Lots of memories crossed my mind when I saw the video where Daniel Alves ate the banana against the racist act of the Vilarreal fan. The player made me smile with pride.
Many times I heard “You monkey!” as a kid at school. I remember I used to be extremely bothered about it. So I swore back. Sometimes I got into fights. Being called “you monkey!” was worse than being called a “you crybaby!” or “you fool!”, for example.
At that time, I had no clue what racism was. I lived the problem every day without having a clue of the concept. Racism happened in the US or in South Africa, but not in Brazil where we used to learn since early age at school that all races live in harmony.
Since the problem was not in society, I had to deal with my feelings myself. To stop being a crybaby I only had to stop crying. To stop being a fool I only had to become tougher.
But how could I stop being black?
Racism is not only a matter of offending someone. In the highly prejudicial Brazilian society, calling someone “you monkey!” is reminding a black person how everyone perceives their position in society.
Unfortunately many people – including blacks themselves – believe we can just ignore and pretend not to hear racial discrimination.
Others – like many of the #weareallmonkeys campaigners – believe that treating racists as isolated stupid people.
That is why I smiled at Daniel Alves eating the banana. He didn’t pretend not to hear or see. His eating the banana sounded to me as an angry response to a situation he seems to be constantly annoyed about.
As an individual act, that was a brilliant reaction.
That is why I was very angry when I saw the #weareallmonkeys campaign. Alves’s eating the banana does not mean he accepts being called “you monkey!” It seems to be just the opposite to me.
For this reason I felt the campaign was ignorant, insensitive and stupid.
Some supporters of the campaign explained they thought about the evolution theory while sharing the hashtag. For them, we all – blacks and whites – descend from the monkeys.
For this reason the campaign was ignorant. It ignored and disdained the social and political history of racial discrimination and prejudice in Brazil.
In this history and in contemporary everyday life, “you monkey!” is one of the most predominant and persistent symbols of racism in the lives of black Brazilians.
That is what makes the campaign insensitive.
When I clicked on the hashtag, I saw a majority of light-skinned celebrities, politicians and social media users all super excited and complaining of racism through Internet.
The problem is that for most of these people, “you monkey!” is merely a verbal attack. If one ignores or mocks it, its derogatory weight will melt down.
The ones who now call themselves monkeys seem to ignore that blacks are still the majority of the low-income and poor people in Brazil; that blacks are the biggest victims of violence in the country; that blacks are still mostly portrayed in discriminating stereotypes in media every day; that blacks are still the majority in low-salary jobs and the minority in universities.
These examples and many others prove that “you monkey!” is not only a mere verbal attack. Racism doesn’t exist only in people’s words.
The Brazilian social structure is racist. Even worse, we all – even black people – grow up treating racist behavior as normal.
For example, if I ask fellow Brazilians to think about someone who looks like a criminal, most likely it will be a black person. If I ask them to think about a successful doctor, most likely she will be white.
That is why the white celebrities sharing #weareallmonkeys are not monkeys. Neither is the super-rich, light-skinned (in Brazilian terms) and straight-haired (again in Brazilian terms) Neymar.
They have no clue how painful, revolting and disheartening it is to be called or treated as a “monkey” in everyday life.
For this and other reasons the campaign #weareallmonkeys is stupid despite the good-will of many people who supported it.
It is stupid because it does not represent most of the black people who suffer from racism in Brazil. In fact, it offends. It is offending to people who have to deal with what “you monkey!” and other variables of racism on an everyday basis.
The campaign suggests we are all equal. Unfortunately we are not. For this reason, the bananas in the photos of the campaign #weareallmonkeys should also be crushed. Just like Daniel Alves did in the pitch.
Photo by Louis Hansel @shotsoflouis on Unsplash.