hear then that ‘anything too black no good’.

He was and still is my hero and Brazil could do nothing wrong. I cried when the creators of the beautiful game lost.

It was only decades after, that I learnt the truth about Brazil and I was sorely disappointed.

The greatest population of black people who live in the African Diaspora, live in Brazil, the largest nation in South America. But similar to many western countries, despite the exploits of Pele, Garrincha, Ronaldinho and many of that nation’s athletes and entertainers, black people are firmly rooted at the bottom of the economic, political and social barrel. Brazil is arguably one of the most racist countries in the western hemisphere.

In fact, prior to 1958 when the country won its first world football title, there was a movement on to rid the national team of the free flowing football for which the country is now known.

There is history behind that too.

Similar to the Jamaican maroons, bands of slaves broke free from the plantations and fled to the mountains. As a form of defense the blacks developed their own style of martial arts called the Jinga. Then they discovered football and incorporated their craft into the game.

To be black in Brazil is to be regulated to life in the slums. Have we ever taken notice that there are no black Brazilians in positions of power in that country? Even the present star of their team, Neymar Jr, has openly denied his blackness. In the recently-held Olympics and the 2014 World Cup, the stands seemed devoid of black faces.

In Argentina the situation is even worse for black people. It is no secret that many of the Nazis fled to that country after the fall of Hitler’s regime and even today black Argentinians are treated as fourth class citizens. Yes there is a sizeable population of black people in Argentina.

Think about it. Have you ever seen a black man playing in an Argentina shirt?

As far as I know, the ‘blackest’ person to represent Argentina has been Juan Sebastian Veron. Dark skinned people are not given that ‘privilege’.

Argentina is known as the whitest country in South America.

The Jamaican/German fans will conveniently forget that country’s massacre of the Jews, the genocide committed by its army in Namibia, Cameroon and Tanzania while the atrocities carried out by Christopher Columbus and the conquistadors who followed in his murderous wake in the name of Spain are well documented.

French history is also tainted with genocide. We can still see the effects on our neighbours Haiti, a country dubbed the poorest in the western hemisphere and who was made to pay France millions simply for wanting to be free.

Some will say leave politics out of sport and for this one month allow the world to unite around the spectacle that is the World Cup, but sports is rife with politics and it can’t hurt to know just what we are supporting before we do.

That said I am still a fan of Brazilian football and will be rooting for that team during the tournament. I also hope for the success of the African teams, especially those from the sub Saharan section of the mother continent.

Jamaicans support your teams but don’t get too caught up and forget our history. It is just a pity the Reggae Boyz were not a part of this edition of the Greatest Show on Earth.

That is my view from the outside.

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