The biggest story in Romania right now is that a Romanian football (soccer) assistant referee called someone “black” (source).
Before anything, let me tell you that Romanians are incredibly racist. We are so racist we don’t even think we’re racist.
Any person with a darker skin tone can be referred to as “Țigan” / ”Gypsy”.
The Roma people were sold as slaves up until the 19th century, under that term, so it’s equivalent to the American “N-word”.
However, even some of the most liberal Romanians don’t shy away from using the “Ț-word”. Some go as far as thinking Roma prefer being called that.
Roma are seen as thieves and criminals, who are loud and like crap music (manele).
Personally, I like to see myself as liberal, and consciously I try to be as fair as I can. But subconsciously I am driven by my racist upbringing.
As a kid, my family told me not to go outside on my own because “Gypsies would take me and sell my organs”.
Try as I might, my internal alarms still start ringing when I talk or am near Roma people. And I hate that about myself.
Otherwise, I am a supporter of Black Lives Matter, and disgusted by stories like Breonna Tyler’s (In case you forgot, she was killed in her bed by cops who raided the wrong address).
I am a straight/cis white guy living in a majority-white country. My random experience with revealing my nationality to the wrong people is not enough for me to know what discrimination really means.
I have no idea what the wrong word can do to people who were looked down and called that word.
Considering all I just wrote, my take on the problem of the “Racist Romanian Referee” could be unwillingly actually racist.
Let’s start with the facts.
It seems that it all started with this:
I can’t make out the first part of what it is said. I think it’s “Dă-i la ăla galben” which means “Give that [guy] a yellow [card]” (In case you are not familiar with the format, anything in [square brackets] is added to have it make sense in English, and is not a direct translation).
Then, the following part is clear: “Ăla negru de acolo” which I am going to separate in words, to make it clear:
- “Ăla” means “That”, or “That guy”. Also, this is the informal version of “Acela”.
- “negru” means “black”, as in the general color, regardless if it refers to skin or some item that is black. Since nobody seems to wear black clothes, it obviously refers to the skin color.
- “de” means “from”.
- “acolo” means “there”, or “over there”
So the literal translation is “That black [guy] over there”.
Just for completion, the final thing said is “Nu se poate așa ceva” which is harder to translate. In this context, it basically means “Can’t do that” or “They crossed the line”.
If we are to treat people equally, we have to assume people make mistakes, regardless of their skin color.
The assistant referee, Sebastian Colțescu, probably should have used a different descriptor for Pierre Webó. With the benefit of hindsight and a lot of online images, maybe calling him bald would have been more appropriate, and the Romanian word for it (“chel”) doesn’t sound like any English racial slur.
Colțescu didn’t have 24 hours. He just had a few moments to provide the main referee with a description.
And yes, considering Romanian people’s natural racism, I understand why the skin color is the first distinctive feature he saw.
Since he was speaking informally, if he tried to say something like “Person of color”, it could have resulted in a more offensive term, like “coloratul” (the colored).
But what if Webó also made a mistake? What if he heard the Romanian “negru”, thought it has the same connotation as the American N-word. Or maybe he thought Colțescu actually used the term “n***o”.
Trying to put myself in his shoes, just as a fellow human being, I would have run with it even after I realized my mistake.
I wouldn’t care if it resulted in something debated throughout Europe.
To be clear: he would have pushed on only because people don’t like to admit when they made a mistake.
There’s an annoying amount of racism in the World. Not everything has a racist connotation, though.
I think there should be a distinction between using words to denigrate people, and using them to describe people.
But that could be just my racist upbringing speaking.