That’s me. Or one of them. And here is how and why.
“With so many Africans in Greece, at least the mosquitoes of West Nile will eat homemade food.”
It just so happened that she retweeted it 100 times before the angry reactions forced her to stop. Evidently she was very pleased with her creativity. And you can’t deny that it is quite creative for racist jokes.
Poor girl. Although she was unlikely to win any medals anyway, but still, she did prepare for it for a long time. She is reported to be a popular figure in Greece. She is also an admirer of the far-right (male) politician who publicly and repeatedly slapped another (female) politician of the left, a video of which was widely watched on the Web.
Poor girl, because she is clearly a scapegoat. It’s not as if she is alone in doing such things in our times. She, in fact, has a lot of defenders:
But a Facebook group grew to more than 6,000 members in just two hours to support Papachristou: “In Greece, it’s better to for athletes to dope than to have a sense of humor,” the post read. “We feel sorry for this tragic decision of the Greek Olympic Committee.”
And also this ingenuous defense, which, even if quite common, would make any organizational/institutional spokesman (or PR-man) proud, albeit with some editing and sprucing up:
First, the racist part: Here is the tweet translated: ”With so many Africans in Greece, the West Nile mosquitoes will be getting home food!!!”. How is this racist? Is “African” now considered a race? If anything, it is national origin, but doesn’t that include Arab people from Egypt and Whites from other parts? Isn’t automatically saying everyone from Africa is a “Race”(of course, they mean black) a huge stereotype? How the hell is every news organization reporting this getting that basic part wrong?
Consider also what she had to say after she was thrown out of the Olympics:
“I don’t know if they want to make an example out of me because of my profile, this is for others to judge, but what I believe is that they used their maximum disciplinary power on me for this,” Papachristou said. “They went straight to the final stage in excluding me from the team, which was highly excessive.”
And especially this:
“We have zero support from the state,” she said. “There are a lot of things that people do not know about, such as the unacceptable conditions in which we have to train.
“For example, there is no heating and no hot water even to take a shower in winter, no air conditioning in the summer and squalid training facilities and equipment in a state of disrepair.
“These are just the tip of the iceberg without mentioning the financial side and how we have been affected by massive cuts in state-funding for sport.”
So my point is that she has indeed been unfairly treated. Why should she be singled out for such a harsh punishment? Initially I had meant this ironically, but after a bit of thought, I now don’t. This is my honest opinion.
You see, the keyword in this whole episode is ‘mosquito’. What is it? Well, setting aside what spokesmen, PR guys and morons may have to say on this, the problem is that the word was not used by her in a literal sense, that is, to refer to real mosquitoes, a species of the phylum Arthropoda.
By the way, even the word Arthropoda is not always used literally.
It can be variously described as a metaphor, a euphemism or a code word. Selecting the last description on the grounds of highest specificity, we can say that it’s a code word for certain kinds of people, that is, for other human beings or Homo Sapiens.
What kind? As with most word usages, this depends on the context. For example, in the part of the world where I come from (western side of the north of India), it can mean someone from the eastern side of that region, viz. someone from the states of Bihar or Eastern U.P. Or it can mean a person with an emaciated body, i.e., one who looks likes a dirt poor man. A Bhaiya type, if you like.
Since I do look like that, here is what often (far too often) happens. I am going along my way (yes, really just minding my own business) and two (or more) people on the way look at me and one of them says to the other(s): मच्छर बहुत हो गए हैं यहाँ (there are too many mosquitoes here these days). Needless to say, the same thing happens to so many others, making me wonder: Don’t they ever get bored of this stale-as-fossil-fuel joke? But they don’t. It is one of the most popular ones. But I suspect that it has stopped being a joke now and has turned into a social comment.
It can also include gays, but we don’t mention gays or gaiety in polite conversation. Even in the 21st century.
Well, it was always a social comment, but what I mean is that the joke part has worn off. Could that be the reason many people didn’t find it amusing?
And in the part of the world where I am living in right now (western side of the North of the world: what a coincidence!), it usually means someone from the Global South. Or the Global East (oh boy!).
And all over the world, it can mean one more thing, or variations of one more thing: a person of a minority community, a person of minority opinion, a migrant or an immigrant, a dissident, a social outcast, a political radical and so on. Yes, that includes communists.
But the exact usage depends on the context and the context isn’t just the surrounding words or the topic under discussion. It also includes the social/cultural/national/racial/political identities of the people talking with each other (if that is the situation under which the utterance was produced).
So, for example, if a group of white Europeans and/or (US) Americans are talking to each other, the word under consideration can refer to Asian, or to Arabs, or to Muslims, or to Blacks, or even to Jews (don’t be so surprised). On the other hand, if the group consists of white Europeans-Americans and one or more, say, Asians, then the same word can refer to Arabs/Muslims/Blacks etc. It then does not (usually) include Asians. But it can again include Asians once the Asian(s) in the group leaves. The power of social relations, you know. And so on.
If the group is truly multi-cultural, the word can still be used to refer to other human beings. The last category that we mentioned above: poor or dissident or outcast or radical.
So (for example) I am in a cold country of the Global North and Global West. And I am there with two other persons. One is a more than middle aged person of high qualifications and high education and (I think) very liberal outlook. The other is young but with similar characteristics. But he is from the eastern side of the Global North.
We are all walking on the road and it starts to drizzle. The whether seems to be a getting little colder, though it is summer, and I mention the fact to the others. To my shock, the comment is seemingly taken as offensive and all liberal gloves come off for just a moment. The older person says curtly, “At least it keeps the malaria mosquitoes to the South”. And the younger one immediately follows that up (no gap between the two comments that I can perceive) with, “Yes, to the very South”. And I am put in my proper place.
I am from the very South and I am known to be an outcast and a dissident (this is polite word that I am using to keep my dignity: the actual words in this knowing might be different, understandably). Which is often synonymous with communists, notwithstanding the fact that most communists around the world are now enthusiastically practicing neoliberal capitalism, beloved of those who would make such comments.
Governments around the world talk about areas ‘infested’ with this or that kind of insurgents (who could just be dissidents or resisters or protesters, that is, non-violent). They are also talking about (other) human beings. We can debate whether they are using a metaphor or a euphemism or a code word, but they are not talking of literal infestation by members of the phylum Arthropoda.
To sum it up, I am a (malaria) mosquito several times over and she is just an ordinary girl who made a youthful mistake. So I can identify with her (sort of) and I feel sorry for her, also on account of the fact that my being a malaria mosquito has (very indirectly and very fractionally) caused her all this trouble.
Would my apologies be of any help?
And would she be able to identify with me, given that she too seems to be a kind of a dissident, as is evident from her comments above. And not very well off (if her comments are true, and there seem to no reasons why they shouldn’t be true given the current situation in Greece).
But that seems to make her too a malaria mosquito.
I hope (for her sake) that she doesn’t find that out.
And isn’t Greece to the very South of Europe?