In response to a hate crime, a German soccer team digitally altered a photo of their team to make the players appear black to “make it clear that [players who were victims of hateful acts] are an inherent part of our team, and not a minority on whom you can use violence to let off your personal frustration.” Which naturally lead to some concern:

Is this ever a good idea? After two of their teammates were victimized by what the club called a racist attack, members of Deinster SV posted a photo showing their faces digitally altered to make them appear black skinned. The highly questionable bit of photoshopping actually came from a good place – their teammates are Sudanese refugees and the players wrote on their Facebook page:

“Violence against refugees is pathetic. Emad and Amar, you are one of us just like everyone else and we’re happy you are with us.”

In fairness to the players, their post has more than 17,000 responses on Facebook, almost all of which are positive. But a few commenters couldn’t help but note that even this well-intentioned gesture hits a little too close to home for some.

The author asks “Is this ever a good idea?”

Well, in the US it’s certainly not. Not ever. The thing is, though, that this wasn’t the US. We were not the target audience. The African-American population here that understandably objects to blackface was not the audience here. Whether they should have done it, or not, is not especially our business. Or, more precisely, it is not up to a German soccer team to conform to our sensibilities. If the applicable population in Germany feels the same way, then the team ought to apologize. If a bunch of people half the world away, who were neither the targets of derision or sympathy object, it’s not really our business any more than a swastika in India.

We have a very specific history with blackface, as outlined in the article. Though I sort of take exception to the example of Aloha (wherein, from what I understand, looking white was an intended part of the character), we have a history of minstrels and mockery. Does Germany have that history? Or is the blackface more associated with the Dutch holiday? The article simply doesn’t say, and we’re not really qualified to fill in all of the blankis.

There are other cases where maybe we can get involved, but only if we own some ownership over the situation. Telling Southern Italy “Hey, it’s actually not cool to use the Confederate Flag like that” is somewhere between entirely appropriate or understandable. It’s our symbol. Even then, there should be a degree of mutual understanding that it doesn’t quite mean to them what it means to us. But somebody’s gotta tell them, if they don’t know. If they do? Well, there’s global multiculturalism for you, I guess.

They sort of admit the context angle at the end, but nonetheless close with “our cultural referees to pull out a red card in protest” as though it’s our business to be referees in this particular case.

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2 Responses to Sometimes, Americans Aren’t The Intended Audience

  1. Brandon Berg says:

    The “not for Americans” issue aside, there’s still something about this knee-jerk cargo-cult thinking that irks me. It seems to me that people should make a good-faith effort to understand the intent behind a speech act instead of making obviously incorrect assumptions based on a vague similarity to something offensive.

    The problem with minstrel shows wasn’t that performers painted their faces black; it was that they portrayed black people in a demeaning manner. I don’t think it’s unreasonable to ask people to note the distinction between mocking black people and expressing solidarity before getting up in arms.

    • trumwill says:

      As far as the US goes, given the history I don’t think it’s up to black folks to discern intent. It’s a pretty clear rule and really easy to follow. I’ll defend women giving themselves a mud facial or something, but otherwise easiest just not to do it.

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