Neymar and racism: a tragedy in four acts

NEYMAR (verde)

Note from BW of Brazil: OK so there’s no way to avoid the obvious: The World Cup is HERE!! Cities are crazy, traffic, fireworks blowing blowing up and….MORE protests! Can you imagine the craziness?!?!? With so much that could be said, today for the opening of the Copa do Mundo, we share a perspective on one of the brightest stars of the Cup that one doesn’t often here. Neymar da Silva Santos Júnior is arguably one of the most gifted players to come out of Brazil, well, in only a few years as the nation has been a factory of futebol’s finest for well over 60 years. As this blog covers aspects of Brazilian current events, history and culture from a racial perspective, this is once again the focus of today’s post.

Folha de S.Paulo, June 12, 2014 - "The time has come: Brazil faces Croatia today, in the opening of the Cup that divides opinions."
Folha de S.Paulo, June 12, 2014 – “The time has come: Brazil faces Croatia today, in the opening of the Cup that divides opinions.”

Stakes are high as Brazil’s costly hosting of the 2014 Cup brings the 22-year phenomenon home to compete for the country’s sixth World Cup title. Also, entering today’s game, Neymar’s 50th for the Seleção Brasileira (Brazilian National Team), the star lacks only one goal to enter the top 10 list of all-time goal scorers for the team, an elite circle featuring names such Ronaldo, Ronaldinho Gaúcho, Romário, Rivaldo and at the top of the list, “Rei Pelé” (King Pelé). 

BW of Brazil has already featured Neymar on a number of posts so this isn’t actually news, but again, as his star is so bright, it isn’t a common discussion that one hears about the poster boy of a wide array of Brazilian products. But Neymar’s positions (or non-positions) on matters of race have, like his skills on the field, drawn various comparisons with Brazil’s undisputed most famous star futebolista of African descent. 

Neymar and racism: a tragedy in four acts

by Marcel Pilatti

2- June 12, 2014 - Folha

Racism is a problem inherent to humans: it has been like this throughout history – Slavery, for hundreds of years, and illegitimate regimes such as Nazism and apartheid or racial segregation on public transportation in the US during the 20th century, caused irreversible damage.

Nowadays (although without the backing of the law, as in the past) etnophobia continues to exist and directly affect blacks and migrants. With little chance to express their prejudice in everyday situations, certain of repression and punishment, many choose to use football as a means of expressing discriminatory acts.

Recently, Paulo César Caju made a very strong statement about Pelé: “He has contributed to racism,” he said. “The guy is the athlete of the century, the most popular figure in the world and doesn’t use it to fight for just causes. (…) If he had a bit of sense or sensibility, he would make a revolution in (regards to) this case [racism]. He has more impact than political and religious leaders,” argued the former player.

Former star Paulo César Caju today (left) and in his playing days
Former star Paulo César Caju today (left) and in his playing days

The critique of Caju (that was part of the 1970 World Cup team in which Pele shone intensely) was made ​​specifically about Edson Arantes do Nascimento, but somehow it applies to many other cases – Michael Jordan himself, at the height of his fabulous career, was criticized for supposedly “caring more about selling his shoes than with the cause of blacks.”

I speak of the greatness, importance and impact that idols have. One thing is to question his political actions (or lack of); another, are the causes that they defend – or ignore.

Today, like it or not, Neymar is the biggest idol of national futebol. Discussing his quality as a player is stupid: he has tremendous talent, and has already proved it in different contexts. On the other hand, discussing his public image and how he uses it is something that deserves a lot of reflections. The main one of them is in respect to his attitudes towards the racial issue.

Here is a pathetic story that can be summarized in four episodes.

Act 1: Black, who me?

Neymar emerged in futebol in 2009, just 17 years old, and right away he would lead Santos to the final of the São Paulo Championship. Throughout the year, the ace was growing physically and technically and started shaking up social networks nationwide. Early in the following season, he was nominated for the Puskas Award – which he would win in 2012 – for the great goal against Santo André.

He would ascend to position of star. He was on the cover of magazines, and began to appear with frequency on athletic programs in the country.

