This story is awful all over, but there are some important distinctions that aren’t being made here by members of the media, and the broader public, that need to be made. Take the Guardian reporting on a story on Swiss footballer Michel Morganella:
Switzerland’s Michel Morganella has been expelled from the Olympics for posting a racist message on Twitter.
The Swiss Olympic team chief, Gian Gilli, says Morganella is being stripped of his Olympic accreditation ahead of Switzerland’s final group match against Mexico on Wednesday.
He “discriminated against, insulted and violated the dignity of the South Korea football team as well as the South Korean people,” Gilli said through a translator.
The Huffington Post does the same at the Guardian; make the accusation of a “racist tweet” without reprinting it for the public to see. In fact, all of the story headlines in the major dailies refer to the Tweet as “racist.”
I happen to be of the belief that while they’re both odious, it’s important to make a distinction between xenophobia and racism. The latter involves discrimination based on ethnicity and ancestry; the former is based on nationality. If you simply lump the two together, you’re diminishing the severity of each in their respective contexts. Considering recent events, and because it’s generally important that words retain their meaning particularly when they involve serious charges, it’s important these distinctions are upheld.
The Guardian claims Morganella’s words are racist, yet does not reprint the original remarks (perhaps out of taste and sensitivity). While they have been translated in several different ways, the defender said something along these lines:
I want to beat up all South Koreans! Bunch of mentally handicapped retards!
These are highly offensive remarks, to be sure. They are certainly xenophobic, as Morganella makes mention of an entire nation. But racist? That’s not exactly clear. Perhaps he is racist, but if we’re judging on these remarks, that’s not a slam dunk case. Morganella had just lost to the team in the Olympic football tournament, and then disparaged the entire nation in a crude and offensive way. The man’s an idiot (that much we can deduce), and an asshole. And the Swiss Olympic chief made the right decision in sending him home.
But if we’re going to preserve the meaning of the word, it’s important to make the distinction on exactly why these remarks were racist and not simply xenophobic.