World Cup 2014: Those accused of racism can't simply be screamed at

Three high-profile incidents have come to light during the tournament

Is there anything we of the age of Twitter, daily live blogs and soulless “click bait” love more than a racist?

LIVE: Follow today's latest news, including Netherlands v Chile, Australia v Spain, Cameroon v Brazil and Croatia v Mexico

The question is worth asking when, two games into their World Cup campaign, Germany has already been beset with three separate racism scandals.

The most recent one even involved that most prized jewel of social media’s valiant soldiers of equality: a Nazi!

To recap: the gentleman who invaded the pitch in a state of undress during Germany’s match with Ghana was immediately accused of having the logo of the SS hidden in the writing he had scrawled across his chest. Not only that, but he had the initials “HH” which, as one German paper knowingly tooted, is famously Neo-Nazi code for “Heil Hitler”.

These fascists have regressed a little since the days of Enigma, it seems.

The man in question was neither, as was reported in the Guardian, “a German fan”, nor a Nazi. He was a bartender from Poland, with the ridiculous plan of publicising his e-mail address in order to raise money for his flight home after the World Cup. So, in any case, reads his own account, and the report of various Brazilian media outlets.

It is pretty believable. The alleged SS logo is, on closer inspection, a double four. The same e-mail address written on his back shows that ostensibly to be the case. With that in mind, the “HH” becomes a little less incriminating. The whole script is indeed a gmail address.

This was the most laughable of all three racism scandals. The man in question was no doubt a touch eccentric. He no doubt regrets having not checked the democratic clarity of his handwriting prior to baring his chest for the world, but he was rather swiftly absolved. We could all have a good laugh at both his and the reactionary Twittersphere’s expense.

Less amusing were the other two racism scandals to involve German football. The first came during Nigeria’s 0-0 draw with Iran, when ARD commentator Steffen Simon – a man famed for his catastrophic propensity to offend – claimed that the Iranians were “Southerners, and therefore not very well organised”.

It was a misjudged comment at best, a disgracefully lazy lapse into racism from an extremely smug individual at worst. Simon was roundly decried for “salon racism”, and forced to offer an apology later in the game.

Germany’s indignation when faced with Simon’s offensive comments is worth remembering when it comes to the fallout over the third racism scandal.

Two fans were pictured during the same game between Germany and Ghana smiling at the camera. Both were crudely blacked up, both wearing t-shirts on which they had scribbled the word “Ghana”.

 

Those individuals were rightly condemned, and Fifa are said to be looking into the issue. Like our streaking friend, the accidental Nazi, though, the blacked up fans were reported to be German, when their nationality was both uncertain and irrelevant.

That put the German populist media on the defensive. Naturally. When your target audience – Germany fans – are being accused of racism, you defend them. They found out that the men were probably Swiss, and sat back, content that the German fans had been wrongly accused of racism. The rest of the German press barely reported it at all. It is a great shame, because, whether they are Swiss, German or from the mIsle of Man, their embarrassing little stunt is something which could have done with more thoughtful coverage.  

Blacking up is astonishingly uncontroversial in Germany. Awareness of its historical significance, its inherent connection with a grotesque and ingrained vein of racism, is not particularly high. For many, it is no different to donning a wig or a applying some lipstick. The staggeringly unfunny German impressionist Matze Knop blacks up almost every week to impersonate Bayern and Brazil defender Dante Bonfim.

That is not to excuse anyone who chooses to do it. There are enough Germans who do recognise that it is unacceptable to render those who refuse to a stubbornly backward bunch. But they are a bunch who will not be roundly condemned in the manner that Steffen Simon was, or in the manner that they would be in countries with a larger black community.

The deeper sociological reasons for Germany’s apparent lack of concern with blacking up go beyond the capabilities of a mere football writer. What is clear to all and sundry, though, is that the issue needs greater debate. And more considered debate.

Naming and shaming those who indulge in lazy racism in a mere 140 characters is all well and good when, like with Steffen Simon, the offence is clear to everybody. Then, the outrage, and the immediate, democratic clip around the ear is, in fact, constructive.

But you can’t clip a general viewpoint round the ear, however pig-headed it may seem. You can’t simply scream racist at those fans and hope they will be dealt with accordingly. Until the perception of blacking up in the German media – and, no doubt, in that of many other countries – changes, then a more constructive and patient debate about this issue is needed.

