By Mordechai Taji - A Washington Post article last week resurfaced the issue that Argentina's national football team featured no black players, as opposed to Germany, Spain, France, and other European squads.
The controversial article's headline Why doesn’t Argentina have more Black players in the World Cup? already entails the assumption that things ought to be that way, without ever explaining why.
Bylined by the University of Texas Professor Erika Denise Edwards, who boasts to be the author of the award-winning book Hiding in Plain Sight: Black Women, the Law and the Making of a White Argentine Republic, the article starts by underlining that Argentina’s soccer team pales in comparison in terms of its Black representation as if something beyond kicking the ball into the goal was at stake.
Without delving any further into the piece, it is already striking that Black, which is merely a color, would be capitalized as a proper adjective. According to the Free Dictionary, ”[d]etermining when to capitalize words in the titles of creative or published works (...) can be very difficult because there is no single, generally accepted rule to follow. The same page specifies that Proper adjectives are formed from proper nouns, and they are also capitalized. It gives the following examples: Italy / Italian; China / Chinese; Christ / Christian; and Shakespeare / Shakespearean. Thus, it remains hard to fathom the proper noun from which Black would derive. But the same page then mentions something called reverential capitalization, which is especially common in pronouns, though it can occur with other nouns associated with or used as a metaphor for God. Nouns, not adjectives. And in any case, this practice is one of style rather than grammatical correctness. The same considerations apply to the Washington Post's uppercasing White people issues.
Edwards recalls that In 2010, Argentina’s government released a census that noted 149,493 people, which amounts to 1 percent of the country, was Black and drew attention to the country's undisputable past: a longer history of Black erasure, she wrote.
She then pointed out that most black slaves drafted to the independence war armies simply deserted, leaving ”Black women in Argentina (...) no choice but to marry, cohabitate with or form relationships with European men — leading to the 'disappearance' of Black people. The WaPo column then explained that Black women in Argentina made concerted decisions to pass as White or Amerindian to obtain the benefits afforded by whiteness for their children.
Edwards argued that Morocho, an inoffensive label, continues to be used in Argentina today... as a way of distinguishing non-White people.
Perhaps the most famous morocho in Argentina is soccer legend Diego Maradona, insisted Edwards, unaware of the fact that the most famous morocho was tango singer Carlos Gardel, a popular icon just as big as Maradona, whom hardly anyone recalls as going by that nickname. Gardel was undoubtedly not born in Argentina. There are two theories: one claiming he was born in France and the other that he had been born in Uruguay.
Back to football, Uruguayan striker Edinson Cavani was fined in 2020 for calling a friend negrito on social media. It did not sink into the minds of the English League bosses that calling people by their skin color has no pejorative connotation in these parts of the world. Neither Cavani nor his friend ever took the comment as an insult. On the contrary, it is even affectionate.
Some time ago, Argentina used to have a player with a skin color less pale than that of Lionel Messi and closer to that of Kylian Mbappé. Héctor Rodolfo Baley was the substitute goalkeeper during the 1978 and 1982 World Cups. He stayed at the bench throughout both tournaments and rarely had a chance to hit the pitch because starting keeper Ubaldo Fillol didn't even catch a cold, Baley recalled in an interview.
According to Wikipedia, Baley's nicknames are Negro, Loco and Chocolate, the one he still goes by at the age of 72 for football fans. In his native Ingeniero White, however, Baley was known as Chiche. The first goalie to save a penalty from Maradona back in 1977, Baley made the headlines for his goalkeeping, while his race” was never an issue, probably as a result of the ethnic cleansing Edwards so accurately describes, which happened decades before football was even invented.
The Washington Post's article drew several comments from Argentina fans on social media. Perhaps the most accurate reply was that Argentine national team players might have been picked from their footballing merits regardless of their skin color. As it had happened with Baley.
The column also forgot to mention that 21st Century black stars had flocked to Europe in search of prosperity, which would also explain the absence of newcomers black or otherwise in Argentina, a country with very little to offer, unlike the European powers.