Ever heard of minstrel shows?

If you have the time, I highly suggest that you look at this ESPN report on racism in Europe:

httpvh://www.youtube.com/watch?v=CEqJG3csztU

The report talks about incidents in Europe where soccer players of color have been called names, taunted, or worse because they are Black (or non-White). Samuel Eto’o, a Cameroonian playing soccer in Europe once had bananas thrown at him by fans calling him racist names and making monkey noises. That particular incident really bothered me as a soccer fan and as a Mexican living in a very White area of the country.

When I lived in El Paso, Texas, I felt right at home even though I was living in the United States and not my native Mexico. Not only did 76% of the people in El Paso look like me and, for the most part, speak Spanish, but Mexico was just a drive over the political boundary away. I could go to Mexico and return as much as I pleased.

Once I moved to Pennsylvania, however, I ended up in Waynesboro, where the population of Hispanics was about 1% at the time. It has since doubled, I hear. No one looked like me. No one spoke Spanish. In fact, the only Spanish-speakers were the drunk drivers brought to the hospital where I worked or the criminals in the news. (At least that’s how it seemed.) The only Blacks I saw in Waynesboro worked at the hospital. They certainly weren’t out and about in the community.

So I was very, very observant of racial relationships. This was magnified when I started to frequent Washington, DC, on the weekends and then for school. Among major US cities, DC is one of the “Blackest”. I made friends and had fellow students who were Black. And then I also made friends who were Hispanic from countries other than Mexico. I became more multicultural than I thought I was, and this was a good thing.

This all led me to learn about the racist things that people have done to Blacks, particularly in the United States. I got to learn about minstrel shows. From Wikipedia:

“Minstrel shows lampooned black people as dim-witted,[1] lazy,[1] buffoonish,[2][1] superstitious, happy-go-lucky,[1] and musical. The minstrel show began with brief burlesques and comic entr’actes in the early 1830s and emerged as a full-fledged form in the next decade. In 1848, blackface minstrel shows were the national art of the time, translating formal art such as opera into popular terms for a general audience.[3]

But back to the bananas.

In that video at the beginning, ESPN shows several incidents where bananas were used to taunt Black players. But that was Europe, and it was soccer. Surely we’re better than that in the United States, 150 years after the Civil War, 50 years after the Civil Rights struggles. No, not really.

Last year, three students from a mostly White high school in Pittsburgh ran onto the basketball court dressed like bananas and making monkey noises at the players form the mostly Black opposing school. Two years ago, a Black player in the NHL was on the receiving end of a banana thrown at him by a fan from the opposing team. Last year, when he scored the winning goal in a hockey game, plenty of so-called “hockey fans” took to Twitter to call him all sorts of racist names. The word “banana” was thrown about liberally. (It happened to him again when he went to play in Europe during the recent NHL lock-out.)

What I’m getting at is that the use of bananas as a taunt towards Black people is racist, plain and simple.

So I was deeply saddened when I saw a friend of mine post this on Facebook:

Screen Shot 2013-02-05 at 8.57.19 PM

It is a doctored image of this picture:

US-POLITICS-OBAMA-BASKETBALL

So here we have the President and First Lady of the United States, both Black, being taunted or teased by a banana. My friend was linking to an image posted by “Country Loud & Country Proud”. The comments there are horrible, with many of them being very racist and the rest of the comments complaining that “the race card” was being used by those who objected to the image of a banana being used to taunt two Black people.

I’d like to give my friend the benefit of the doubt and say that she doesn’t know about the use of bananas as taunts towards Black people. She is a wonderful person and someone I’ve seen grow up from a young age. Knowing that she might read this, I’m asking her to just read it and try to understand how I felt when she posted that picture, and how any Black friends of her may feel as well.

I'm a fourth-year doctoral candidate in the Doctor of Public Health program at the Johns Hopkins University Bloomberg School of Public Health. All opinions posted here are my own, of course, and they do not necessarily reflect the opinions of my school, employers, friends, family, etc. Feel free to follow me on Twitter: @EpiRen