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Tuesday, June 13, 2006

Racism and The World Cup - An Enormous Problem That Must Be Solved

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It's disquieting and unnerving to think that there are people in the World who dislike you just because your skin is darker than there own. It's weird to know that someone thinks it's just fine to harm you because you don't look like they do. It's hurtful to know that there are people in charge who seem to look the other way as these acts are carried out.

It's even more disheartening to know such behavior goes on at the World's most popular sports event. But it does.

The 2006 World Cup has been beset with fears of racist behavior on the part of European fans even as it's just getting under way. But these concerns are not without good reason. For example, Nigerian forward Adebowale Ogungbure was spat upon by German citizens just as he and his teammates were finishing a club match in Halle March 25th of this year. Yes, 2006.

FIFA, the World Soccer organizing body, has identified a trend toward increases in racist acts like the ones described. My question is why do these acts happen do often in Europe? The World is not treated to stories of such high levels of racism in Africa. Or if not Europe, then in Austrialia -- which is mostly white. Why is this? The question must be asked.

The truth is that Africa too has it's racial problems, but for the most part the issues of today have their roots in European Colonialism. So, we're back to the central focus on Europe. And it must be reported that the African conflicts are in many cases not blacks attacking whites, even though such problems do occur. But the white-attacks-black problem is prevalent all over Europe.

Is it safe for African American tourists visting Germany? Given the wave of news, the obvious answer seems to be "not really." If one's not familar with the nation's cities and where to go, it seems one could step into problem environments. It's not easy for black athletes in Germany either, as this ESPN video clip will show:

If you're wondering if there are any accounts of black Americans and racism in Europe, I did find the case of Shawn Shelton, who gives a detailed and causionary tale of problems he encountered in Eastern Europe.

Mr. Shelton writes "Although racial incidents occur in Western Europe from time to time, for the most part they are unthreatening. Paris, Berlin, Stockholm, and Amsterdam are all sophisticated and cosmopolitan cities. However, east of the German and Swiss borders skin color becomes a factor in most interactions with the native populations.

I began to have second thoughts about my 7-week jaunt through Eastern Europe soon after I left the Salzburg train station and saw the Nazi swastikas and the words “Minderheiter Verboten” (Minorities Forbidden). Here, and throughout my entire trip, I was repeatedly asked by Africans about how they could emigrate to the U.S. They told me it was hard for them to find jobs where they were and that the police constantly harassed them.

If you are a person of color considering a visit to Bratislava in Slovakia, I’d advise against it. Bratislava is a collection of abandoned factories, an industrial town with no industry. Imagine Flint, Michigan or Gary, Indiana after the Ford and GM factory closures and multiply by five."

While this is a problem that's not going to go away anytime soon, America can help it's black citizens abroad in this way: the President of The United States should issue a television radio message that acts of racism toward American people traveling abroad during the World Cup will not be tolerated and met with swift punishment under internatonal law. American embasies should have special offices staffed with people who can contact the local and national authorities and the media and gain swift action. The office should also tell people candidly where they should and should not go. Americans of color must know they're being protected.

In closing here's Part Two of the ESPN news special on racism in the World Cup.

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