When Life Throws You a Banana...
When life throws you a banana, well, in short, take a bite.
Dani Alves did and later said: "I did it without thinking. The world has evolved and we must evolve with it." True enough. Sort of.
Yet, shouldn't we thoughtfully and creatively shape this evolution?
Which is, at the end of the day, what Alves did intuitively and reflexively in a single moment of active nonviolent resistance that was also an act of sheer genius.
In late April, a truly fascinating story came out of Spanish soccer—football, that is, to the non-American world.
In a league game in Villareal between the city's beloved "Yellow Submarine" and Barcelona, a powerful empire of football, a Villareal fan hurled a banana at Alves. Barcelona's Brazilian fullback was attempting to take a corner kick. Alves picked up the banana, peeled it, took a good-sized bite out of it, discarded the rest and went on about his sporting business.
Notwithstanding well-intentioned campaigns like Kick It Out and Show Racism the Red Card, the banana still rains down on football players more than just every so often. Increasingly, it's becoming a common sign of race-based hate and xenophobia at European football stadiums, especially in Spain and Italy.
In particular, corner-kick takers have grown accustomed to having all manner of object thrown at them, depending on how close the fans are to the pitch. But this manner of object was no coin or battery designed to cause a mild ouch or a little scrape. Instead, here was a much softer item, designed, in fact, to wound in a much deeper way.
Of course, different footballers (and footballing authorities) take different tacks. Some ignore the racism. Some minimize it, or relativize it. Some attempt to educate-educate-educate against it, which is needed and not insignificant.
Still others, embodied by the Italian striker Mario Balotelli—born in Palermo to Ghanaian immigrants—who regularly gets racial abuse at home and abroad, resort to a more hostile approach. In the run-up to the 2012 UEFA European Championship, co-hosted by Poland and Ukraine, Balotelli remarked, "If someone throws a banana at me in the street, I will go to prison because I will kill him."
For me, what was so impressive and exemplary about Alves' response was that he did none of the above. Neither passive (oh well, there will always be racists) nor merely educational (we must increase the programming for these types) nor violently reactionary (which also goes by the name retaliation or retribution), Alves, in contrast, was as humorous as he was poignant.
He used indirection as education. He humanized himself and others. While at the same time, he called into question both the absurdity of the situation and the absurdity of a person who would victimize another in that way. He transformed an object of derision, insult and hate back into the delicious fruit it is, and was intended to be.
Good overcoming evil one bite at a time may sound trite. But sometimes it is literally all we can do or should do—with our own hands—to fight.