In April of that year, the young player – who has become of age – gave an extensive interview to the journalist Sonia Racy, of the newspaper O Estado de S. Paulo. The topics were varied: his family background, his religion, his dreams of consumption and success: “There’s no boring part [of being famous],” said the young star.

At a certain point in the conversation the inevitable question came up: “Have you ever been a victim of racism,” Racy asked. Neymar’s response: “Never. Neither on nor off the field. Really because eu não sou preto (I’m not black), right?”

Act 2: Banana to the English

A little less than a year later, in March of 2011, the Brazilian team faced Scotland in a scrimmage in London.  Neymar played very well, scoring the national team’s two goals.

Despite his good performance, the Brazilian’s game was marked by an external act: the athlete competed for the ball near the end line when a banana was thrown in his direction. The game was stopped, the banana removed, the offender identified and punished, hours later.

Soon after the match, Neymar was asked about the incident and responded by saying that “we’re utterly sad. It’s better not to touch on the subject.”

Act 3: It’s in the fur of the monkey that the bug catches hold

In January 2012, Neymar had already achieved status as national hero: he had established himself as a leader of the national team and would go on to make the list of nominees for the Bola de Oura (Golden Ball) Award.

On the 30th of that month, the music video of the song “Kong” debuted. In the video, men dressed as gorillas danced amidst women wearing bikinis. The main stars of the production: singer Alexandre Pires, songwriter and singer of the song, and Neymar, who acted as a sort of master of ceremonies in the script. Funk rapper Mr. Catra also appeared in a gorilla suit.

The chorus was very clear: “É no pelo do macaco que o bicho vai pegar (It’s in the monkey’s hair that the bug catches on.” Followed to exhaustion by the title of the track (“Kong, kong, kong…”).

Pires would later be asked to “make clarifications” to the MP (Ministério Público or Public Prosecutor) due to the alleged racism in the lyrics, and especially in the video. He granted an interview to Globo TV Sunday evening TV journal Fantástico rejecting the accusations.

Neymar, no one contested.

Act 4: #SomosTodosMacacos (We are all monkeys)

In April 2014, after another defeat of Barcelona, the Catalan team’s fans went to the teams’s training center and insulted the players, saying they “only think about the World Cup” and are not committed to the team. When passing Neymar, fans imitated the sound made by monkeys – as fans in Peru did toward another black player, Tinga.

The idol of the Brazilian team didn’t say anything on the subject, limiting himself to posting cryptic messages (“there are times when the path is difficult”) on his Instagram. In the meantime, he suffered an injury and was out of the remaining matches of the season.

Two weeks later, Barcelona faced Villarreal an opponent’s supporter threw a banana at Daniel Alves, another Brazilian player. The right-back picked it up off of the ground and ate it. His act was as simple as it was significant: it was meant to be offensive, but it up being extinguished at that very moment, and also contributed to the player recharging his energy with that source of free potassium.

Alves’s act was nothing short of genius.

A few hours later, Neymar sent a “Força Daniel” (meaning “have strength/power Daniel, stand strong”) message followed by the hashtag  #SomosTodosMacacos (We are all monkeys) on his profile on social networks. In the photo, the star was shown holding a banana with his son, who held a toy banana.

When reading a news story about Neymar’s gesture, my first reaction was to think that at last he has awaken to a reality that he always wanted to hide or which he never really cared about.

Then celebrities – ranging from Sérgio Mallandro to Luana Piovanni, as well as Ivete Sangalo and Michel Teló – and their millions of followers also reproduced similar images with the same wording.

The act resonated so much that even Carlos Miguel Aidar, president of the São Paulo Futebol Clube, held a collective press conference with bunches of bananas in front of him, ingesting them between one question and another. Aidar, who said he wanted (another Brazilian star player) Kaká on the SPFC team because the athlete “is literate, has all of his teeth…”, also joining in the fight against racism!

So, when I was already feeling paranoid and ashamed, I learned that the great message of support/ protest by Neymar was actually part of a campaign created by the publicity agency Loducca. Less than a day later there was even a t-shirt (a brand by popular TV host Luciano Huck, one the famous people who posted a photo with bananas) with the slogan “Somos Todos Macacos” for sale. The price? 69 reais (about 31 US dollars).

