Simeon Tegel: Is the term 'negrito' racist? Sadly for the FA, yes and no

The fact he said it in the heat of battle against United could undermine his claim

Simeon Tegel@SimeonTegel
Friday 16 December 2011 01:00

Is the term "negrito" viewed as racist in Spanish-speaking Latin America? Unfortunately for the Football Association, the answer is yes and no.

Luis Suarez's lawyers are right to argue that addressing a person by referring to their appearance, including race, is common practice from Tijuana to Tierra del Fuego.

Spanish terms for "fatty", "skinny", "shorty", "whitey" and even "chino" – literally meaning "Chinese" – are often used in the way many Britons might say "mate".

So too is the term "negro", meaning "black". Although most English-speakers might find any of these terms offensive, they are usually taken neutrally in Latin America.

But what complicates the FA's decision is Suarez's alleged use of the diminutive, adding "ito" to the term "negro". It can indicate affection, especially when said between people who know each other intimately. But it can also be used to belittle.

Much of the case against Suarez must therefore depend on his intent, something that will have to be judged by the context and tone of the remark. The fact that he uttered the term "negrito" during the heat of battle between two such fierce rivals, Liverpool and Manchester United, to Fabrice Evra, a player he has no history of friendship with, arguably undermines any claim that the Uruguay striker was being amicable.

And what else did Suarez say? Accompanying "negrito" with an epithet, for example, could be considered damning.

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