Social Issues

Cavani ban forces racial reckoning in Uruguay

Raúl Martínez and Alejandro Prieto

Montevideo, Jan 7 (efe-epa).- The English Football Association’s sanction of Manchester United’s Uruguayan footballer Edinson Cavani for using the word “negrito” has been met with disbelief by many in the small South American nation, forcing some in the country to confront whether or not the commonly used expression has racist undertones.

Fined 100,000 pounds and banned for three matches for responding on social media to an acquaintance with the phrase “gracias, negrito” (‘Thank you, Little Black’), Cavani’s case has caused a tremendous stir in Uruguay where the hashtag #GraciasNegrito was a trending topic on Twitter in solidarity with the star forward.

The FA prohibits any use of language with “reference, whether express or implied to color and/or race and/or ethnic origin”.

Once he was made aware that his words might be interpreted differently, he immediately removed the post, although he has reiterated that there was no malicious intent in the post.

Commonly used both in Uruguayan Spanish and in various Latin American dialects, even the Uruguayan National Academy of Letters (ANL) argued that forms such as “negri,” “negrito” or “negrita” can be nicknames to express affection.

In the history of Uruguayan soccer, the case of the captain of the world champion national team in 1950, Obdulio Varela, who went down in history as “El Negro Jefe” (The Black Boss), stands out.

For the representative of the Afro-Uruguayan association “Africanía”, Tomás Olivera, it is “common and ordinary” in the Spanish language and it is “nothing offensive”.

“Sometimes they call me ‘negro’ or ‘negrito’ and they have said it to me with affection. You can tell by the way, by the expression, when it is something pejorative, when it is something insulting and when something is a term of affection,” he tells Efe.

Olivera, an 83-year-old writer and activist, is convinced that the punishment does not take into account key cultural aspects because it has been meted out in a different cultural environment to the one in Uruguay.

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