Tuesday, June 27, 2006

The Post-Slavery Futbol Helix: Notes of a "Confused Haitian"


I have been slow to write about the world cup because I didn’t really know where to jump in. I had an idea for a piece about how Michael Jordan might’ve become the greatest soccer goalie of all-time if he ever took up the sport, this piece was inspired by watching footage of Trinidad’s goalie Shaka Hislop.

I’ve also been on the move too much to really sit down and flesh out that idea or anything really substantial about the world cup, not to mention some event just create their own narratives and they don’t need writing hacks like me to intervene.

All of this seemed to change however this week when I got caught up in what can only be described as Ghana-mania during my stay out here in California. Ghana-mania began last week Thursday when the friend who I was staying with in LA woke me up at 6am PST to watch the Ghana vs United States match (the match started at 7am PST and we had been out til 2am). It was a good spirited morning but my friend kept on blasting the ESPN broadcasters for being too American-centered, and she was right, they were very American-centered—but I felt for very good reason, millions of dollars had been invested in this American team that either wildly underperformed or was grossly overhyped. The broadcasters were doing their job trying to explain to the average American viewer which one it was.

It was hilarious watching the Ghanaians in attendance calling all the Afro-American players “traitors” for playing against their homeland, then two seconds later conceding that the Americans could have them because they weren’t that good anyway. Since it’d been years since I last played the beautiful game, I forgot exactly how much trash-talking goes on both on and off the pitch. Yankee and Red Sox fans have nothing on soccer fans when it comes to cutting down their adversaries. Fortunately, as a Haitian, I was playing the role of Switzerland and enjoying the serenity of my neutrality—or so I thought.

Ghana-mania was ratcheted up a notch when my friend and her dad turned their attention my beloved Haiti and our absence from the World Cup field. I made the error of telling them that Haitians are strong supporters of Brazil and many have adopted Brazil’s team as their own—an admission that led to my friend’s dad declaring “Haitians are CONFUSED.” Ghana-mania was now in full effect as the Ghanaians not only had a victory to celebrate, but a new whipping boy, the “CONFUSED” Haitians of the world.

Being the gracious host that I am I bit my tongue, and did not say anything, deciding instead to wait calmly until Ghana played Brazil in their next match—then we’d see who’s confused.

Unfortunately, I had forgotten exactly when that match was so when I got this email appeal from a friend this morning, I was, for a lack of a better word, “CONFUSED:”

"Les gaulois nos ancetres", vous connaissez bien cette expression que les francais ont utilise pour laver les cerveaux des noirs sous l'esclavage et la colonisation. Les haitiens, qui ont ete les premiers a rompre le fardeau oppresif de l'esclavage--ont toujours compris que nos vrais ancetres sont des Africains de Dahomey (aujourd'hui le Benin)...Mais parce que la region n'etait pas encore nettement separee, il est aussi possible que nous avons de meme des ancetres de La Cote d'Or--aujourd'hui le Ghana. C'est dans cet esprit chere famille que je vous encourage a soutenir le GHANA contre le Bresil dans le match aujourd'hui!! Je sais que cela n'est pas facile puisque les Haitiens soutiennent les bresiliens comme une equipe preferee, mais aujourd'hui rappelez-vous: LES GHANEENS NOS ANCETRES!!



["Les gaulois nos ancetres" this all too familiar expression was used by the French to brainwash Black minds during slavery/colonization. Haiti, as the first country to break free from France's colonial yoke, never trusted this lie--Haitians always know that our real ancestors are Africans from Dahomey (present day Benin)...of course, because this was before West Africa was divided into countries, it is possible that we do have ancestors from the region known as The Gold Coast--present day Ghana. It is in this spirit of pride in our African roots that I encourage all family members to root for GHANA against Brazil in today's World Cup Match! I know this will be hard because as Haitians we tend to root for Brazil as a favorite team, but on today let us remember--les ghaneens nos ancetres!!!]

It wasn’t the fact that I had to read French first thing in the morning that confused me, but I couldn’t really figure out what prompted my friend to send this appeal. Sure I knew she had a Ghanaian husband, so that must’ve changed her allegiances, from Ghana to Brazil, but her email had thrown a huge wrench in the post-colonial soccer matrix. Like most post-colonialists I eagerly look forward to any matches that pit the former colonizers against the former colonized (e.g. Trinidad vs. England and Angola vs. Portugal). I look forward to these matches with bated breath hoping that the former colonized will still it to their former colonizers.

However, never did I think of these matches in a post-slavery context. It was easy to laugh at my Ghanaian friend and her dad taunting the African-American players, but it wasn’t until I received my other friend’s email this morning that I realized that there really was something in those taunts, there were some traitors on the pitch, but, I wouldn’t be so quick to label the African-American players as traitors (which of course they are not). If we are talking about traitors and the legacy of slavery—and reading soccer through a post-slavery then on what side exactly should members of the African Diaspora cast their allegiances in matches where an Africanist nation like Brazil plays a African nation like Ghana?

