What do you get when you mix an obscenely racist Spanish candy, a well-meaning but ill-advised joke tweet between Premier League teammates, and a manager who clearly doesn’t know anything about the history of racist imagery? Well, you get a racism scandal perfectly suited for 2019, with only a bag of delicious chocolate-covered peanuts to heal your pain.
This all started on Sunday, when Manchester City’s Portuguese star Bernardo Silva tweeted an image depicting a childhood photo of teammate and close friend, Benjamin Mendy, alongside the logo of Conguitos, a Spanish candy. The tweet has since been deleted, so here’s a screenshot:
Hopefully, any American with even a cursory understanding of racist caricatures can tell that the Conguitos logo is bad. The monkey-like body, the bulging eyes, the exaggeratedly big and round and ruby-red lips—just absolutely textbook racismo going on here. And for Americans unfamiliar of just how racist this blatantly racist candy mascot could get, check out these even more racist commercials Conguitos—which is still in business today with the same racist mascot!—has put out over the years:
Clearly, the Conguitos logo is bad. The figure expressly harkens back to the kinds of racist caricatures and the concomitant stereotypical behaviors that were used to dehumanize black people and justify their second-class status. Silva comparing Mendy to this racist caricature is also bad, as it directly or indirectly lends credence to the supposed accuracy of racist depictions, and anyway is just a dumb thing to do. Again, to any American with any sense of this stuff, this is obvious.
Over in Europe, though, lots of well-meaning people simply don’t get it—chief among them Silva, who presumably never would’ve sent the tweet if he knew why comparing his buddy to a racist cartoon wasn’t a good idea. Mendy also might not have gotten why Silva’s joke was a bad look, judging from his reply to the tweet:
Some Europeans do get why this is bad, though, and the backlash the tweet incurred led Silva to delete it—though not without making clear that he thought all the consternation was over the top:
In the replies to that tweet, someone dredged up another instance of Silva using Mendy’s race as the butt of a cheap joke:
Though all of these tweets and jokes are bad, they are also extremely inconsequential. Silva and Mendy have been teammates since 2016 at Monaco and then at City, are notorious jokesters in the locker room and on social media, and are by all accounts legitimately very close friends. That Silva thought this tweet was all in good fun, and that Mendy didn’t seem particularly offended by a dumb little joke by one of his good friends, is no surprise and isn’t really anything to get worked up about. When Conguitos and its straight-out-of-the-Censored-Eleven mascot is a common sight at grocery stores around continental Europe, you can’t be shocked that a professional athlete doesn’t fully appreciate why he shouldn’t use the logo to light-heartedly tease his buddy.
Which is what makes the response of Kick It Out, an organization focused on eradicating racism from the sport, a little too het up. In a statement, Kick It Out said it was “extremely disappointed” with Silva’s tweet, and called on the FA to take action. From the Guardian:
“Racist stereotypes are never acceptable as ‘banter’, and we’re shocked that someone who is a role model to millions has failed to understand the discriminatory nature of his post.
“The FA have been notified and we believe that retrospective action should be taken, including mandatory education – which is vital to challenge offensive behaviour such as this.”
The FA has said it is aware of the matter and has asked City for an explanation before it decides what, if any, action to take. If Silva is found guilty of racism, the FA could suspend him for six matches, as is the protocol when a player is adjudged to have been racist on the pitch.
Silva receiving any kind of suspension would be insane. The one thing Kick It Out’s statement got right is that the best way to handle this is to have someone sit Silva down and explain to him why saying a black kid resembles a racist caricature isn’t cool, even if it doesn’t mean he’s a racist himself. That’s all this minor ordeal deserves.
Ideally, Mendy or another one of Silva’s teammates or coaches could take it upon themselves to have that chat with Silva. One thing we do know, however, is that that man should not be City manager Pep Guardiola, who addressed the controversy after a League Cup match yesterday and said just about all the wrong things.
Let’s get into Guardiola’s full statement, via the Guardian, because it’s a doozy. He started off like this, after being asked about Kick It Out’s demand that the FA take action:
“I don’t know what is going to happen but they should put the focus on other issues because they don’t know which guy you are talking about. Bernardo is one of the most lovely people I have ever met in my life.
Not too bad to start, but verging dangerously close to that most infamous of tells, saying someone “doesn’t have a racist bone in his body.” But it gets worse:
“He speaks four or five languages – that is the best way to understand how open-minded he is – and one of his best friends is Mendy. He is like a brother for him. The image for the two is not about the colour of the skin. He took a picture of Benjamin when he was young and he related it to this cartoon, which was quite similar for the image …
Pretty sure polyglotism is no cure for racism, and did Pep just combine “one of Bernardo’s best friends is black” with “plus, you’ve gotta admit, there is a resemblance ...”? Oof.
“If they [the FA] want to do that, to ask Bernardo, we’d be open to talk, but first to do that you have to know exactly which person are you talking about.
“There are many situations with people, with white people and you look at a cartoon and [the face] is quite similar as your face and you put it in there, it is quite similar.
Oh my god, really? The “well if he would’ve done it with a white person, nobody would’ve even mentioned it” defense? Come on, Pep. You’re better than this.
“I think the response from Mendy was clear after that. They are joking all the time. Maybe it is what I said many times and my advice is not to use social media too much. If something happens it would be a mistake because Bernardo is an exceptional person.”
Silva, a 25-year-old who’s probably thought about little other than soccer for the vast majority of his life, didn’t quite understand why a popular candy logo wasn’t something he should compare his good friend’s childhood picture to. That is an offense, but a small and forgivable one. Guardiola, a famously worldly and sophisticated and intellectually curious 48-year-old, is out here defending a bad tweet with the same rhetoric shithead teens use to justify why they should be allowed to say “nigger” ironically. That is much worse and more concerning than anything in Silva’s tweet. If the FA decides to send Silva to one of those racial sensitivity classes in the coming weeks, here’s hoping Pep tags along with him.