The Corner

Culture

Racist Baristas Responsible for Surge in U.S. Soccer Fandom

This is a downright doozy of a lede:

For the stunted American male, frustrated with the changing demographics of the country and gripped by the belief that his days on top are coming to an end, there may be no form of pornography more satisfying than watching a bunch of hard-drinking, pub-singing soccer fans with thick brogues beat the hell out of one another.

Yes, this article is about soccer, but stay with me. Former Grantland editor Jay Caspian Kang, writing in the New York Times magazine, suggests that young, white, American males are coping with their loss of socioeconomic prestige by becoming racist soccer hooligans. His evidence is . . . one soccer game he went to one time.

In Seattle.

Give Kang this point, at least: There are racist soccer fans in Europe, and there are particularly virulent strains among the worst hooligans. When it happens, it’s deplorable. But shoving a black passenger off the Paris Métro — as several Chelsea fans did in February 2015, and which Kang takes as emblematic of soccer in the UK and on the Continent — is a rarity, not the norm.

But Kang contends that it’s the racism manifest in those incidents that American fans are interested in appropriating. For instance, those blue-collar boys who can’t find work at the mine and are releasing their pent up rage at soccer games — you know, typical Seattle types – sing lyrics such as: “Take ’em all, Take ’em all, / Put ’em up against a wall and shoot ’em! / Short and tall, watch ’em fall. / Come on boys, take ’em all!” No prizes for guessing who they are putting up against the wall, am I right?

Actually, the song, “Take ‘Em All,” a 1982 hit by the English band Cock Sparrer, has nothing to do with minorities of any hue. It’s about rich, smug executives in the recording industry: “Well tough sh*t boys, it aint our fault / Your record didn’t make it / We made you dance, you had your chance / But you didn’t take it.” And it has a long history as an American soccer chant.

But fear not. Kang has more pointed rhetorical questions:

It’s worth asking why soccer fans in a country with millions of immigrants from soccer-crazed countries in Central and South America would look so longingly toward Western Europe, or why the American media’s coverage of soccer culture, however scant, focuses on soccer bars in gentrified Brooklyn and fan organizations in majority-white cities like Portland, Ore., and Seattle.

Hint: The answer starts with a “R” and ends with an “acism!” White people angry about their economic dislocation aren’t interested in palling around with the dirty Mexicans stealing their jobs. That’s why they’ve embraced the sport that Latinos everywhere love! Sure, why not. The Pacific Northwest, hotbed of Confederate nostalgia.

Thankfully, immigrants are not fooled. Anyone who doesn’t understand why so few Mexican-Americans root for the United States national team “doesn’t need to look much farther than the crowds who gather in M.L.S. stadiums and bars and sing songs inspired by groups who shove black men off subway trains and travel to foreign cities to taunt Muslim immigrants.” Or maybe it has to do with our hollowed-out mechanisms of assimilation, or with the unique place of fútbol in Latin American culture as opposed to the panoply of sports long on offer in the U.S., or with the fact that Chicharrito and Lionel Messi are global phenomena and Clint Dempsey, well, isn’t.

But entertaining those explanations would detract from Kang’s point, which is that he recently attended a soccer game in the hometown of Starbucks and Sur La Table fine cookware, so obviously he’s got his finger on America’s racial pulse.

Given the actual origin of the Seattle fans’ song, it’s worth noting that Kang does not in fact cite a single song sung by American soccer fans that originates with British or European racists. In fact, he doesn’t name a single racist thing any American soccer fan has ever done. That’s because the phenomenon Kang is exposing simply doesn’t exist.

But sometimes an arsehole in Manchester says something nasty, and Donald Trump exists, and you’re behind on your daily quota for hot-takes, so, you know — nudge, nudge . . .

Ian Tuttle — Ian Tuttle is the former Thomas L. Rhodes Journalism Fellow at the National Review Institute.

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