Let me put this another way, should black folks in the Americas root for Brazil because it was the Ghanaians ancestors and their other West African compatriots who sold our ancestors into slavery?

Before I could answer this question for myself, I got a SMS message from my Ghanaian friend informing me that things were looking bleak for Ghana against Brazil—without pausing I wrote back “that’s what y’all get for selling us into slavery.” This reply had nothing to do with the post-slavery matrix that I am trying to make sense of, but was a bitter reflex response to the ribbing I took from her and her dad the previous week.



The match ended, and like most Haitians I know I am happy that Brazil won. As a futbol fan I am genuinely interested in the fate of this Brazil team as they seek to not just win the World Cup but seal a place for themselves as the greatest team in Brazilian, if not World Cup history. Their only Brazilian peers being the 1982 squad that featured the legendary foursome of Eder, Sócrates, Falcão and Zico, but which failed to win that year’s cup in spite of all the brilliance they displayed dribbling the ball on the pitch. Each time they step onto the pitch this year’s squad with Ronaldo, Ronaldinho and Kaka are fending off the ghosts of that 1982 team just as they must be focused on outplaying their opponents.

Those who saw the match saw Ronaldo score his 15th goal in world cup play to become the tournaments all-time leading scorer. This historical moment meant a lot to soccer fans who saw one of the best players from the last decade do what he does best, score, but was clearly another heartbreaking blow to Ghanaians whose team was defeated 3 – nil.

Ronaldo’s goal five minutes into match may have decided the outcome, but it does little for answering the question posed earlier, on whose side are the children of the African-Diaspora to hitch their wagons when their diaspora-cousins battle those long lost family members from the motherland?

Two interesting articles on Joe Gaetjens, the Haitian born member of the 1950 US national team shown in the picture at the beginning of this post being carried off the field by his teammates; Gaetjens scored their lone goal in the team’s World Cup upset of England in all of places Brazil. (Photo courtesy of www.wikipedia.org)

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/England_v_United_States_(1950)

http://www.webster.edu/~corbetre/haiti/misctopic/sports/gaetjens.htm

11 comments:

Alice B. said...

very very interesting post. goes to show all of the complexities that are often glossed over about our relationship to Africa and to Latin America. Hopefully, those of us who want to cheer for Ghana can do so without being insulted. But conversely those of us who want to cheer for Brazil (and I agree with you, that is probably over 90% of Haitians, even if the opposite team is Ghana) should be able to do so without being insulted either.

We should all be able to cheer for the teams that speak to our hearts for the sake of the sport itself.

Wardell Franklin said...

the diaspora vs. the continent. 'twas quite 'confusing,' indeed.


i suppose i'm even more 'confused' because my favorite squad, outside of the africans, are for les bleus: zizou, henry, viera, et al.

forgive me, my haitian brother.

Anonymous said...

As an African (Cape Verdean)-Brazilian I was torn last
week when I found out that Ghana was going to play
Brazil. Ghana has an amazingly strong team. Part of me
really wanted an African team to make it to the
finals, especially since the next WC will be in South
Africa and it would be great for an African team to
defend their homeland.

However, I have Brazilian citizenship. I grew up
speaking Brazilian Portuguese, eating black beans,
listening to samba and being overly-emotional about
soccer. Before I was born, Brazil provided my Cape
Verdean family with economic refuge. I don't know
Ghana. I don't speak Twi nor Ga. Nonetheless, I was
advised by an African American that I was selling out
by rooting against Ghana and rejecting my country.

Soccer is more than a game in Brazil, it's economic
and community uplifter. The country is unified in it's
support for the team and the boom it brings to the
economy. That's why I want Brazil to win. I will
always love soccer the way only a Brazilian national
can. I will always sport my yellow, blue and green.

But I hope that some day an African team will have the
resources needed to dominate the sport. How wondeful
would it be if an African team took the cup in South
Africa!!

Anonymous said...

Thank you for "schooling" people. I grew influenced by my Haitian father's alliance to Brazil. He told me, "cherie ... a cheer for Brazil is a cheer for Haiti:-"
This year's Worldcup has left me torn. I had to edure my Mexican mother's sadness at defeat....c'est la vie!

Rich said...

lol
thank goodnes my Haitian father was never a sports fanatic, same as me

Twixie said...

I've heard that since the 74 appearance in the world cup.. Haitians have just decided to split their loyalties between Brazil and Argentina... My mother a big fan of Argentina does not care much for Brazil. She hasn't been the same since Maradona. My father never cared for the sport, very strange indeed.

Anonymous said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
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