PSG-Basaksehir Istanbul, the words of racism

The incident that took place on Tuesday, December 8 at the Parc des Princes during the PSG-Basaksehir Istanbul match provides an illustration of the tensions surrounding the discrimination of black people. The players left the field after the fourth referee, the Romanian Sebastian Coltescu, pointed out to the head referee, also Romanian, a member of the Turkish staff of Cameroonian nationality by designating him by his skin color: “The Black here. Go see and identify it. This guy, the black (”Negru” in Romanian, editor’s note) (AFP translation).

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Were these comments in themselves racist, however? “The meaning of the Romanian word negru, it’s black. We do not have two words for “negro” and “black”, it is only one word, which is not in itself loaded with a pejorative or racist connotation ”, explains Alin Tat, professor of philosophy at the University of Cluj.

“In Romania, we understand this European and American debate, but for a majority of Romanians, it is an imported construction because we do not consider people according to these categories. For his part, the president of the Romanian National Anti-Discrimination Council, Csaba Asztalos, described the incident as“Huge stain on Romania and on Romanian arbitration”.

The commitment of athletes to anti-racism

The unanimous reaction of the players reinforces the particular enthusiasm of the sports community in the face of racism. “Black Lives Matter, which has been in existence since 2016, experienced an extraordinary boom in the sports world after the death of George Floyd, recalls the historian Nicolas Bancel, professor at the University of Lausanne, specialist in post-colonial history (1). And we crossed a threshold in 2020: demonstrations of the coaches of the NBA, banners in the stands of official tennis tournaments, reaction of many footballers after the beating of the producer Michel Zecler… The withdrawal of the players from the match on Tuesday is even more significant of this new sensitivity to the fate of minorities: to my knowledge, it is unprecedented. “

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“Black”, “black”, “renoi”, “kebla” … The word “negro”, recognized racist, have succeeded other names, none being unanimous. “It is the black movement which, with the founding of Cran in 2005, helped to standardize the use of the word ‘black’, emphasizes sociologist Éric Fassin, professor at the University of Paris 8 (2). We must distinguish between the adjective (“a black person”) and the substantive (“a black”, “a black”, or “blacks”). A black man, or a white woman, is not reduced to their color. On the other hand, the substantive designates either a claimed identity (to speak “as black”), or an assignment, therefore an imposition.

The impossibility of designating by the same term

Historian Pap Ndiaye, author of The Dark Condition, had criticized in 2018 the desire to remove the word “race” from the Constitution, since this would in no way eliminate the discrimination itself. In an invigorating essay, The Assignment. Black people don’t exist (Grasset, 2018), the journalist and writer Tania de Montaigne warned about the impossibility of designating by the same term people of heterogeneous origins, nationalities, cultures. “I try to remember the time when I was not (a) Black, but only black, without capital letters ”, she wrote there.

“We are living in a paradoxical moment, with on the one hand an increasingly openly racist discourse, and on the other hand the rise of anti-racist mobilizations, continues Éric Fassin. The paradox redoubles: while the former avoid the word race, the latter do not hesitate to use it. In reality, with or without the word, racists think in terms of races or empirical groups (whites, Jews, etc.); anti-racists speak of race (in the singular), not to designate groups but a social and political mechanism of assignment to a place. “

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More than the vocabulary, it is the designation and the thought of individuals in groups that are questioned. “We are in a period of extreme polarization on these issues, explains Nicolas Bancel. With on the one hand, a fight against “political correctness” allowing clearly discriminating statements to be made, and on the other a radicalization in the extension of the decolonial movement, which essentializes “whites” but also minorities. Between these two extremes, we don’t hear much. This explains the embarrassment, the difficulty in using these terms. “


“Why did you say ‘nigga’? “

The Parc des Princes clock shows less than a quarter of an hour of play. The match is tense, this Tuesday, December 8, between PSG and Istanbul Basaksehir for this last group match of the Champions League. Faults rain. The Turkish bank is moved by it. Too strongly, according to the fourth referee. Who wants to sanction and designates to the central referee the behavior of the assistant coach, Pierre Achille Webo by using the word “Negru”, “Black” in Romanian, the nationality of the two men with the whistle.

Pierre Achille Webo reacts immediately: “Why did you say ‘nigga’? “, he repeats. The apostrophe echoes in the empty stadium. The other players approach. Demba Ba, substitute striker for Basaksehir, notes, face to face with the fourth referee: “When you talk about a white man, you say ‘that man’, not ‘that white man’. Why are you doing it with a black man? “. The argument carries. The players of two teams decide as one man to leave the field. They won’t come back.


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