We are living in a world hyperconnected by social media and dominated by political correctness.
There is nothing wrong about that, it is good to be kind to everyone and consider minorities’ experiences when using language. However, as most things in life when taken to the extremes, political correctness can turn on itself and become a discriminatory agent on its own.
In the case of Edinson Cavani, a Uruguayan national and a Manchester United player, who reached international headlines last week due to some controversy. He was recently sanctioned for three matches because of an Instagram story that included the word “negrito” and was considered racist to the eyes of the British Football Association.
Some context: regardless of the huge discriminatory connotations that the N** word has in English speaking countries, in South America, specifically Uruguay and Argentina, the word “negrito” is an affectionate one. Etymologically speaking, the term does not trace back to slavery as it does in other countries, and it is used as a pet name for friends. It is relevant to clarify here that Cavani’s post, which included the phrase “gracias negrito” was written in Spanish and addressed to one of his Uruguayan friends.
Now, imagine being sanctioned at work, recriminated all over social media, and tagged as racist for speaking publicly to a friend in your own language with its own pragmatic meanings. Also try to imagine that this happens when you are using what in your culture is an affectionate pet name. For all Uruguayans and Argentinians that stood up for Cavani in social media, it really does not make sense to continue with this claim. To support the player, as soon as the sanction was made public the hashtag #graciasnegrito became viral on Facebook and Twitter, especially in South American countries. Many Spanish speaking people felt that their cultural use of language was being attacked by the sanction.
On the other hand, one might argue that as a person living and working in England, the footballer should have known better and should not have posted something that could be misinterpreted. And Cavani probably should have done so, but using this argument as a reason to accuse Cavani of racism falls flat knowing that the footballer deleted the post and immediately apologized publicly. When he was made aware of possible misunderstandings, the player made it crystal clear in a public apology that he is against all forms of racism and he did not intend to offend anyone.
Why then, was he still sanctioned by the Football Association? The answer is in the title of this article: PC worldwide is tremendously Anglocentric. This term, when googled means the following:
The practice of viewing the world from English or Anglo-American perspective, with an implied belief, either consciously or subconsciously, in the preeminence of English or Anglo-American culture.
What the British Football Association did, by sanctioning Cavani for his post, was to dismiss completely his cultural context and take an Anglocentric view, claiming that the connotation that a word has in English speaking countries is the only right and valid one! Although they hire footballers from different countries and claim to be against all forms of discrimination, they were unable to consider that Cavani comes from a different cultural background when sanctioning him for speaking in his cultural understandings. Just like that, the FA discriminated and offended people from at least two South American countries, implying that their way of speaking is racist. One now wonders, who are the ones missing the point now?
Needless to say, I am not the only one that found Cavani’s sanction distressing. Along with all the social media discussions, scholar Andreas Beck from Denmark released a statement against the Football Association accusing them of discriminatory actions. The Manchester United Club supported the Uruguayan publicly in their social media, and the Uruguayan Language Academy (Academia Uruguaya the Letras) and the Uruguayan Association of Footballers (Asociación de Futbolistas del Uruguay) also expressed their disagreement with the British Football Association’s decision in official statements pointing out the ethnocentric view under which the sanction to Cavani was carried out.
As a Uruguayan living in an English-speaking country myself, I am concerned of what kind of precedent this sanction sets. Will I have to self-censor my posts on social media and search for possible language misunderstandings when I write in my own native tongue? Should I fear being sanctioned at university or work because of my culture? As a person that is all for the respect that political correctness stands for, I am the one that would feel discriminated against if that was the case, and I am sure many Uruguayans and Argentinians feel the same.