Neymar dreams of being equal to Pelé on the soccer field, preferably winning the World Cup which takes place in just over a month. If he’’’ get it or not we still don’t know.

Off the field, however, he is already equal.

Source: Revista Bula

About Marques Travae 3747 Articles
Marques Travae. For more on the creator and editor of BLACK WOMEN OF BRAZIL, see the interview here.


  1. I think people should lay off Neymar. If anything he is just a reflection of black Brazil and their unwillingness not to believe that black is inferior and white is superior. Black Brazilians are Neymar and Neymar is black Brazil. Sad but so true.

  2. He’s not black, so I don’t really care. There are no people who look remotely like him where I come from (Namibia) , so why should I identify with him?

    The one-drop rule way of thinking is slave-mentality, and I don’t think like that at all. Mixed-race people need to have their own category. Paolo César Caju on the other hand, is black/african.

    Mixed-race people ALWAYS sit on the fence when it comes to racial issues. It’s bad enough that people like Pelé don’t talk about the harmful effects of racism, but biracial/mixed-race people are by far the worst. Why? Because they think they have something vested in white supremacy, after all, they’re not fully black, remember? This is why pure black/african people should never trust people of mixed heritage. They always like to sit on the fence, and play that whole “colorblind-kumbaya” bullshit until they get their “nigger moment” (i.e they’re exposed to a serious case of racism) . Then they come running back to the black community, then they’re suddenly black. I don’t need that sh*t.

    By acknowledging everyone with a slight drop of African blood as African SERIOUSLY devalues what it is to be an African. We live in a world where whiteness is lauded. If we’re going to be proud of ourselves, we need to push the image of those who resemble Mr. Caju. That’s what we ALL looked like before were kidnapped and brought away from our motherland. The “originals” are always relegated to the bottom when we’re accepting everyone and anyone as being black/african, and that’s something I just can’t accept.

  3. Black is surface skin interpretation, and what it means to the beholder. Few of us in the Americas are African including Caju. We all should defend oppressed peoples, and that can depend on your color, locale, or many other reasons. Color and race in society is different in Brasil, and Neymar shouldnt have to claim he is black when he is obviously brown.

  4. If there is inherent value in being African, then white people should be able to argue the inherent value and superiority of being European. By the way you were kidnapped by black people. White people didn’t go to inner Africa.

    • White people spear-headed the slave-trade so as much as I agree that black people did the kidnapping, the ‘Baas’ ordered them to.

      • The great majority of whites and the great majority of blacks were not involved in slave trading. Black Muslims were slave traders of Blacks and Europeans. They brought the maps, technology, and laws that made modern slavery possible. The bottom line is that Neymar is multi ethnic and should be able to be who he wants.

  5. Actually Arabs enslaved blacks way before the Europeans came. In every ethnicity back in the day everyone was divided into their own tribe..what do you do with an saying blacks sold blacks is really hitting low. After all in media and entertainment they do what the white man wants…it’s all about the $$$..if want to get up in life and out of your situation, blacks sell their soul to get there and eachother..that’s why they can’t bite the hand that feeds them so they stay quiet and let the insults and worse be pounded upon them.

    Namibia is a small part of Africa so please in saying “he don’t look like me” make any fool think that everyone in Africa look the same..smh. They are many features, hair textures and skin tones to the black people. From the darkest black to the sweetest brown..all black & African down there. Everyone doesn’t look alike in Africa, not at all..some similarities from one country to the next but you can tell which African nation one is from.

    The problem is that unlike with the other ethnicities, blacks are the one always targeted and yet no one is suspicious of why. Why for so many decades are you being put down to low self esteem, lack of prosperity..put in conditions that you have to depend and ask another race for help because your own can’t help you cause they are no better than you. So many things have been destroyed and stolen from Africa besides people…history and with it gone, they (Arabs/Europeans) came and put in our “history” what they wanted us and others to believe. We are so much more than our skin colour yet those oppressors want it to stay that way.

