Monday, March 30, 2009

Can Only White People On The Right Be Racist?

Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva and Gordon BrownLast week, Brazilian president Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva attributed the current financial crisis to «white blue-eyed» people at a news conference. Strangely enough, the press hasn't attacked him for making such an overtly racist remark yet, and the British government even tried to play down the incident. The contrast with the reception Italian prime minister Silvio Berlusconi received when he made a bad joke about the then president-elect Barack Obama is quite striking, and it begs the question whether this is so because Silvio Berlusconi is white, or because he belongs to the right side of the political spectrum.

Let's just go back a few months to recapitulate what it was Silvio Berlusconi said about Barack Obama: he's «young, handsome and even tanned». Notice that he said this in an effort to make Barack Obama a compliment –Silvio Berlusconi is in fact known to take great care of his own tan–, but nevertheless, journalists all over the world were at him because of this racist remark. And it didn't of course help much that he later was quoted saying that the journalist who accused him of racism where «imbeciles».

Now contrast what Silvio Berlusconi said about Barack Obama to what Lula last week said about «white blue-eyed» people being at the cause of the current financial crisis, and not Indians, nor black, nor poor people. British prime minister Gordon Brown reacted to Lula's accusations by saying that the blame for the financial crisis should not be attributed to individuals, but Lula didn't do that either: he attributed the blame expressly to, well, in lack of another word… a race? The British government later topped the silly reaction of Gordon Brown by saying that Lula's words probably weren't intented for the larger public, as if that would make the comment less racist. It doesn't make much sense either, since president Lula was quite happy to elaborate on the subject when asked about it by journalists.

I can't help but imagine the outcry it would have caused if somebody like Silvio Berlusconi would have said something similar to what president Lula said, say, a decade ago, just after the 1997 Asian financial crisis. Why this difference in treatment? Is it because Silvio Berlusconi is a European, or because he belongs to the right side of the political spectrum? It just seems to me that some people will always be racist in the eyes of the journalists, no matter what they say or mean, and others never will be, no matter what they say or mean either.

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