Sunshine Abroad

The trials and rewards of French translation and beyond

Stampedes, Riots, and Revelers

Unfortunately, something scary happened at the soccer game here in Tana yesterday -- yes, I'm fine; no, I wasn't anywhere near it; in fact, I was in bed recovering from a stomach bug -- there was a stampede outside the stadium after it hit capacity and the (only) door was closed. Someone died, a bunch of people were hurt. Never fun news to wake up to.

And then, if you're Reuters, the news also says this:

"Deaths at stadiums have been all too frequent on the African continent in the past as poor policing and marshalling of spectators at usually over-crowded venues has provided a recipe for tragedy." (NYTimes, from Reuters)

It goes on. Six of the thirteen paragraphs of that article are describing these "frequent" happenings "on the African continent:" in Ghana, Malawi, Egypt, and South Africa.

That's a lot. Almost half the article.

I've been trying all morning to figure out how best to react to this. Yes, it's a news story. Yes, people were hurt and killed. Yes, it's a problem if the stadium only has one entrance, if there isn't an adequate system for tickets to let people know ahead of time if they will or won't be getting in to see the game, if there isn't enough security (or trained security) to prevent stampedes. But still, it's really reductionist to talk about ALLLLLL the other stampedes on "the African continent" for almost half a news article. The BBC does much better from a reporting angle, but...still: "Stampedes at stadiums in Africa occur on a regular basis, often due to poor crowd control in over-crowded stadiums."

Plus, I can't shake the feeling that there's a problem in how Western news outlets talk about stampedes before African soccer games versus, say, riots after American football games. In recent years, there have been more and more articles about this, from trying to explain the psychology of American football fans rioting after a win to this more direct and chilling Mic article:

"The city of Baltimore has been besieged by riots Monday night [late April 2015] — and police are on the scene ready to serve, protect and subdue.

This has become an evergreen narrative in the aftermath of reactions to state-sanctioned violence against black people. But that it persists sends a troubling message about how officials and, by extension, many of the people they serve regard rioting: specifically, when there's white people involved versus mostly black people.  

Usually, if a riot involves black people, it's connected to intense episodes of where systemic racism is undoubtedly at work. [...]

But when a mob of mostly white people take to the streets, vandalizing cars, storefronts and street signs in the process it usually means someone either won or lost a game.

As Mic's Zak Cheney-Rice noted in January, these rioters are usually called "revelers," "celebrants" and "fans." They're not even called "rioters" in many cases. They're not derided as "criminals," "thugs," "pigs" or even "violent." Those descriptors, as events in Baltimore Monday night reveals yet again, are only reserved for black people. They're the ones who need to be quelled by militarized police forces. They're the ones who need to be off the streets, immediately. They're diminishing the validity of their cause. Yet somehow, reckless behavior over a sports team, not a systemic matter of life and death, is viewed as a costly nuisance."

The article continues with some really scary photos of "celebrations," some where police didn't even get involved.

I dunno. I've been trying to learn and process a lot of systematic racism and my role in this world over the past four years. Maybe I'm overreacting, maybe I'm seeing things where they don't exist, maybe I'm comparing two vastly different things.

But then again.

Words are important. How we use words matters. How we label people and their actions matters. And just like I pointed out before, if cheating politicians exist all over the world, maybe it's a problem to say that "corruption" only exists in Madagascar and other poor countries, but not the US. Maybe it's also a problem to talk about "poor policing on the African continent" if we can't bring ourselves to call white fans "rioters," and black people fighting for their freedom are automatically labelled "thugs." Maybe it's a problem if I type "riots after football games" and the first page of Google results are mostly news outlets from the UK and Singapore talking about riots after (yes) American football games in the US.

(Surprise, here's a translator talking about how words matter. Who'da thunk? This is breaking news, too, right??)