On Monday an article entitled “King: MMA star Conor McGregor is a bigot — but he’s been given a free pass” was published in the New York Daily News by Shaun King. The writer and civil rights activist pointed out how a bigot behaviour is encouraged by the brands involved in the MMA business and how the fighters get more “provocative” before the matches as a way of promoting them.
On one of this occasions, in 2015, before a match against a Brazilian fighter Jose Aldo, the author recalls that “McGregor repeatedly resorted to disgustingly bigoted attacks. In a reference to colonialism, McGregor said, ‘If this was a different time, I would invade his favela on horseback and kill anyone that was not fit to work.’ Afterwards he said, ‘What I really want to do is turn his favela into a Reebok sweatshop.’ McGregor also said about Aldo, in an apparent joke targeting Latinos, ‘I think I’m going to have him come and clean up my airplane.’’’
The point is, why at the XXI century racism and other forms of hate speech are still profitable and why so many people identify with them? It would be easier – and quite enjoyable- just call McGregor a f*** idiot or end up in discussions that relativise racism as a subjective matter or justify it as an ontological issue. In fact, racism is a social phenomenon that calls for historical knowledge and a dose of empathy to be understood.
It is necessary to know that the genesis of the idea of race – the basis of racist thinking from which the ideology of superiority and racial inferiority originated – has its roots in the birth of America and the emergence of colonial and euro-centralized capitalism. Theories about race began to be elaborated to justify and naturalize colonial relations. That is, prejudice got scientific status and tried to explain the relationships between dominators and dominated under the false view of a natural superiority and inferiority between human beings.
As McGregor knows, Ireland also suffered from racism and colonial exploitation. In the middle of XIX century, Irish workers were less paid than their English peers and mistreated by them – who felt threatened by the mass Irish immigration to England and its consequences: the growing competition for jobs and the decline of the wages. The mainstream narrative of the situation advocated that the foreign was the dangerous enemy that would destabilise the Queen’s land. No mention was made to the fact that the Irish were left without any options to live in their own land by the same English elite that was profiting from the misery of their own people. As it is known, capitalism knows no borders or races.
The Irish have never been in a coloniser’s position but it is necessary to point out that racism and xenophobia also exist in Ireland. We cannot reduce the problem to mere matter of subjectivity – “sometimes – some – people like to be nasty”. This morning an Irish man, apparently surprised that I was able to reply to his greeting in English asked in disbelief if I could speak his language. My answering him back provoked him to justify himself that he was only joking and that he did not mean to be offensive. On another occasion, a friend of mine had her face beaten up by an old man because she was walking on the sidewalk with her bike and “people in this country don’t do it’’. When I just had arrived in Dublin, the Brazilians I met advised me to be aware of eggs being thrown by children through the windows. There are lots of cases of abuse at work related by the Brazilian community and the latina and black woman are seen as an easy target of harassment.
In other words, you don’t need to have a swastika tattooed on your chest or a KKK white robe to be an official racist. You can be racist even if you have a black friend or have dated a latina woman – it can also be identified as cultural fetishisation or misogyny by the way.
To conclude, racism is still used as a way to dehumanise groups of individuals to dominate, exploit and to control then. As in a MMA match, our society is fed with the manicheist idea which divides us into the so called good and the bad/ we and them/ the heroes and the enemies. The media – as a spokesperson for the ruling class – and the entertainment industry are here to keep the fear alive, to make us feel powerless, lost and divided. It can be seen here in Ireland in the Brexit fear fed by the media to keep the working class aware that things could get worse because of external reasons or by popular icons as Conor McGregor who say what people supposedly want to say in a context of an increasing immigration and the rise of costs of living. More than just an opinion or a pre-match provocation, his words have a real impact on the way we see each other and it can make our daily fight for life as immigrants in a new country more difficult. Such bigotry needs to be defeated.