    Don’t hate blacks..not the ones that came up with what makes black…it was taught to us by another race. Some never accepted it and that’s why some to this day don’t like it when biracials are thought as that. Many for decades to get through in life removed the black from themselves and took up another ethnicity to be accepted. I clap for those that you can clearly see the blackness in them (cause black were told too what “white” was suppose to look like) and still accept that part of them as not something disgusting. Many “African-American”/black fighters for equality were mixed…you could tell by their creamy color and whatever else but they were treated just like blacks in certain states so they accepted it more…they help make change but unfortunately…hate for the black race is everywhere…as if our ancestors were the ones that did horrible things to them…when they have done the disgustingly horrible things to blacks and non-whites (ppl with melanin) and still do. Anything horrible on a large scale to a white person or arab was cause by their own ethnicity/race..not blacks..yet hated above all for whatever twisted reasons was told and taught to hate blacks from decades ago to now.

    Can’t hide what you are…people say an ancestor of black heritage don’t matter if rest of family from then on is white..I laugh at that…DNA is a “bitch” no matter how far gone you think it’s wiped away…it remains..some thread of it is there and can be passed on to your kids..just in how much of a dose may be a concern for those who can’t stand color on the skin.

    Before now I never thought this of Brazil..I thought they all were happy down there since they love to mix with other ethnicitis and the children are the beautiful result. Thought America was the worse until I realize all the hate, no wonder it won’t go away..with ppl travelling and going to other countries, they implant their hate in that country as well….they by their own hate embarrass their country Brazil…not any player.

    • You’re COMPLETELY wrong about the skin-color issue. Idiots keep thinking that a dark skinned man is able to produce all these different shades of brown, which is complete and UTTER bullshit. I wasn’t talking about other phenotypical features, because they obviously differ (geographical location etc) , but the one thing ORIGINAL UNMIXED Africans have in common is the shade of skin, which normally ranges from milk-chocolate brown to very dark brown (i.e “blue black”)
      San bushmen are usually lighter than their Xhosa/Shona/Ovambo counterparts, but they’re still DARKER than the likes of Neymar (not counting the huge mixed-race populations in Souther Africa) . That’s just a fact. You do not find “high-yellow” un-mixed Afrikan peoples. Ever.

      (The pale ones in the north are not African, so don’t even go there.)

  6. Rick-a-licious

    You are right on the money !!

    Finally, some one gets it.

    The time for the Kumbaya bullsh*t is over.

    the oh it doesn’t matter we are all oppressed, we are all shades, we are the world nonsense has to end.

    It will not get black people anywhere. White Supremacy is the enemy and all who do not renounce it and its implications are enemies to Blacks as well.

    Lets be honest. mulattoes were created specifically as a way to infiltrate black societies and to create confusion. Yes, they are their own people and have a right to their own heritage, but at the same time, black must recognize the threat they represent is often times equal to that of whites.

  7. Some people just aren’t as loud as others. Maybe hi being reserved is a different kind of resistance.

  8. The issue here is entirely relevant. Many will say move on, its no big deal. However while life is about how we view ourselves and that is very important, the fact is we are also under scrutiny as we go about our business by those who have nothing better to do. It does not help to “create your own category”, as this can be vowed in at least 2 ways.:Being ashamed of African Heritage or wanting t be unique. The former is what is important, as the naysayers, the system, the power brokers are not concerned about skin color as they are concerned about heritage. Therefore the Neymars of this world should embrace all of themselves and realize that while in their corner of the world they can survive on racial demarcations, in the wider context, one will be harassed and discriminated against at every turn.
    Anyway he needs to stop bleaching.

    • Thanks for your comments. This blog does tackle the issue of racial politics from a critical perspective, but many over the past month or so have made accusations of Neymar bleaching his skin. I have no reason to believe that Neymar bleaches his skin. For those who followed his career from the time he was 13-14 years old, people know that as a child, he spent a lot of time in the sun. Santos is a coastal city where the sun rays can be intense. Teens who are serious about playing futebol often spend all day, hours in the sun which would explain his darker skin color in earlier photos. Neymar has played in Spain for around a year or so now and Spain clearly doesn’t have the same amount of sunlight as a city like Santos which would explain his transformation.

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