Unfortunately, acts of racism such as a banana being thrown at Barcelona star Dani Alves by a Villarreal fan are nothing new in Spain.
From England’s national football team being racially abused in Madrid in 2004 to then-national coach Luis Aragones insulting Thierry Henry with a racial slur and Lewis Hamilton being subjected to racist chants in Barcelona six years ago, discrimination based on skin colour has been a major issue for many years.
Essentially, there is simply a very different perception of what the world ‘racism’ actually means than in many other parts of the developed world.
Perhaps that’s to do with the fact that there are fewer black people in Spain and the native population has therefore had less opportunity to overcome their ignorant prejudices, but whatever the reason it has created an environment when casual racism is rife.
The use of the word “mono” (monkey) to describe black people is tossed around casually in everyday life, without anyone raising an eyelid – even by people who would be aghast at being labelled racist.
Clearly, that state of affairs is unacceptable and it has been heartening to see the swift and universal condemnation to the banana-throwing incident at El Madrigal.
Unlike other recent instances of racism which were more or less ignored – Marcelo being subjected to racist chants by Atletico Madrid fans, for example – there has been an overwhelming rejection of the treatment received by Alves.
However, don’t expect an overnight change in attitudes in Spain. Prejudices of that nature, especially when they are held casually, almost unconsciously, take a long time to be turned around.
Spain is in a roughly similar situation as England in the 1980s, when John Barnes was the one being pelted by bananas and the anti-racist ‘Kick It Out’ campaign still didn’t exist.
It will take that amount of time, and a similarly sustained effort from the authorities (which is currently lacking at both a sporting and political level), before Spanish society significantly advances towards inclusiveness.
Prejudices can only be truly overcome by education rather than threat, so talk of strict punishments for offenders and stadium bans won’t actually do much to tackle the real problem – although it might make racists less likely to express their opinions.
Spanish society, therefore, needs to embark upon a long-term and committed programme of education, starting in the classroom but also including high-profile public campaigns similar to ‘Kick It Out’, which has undoubtedly made a positive difference in the UK.
Perhaps, though, the most immediate impact of the Alves incident will be to end the use of bananas as a racist symbol.
Throwing the fruit has long been a ubiquitous course of action for racists. Alves’ reaction and the social media craze he has spawned could change that by effectively disempowering the racist impact of a banana and turning it into a figure of fun.
The next time a racist thinks about throwing a banana, he or she will be aware they are most likely to be subjected to mockery, and nobody wants that – especially insecure bigots.