The "N" Word: Does Language Matter?

by Keshree on October 28, 2014 - 8:47pm


            In the article “Luis Suarez: Ban for Patrice Evra racism row unfair and a 'stain' on my character that will be there forever”, the author reports Luis Suarez’s reaction to his eight-game ban  for using the word negro. The football player relates how he feels that he was unfairly punished for using said word while he was arguing with Patrice Evra during a match between Liverpool and Manchester United. According to Suarez he was misrepresented by Liverpool and its representatives. He maintains that the argument was in Spanish and that the word “negro” has a different meaning in Spanish than it has in English and that he absolutely did not mean to sound racist, which he is not. However, the FA disciplinary committee is not convinced. According to them, Suarez used the word “negro” at least seven times and even said “I don’t talk to blacks” at one point.

            I think that Mr. Suarez is completely missing the point of why he is being accused of racism in the first place. I understand that the word “negro” does not have the same meaning in Spanish as it has in English. But it is the fact that he was calling Patrice Evra “black” and using it in a denigrating manner that made the FA disciplinary committee punish him. Suarez seems to think that, just because “negro” in Spanish does not have as bad of a connotation as in English, it means that it is okay to use it in Spanish. But as someone in my class once said, being called “brown” in Spanish did not make them feel less bad than if they had been called the same in English[1]. It does not really matter what language the word is being used in because the word “negro” has negative connotations in both languages. Suarez is only trying to make himself seem like the victim in this situation by shifting the blame from himself to the FA disciplinary committee’s inability to understand that he was speaking in Spanish. He is not the victim here, he is the perpetrator. Can you imagine how Evra may have felt being told “I don’t talk to blacks”? I doubt he felt any better about the fact that Suarez was speaking in Spanish. It must have felt just as hurtful. We need to ask ourselves two questions: Do we still perceive racism as strongly when it is in another language than English or French? Should we?

Telegraph Sport. (2014). Luis Suarez: Ban for Patrice Evra racism row unfair and a 'stain' on my character that will be there forever. The Telegraph. Retrieved from (27 October 2014)

[1] “they” is used to protect the person’s identity.



I think this is a great topic. There can be a lot of debate about the meanings of words or actions when it comes to different languages or ethnicities. For instance, the peace sign can have a hostile or inappropriate meaning in other countries, whereas other people view it as a peace symbol or victory. So I definitely understand how the FA had an issue with Suarez using the word negro. I feel like some people use their language or background to get out of things. I think racism should be viewed the same way no matter what the language is. If it weren't it'd be almost as if we were giving certain people the right to be racist. Racism is the same no matter where you are, who you are, or what language you speak. Racism does change with language.

This is a very interesting subject. I realized Suarez had a problem with biting people but I did not know he also had a problem with racism. All jokes aside, even though it might have seemed racist and I do believe that he is not a victim, I believe too much of the problem is being blamed on racism. Luis Suarez’s behavior can also be explained by hegemonic masculinity in sports. The members of a team are not taught to respectfully just win a game, but to embarrass, degrade, and dominate the opponent team. Meaning that it is not enough to just win, but the other team must lose. I do believe that racism can be seen a lot in sports, but when it is compared to the real world it doesn’t make sense. In a sport, when someone is seen as racist it is blown out of proportion. Suarez did deserve the punishment and he did show signs of racism, but it was no more than competitive trash talk.
This is a good article if you are looking to learn more about hegemonic masculinity and its effects on sports.

I understand that a lot of it can be chalked to trash talking but I doubt that things were being blown out of proportion in Suarez's case. This is a man who called a fellow human being "negro". Sure, "negro" is not a derogatory term in Spanish but remember the context he used it in. This could have hurt Evra's feelings if he had been any less used to it than he already is. And even if Evra IS used to it, it does not justify Suarez's words.

The title attracted my attention because I find that people’s opinions on racial slurs are interesting, and I had a feeling it would be related to the Liverpool vs. Manchester United match. As someone who has a pretty good understanding of Spanish, I can understand why Suarez is trying to justify himself by saying that ‘negro’ just means the colour black in Spanish. But it seems, like you mentioned, that he isn’t getting the point. The fact is that calling someone “black” over and over again during a confrontation is racist. Why is it necessary to make it about race? In our ‘Race’ class we learn about ‘new’ racism, and I believe that Suarez is just another person that is contributing to it. Do you think he is contributing to ‘new’ racism?

I decided to comment on this post because of the topic. I find racism is a very touchy subject and your post really demonstrates that very well.

In my opinion, having a basic understanding of Spanish, there is no problem with calling a black person a negro if you are speaking Spanish. In Spanish the word for black is negro. That being said, since there is no real issue with referring to someone as black then there should be no issue with saying negro in Spanish. I want to bring your attention to this line, “Suarez seems to think that, just because ‘negro’ in Spanish does not have as bad of a connotation as in English, it means that it is okay to use it in Spanish.” I think this is statement puts to much blame on Suarez because he isn’t using the English word “negro” in a Spanish argument, he was using the Spanish word “negro”. So in my opinion it is ok for him to use that word in Spanish and it is unfair for an English speaker to attach another meaning to the word.

I am sorry if I have offended you in any way by defending him and I do understand that certain words are very touchy to some people. I also see that some times certain words can offend people without others knowing it, but I just wanted to state my opinion on how the word was taken from another language and has nothing to do with the English version of the word. Do you have any agreement with my argument or are you still think that what Suarez said was wrong?

Imagine that the conversation were in English and someone was saying, "I don't speak to Blacks." If you were a black person, would you not feel offended too? The point of my post is not that Suarez called a black man black (although, I would personally argue that this is also a form of discrimination because, how do you determine if a person is black or not? Don't say skin color. Some people with very light brown skin refer to themselves as black) but the fact that he was drawing a line between himself and black people, implying that one race was superior to the other, or at the very least, not worthy of the other's attention.

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