There are more considered voices in Germany who had the opportunity to initiate such a debate this week, and most failed to do so. But so did those who merely cursed loudly about racist German fans. Racism is largely borne of ignorance. Let us then seek to understand and communicate, rather than accuse and condemn.

PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Life and Style
tech
News
The 67P/CG comet as seen from the Philae lander
scienceThe most important scientific breakthroughs of 2014
Arts and Entertainment
Ian McKellen as Gandalf in The Hobbit: The Battle Of The Five Armies
film
Arts and Entertainment
Sarah Koenig, creator of popular podcast Serial, which is to be broadcast by the BBC
tvReview: The secret to the programme's success is that it allows its audience to play detective
News
Ruby Wax has previously written about her mental health problems in her book Sane New World
people
Caption competition
Caption competition
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

Bleacher Report

Daily Quiz
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

Day In a Page

Homeless Veterans appeal: 'You look for someone who's an inspiration and try to be like them'

Homeless Veterans appeal

In 2010, Sgt Gary Jamieson stepped on an IED in Afghanistan and lost his legs and an arm. He reveals what, and who, helped him to make a remarkable recovery
Could cannabis oil reverse the effects of cancer?

Could cannabis oil reverse effects of cancer?

As a film following six patients receiving the controversial treatment is released, Kate Hilpern uncovers a very slippery issue
The Interview movie review: You can't see Seth Rogen and James Franco's Kim Jong Un assassination film, but you can read about it here

The Interview movie review

You can't see Seth Rogen and James Franco's Kim Jong Un assassination film, but you can read about it here
Serial mania has propelled podcasts into the cultural mainstream

How podcasts became mainstream

People have consumed gripping armchair investigation Serial with a relish typically reserved for box-set binges
Jesus Christ has become an unlikely pin-up for hipster marketing companies

Jesus Christ has become an unlikely pin-up

Kevin Lee Light, aka "Jesus", is the newest client of creative agency Mother while rival agency Anomaly has launched Sexy Jesus, depicting the Messiah in a series of Athena-style poses
Rosetta space mission voted most important scientific breakthrough of 2014

A memorable year for science – if not for mice

The most important scientific breakthroughs of 2014
Christmas cocktails to make you merry: From eggnog to Brown Betty and Rum Bumpo

Christmas cocktails to make you merry

Mulled wine is an essential seasonal treat. But now drinkers are rediscovering other traditional festive tipples. Angela Clutton raises a glass to Christmas cocktails
5 best activity trackers

Fitness technology: 5 best activity trackers

Up the ante in your regimen and change the habits of a lifetime with this wearable tech
Paul Scholes column: It's a little-known fact, but I have played one of the seven dwarves

Paul Scholes column

It's a little-known fact, but I have played one of the seven dwarves
Fifa's travelling circus once again steals limelight from real stars

Fifa's travelling circus once again steals limelight from real stars

Club World Cup kicked into the long grass by the continued farce surrounding Blatter, Garcia, Russia and Qatar
Frank Warren column: 2014 – boxing is back and winning new fans

Frank Warren: Boxing is back and winning new fans

2014 proves it's now one of sport's biggest hitters again
Jeb Bush vs Hillary Clinton: The power dynamics of the two first families

Jeb Bush vs Hillary Clinton

Karen Tumulty explores the power dynamics of the two first families
Stockholm is rivalling Silicon Valley with a hotbed of technology start-ups

Stockholm is rivalling Silicon Valley

The Swedish capital is home to two of the most popular video games in the world, as well as thousands of technology start-ups worth hundreds of millions of pounds – and it's all happened since 2009
Did Japanese workers really get their symbols mixed up and display Santa on a crucifix?

Crucified Santa: Urban myth refuses to die

The story goes that Japanese store workers created a life-size effigy of a smiling "Father Kurisumasu" attached to a facsimile of Our Lord's final instrument of torture
Jennifer Saunders and Kate Moss join David Walliams on set for TV adaptation of The Boy in the Dress

The Boy in the Dress: On set with the stars

Walliams' story about a boy who goes to school in a dress will be shown this Christmas