For the past few weeks since the Conor McGregor v Floyd Mayweather media circus subsided all the talk has been about ‘The Champ Champ’. Some discuss his distinct fashion sense, others his unorthodox fighting style but the main talking point has been that Conor McGregor has followed in the footsteps of Father Ted Crilly and was now a racist.
For anyone who missed it, the allegations came to light after he told Mayweather to ‘’dance for me boy’’. It escalated further when he made a questionable ‘apology’, before putting the final nail in the coffin by referencing a scene in a Rocky film with ‘dancing monkeys’.
The above acts, combined with alleged previous ‘racial’ incidents have lead to Mcgregor being publicly deemed a racist. No judge, no jury, no explanation needed. We the people have spoken. We deem you a racist and that is that.
McGregors Not Racist, He’s Irish
Personally I’m a big fan of McGregors. His confidence, his movement, his work ethic – I love it all. And the fact he hails from the Emerald Isle, like myself, makes him tangible
I know his language, his culture and even share some of his faults. But love him or hate him, there is no denying that he has inspired a generation of youths in Ireland and beyond to believe in themselves, work hard, pursue their goals and trust in their journey. As he says himself all too often, a few years ago he was collecting a social welfare cheque weekly and now he’s both fighting in , and promoting, arguably the biggest fight in combat history.
So while this post is not meant to come to his defense, it is meant to be is a fair crack of the whip for him. A chance to really look at the phraseology, tone and cultural context of his comments and cast a fair judgement before we cloak him with the ever tarnished veil of racist.
Labeling People As Racists
For once we tar and feather an individual and attach to them the label of racist, we haven’t successfully identified an enemy and rid the world of one more hater. We have permanently assigned someone to that category.
Even if their words were misconstrued, taken out of context or were in fact ignorant to what they said. They don’t get a second chance; we paint the person as a racist, sexist or homophobe and in turn cement their status as an adversary for life.
So what does applying these ‘labels’ to people actually achieve? By definition a racist knows, accepts and justifies their actions. Very few are ashamed of their beliefs. They truly believe that they are the superior race and so are quite proud. And while I may not have the same level of personal experience, I would go as far to extend this characterization to sexists, homophobes and all bigots alike. When confronted they will put forward every idiotic and obsolete argument in their arsenal, which is their democratic right, but rarely change their mind. Oftentimes they remain more steadfast in their opinion, defending their freedom of speech, almost mocking you to get a rise.
Attaching these labels to people shouldn’t be done light-heartedly and certainly not without evidence. Essentially it should be a last resort. Our first call should be to educate and inform the accused of what they have done. Give them the benefit of the doubt in not knowing that their comments may have offended people. This approach helps gain trust and more importantly explains to them the reason why something is offensive. It may be a surprise to hear but everyone isn’t as knowledgeable and educated as you. What approach would you be more receptive to? The tar and feather or a cup of coffee and chat?
Should UFC Stars Study Civil Rights?
Conor’s first offence was telling Floyd to ‘’dance for me boy’’. In an Irish context, a completely innocuous comment. Literally just asking him to dance. Transcend the Atlantic, factor in years of hatred, discrimination and the Jim Crowe Laws and ‘dance for me boy’ (when articulated by a white person to a black person) becomes ‘dance for me like a good little nigger’.
What people from outside the US need to consider is that during the years of slavery and throughout the civil rights battle, black people would have been mainly referred to as either nigger or boy (girl for females) by people resisting the movement. Both interchangeable and equally offensive, especially when delivered from a position of power (a white slave-owner to a black slave). So could this be a case of Conor not knowing his cultural history or do we still think he is the Klu Klux Klan’s next Grand Wizard in waiting?
His second ‘offence’ occurred the next day while attempting a rather crass apology. Not one for taking things too seriously, McGregor stated “he’s half black from the belly button down’’ and cool with everyone before making a provocative gesture specially for all his black female fans. Again the PC police were up in arms and ‘racist’ calls now rang out louder than ever. But let’s look at what he actually said. Was he discriminating with his statement? No. Was he professing hate on another race? Quite the opposite. However, he was showing signs of prejudice, playing up to the stereotype that black males are well endowed.
Now I’ll be the first to admit I didn’t dive down into exact statistics and case studies to see if McGregor’s claims were indeed true. My justification was two fold. First I’m writing this piece on my lunch break and I fear the potential google search may ring alarm bells in our IT department and secondly I don’t think the results are relevant to the discussion. What is relevant is that McGregor perpetuated a well founded stereotype in our society. And although it has malicious roots, that black males are animal like creatures who could sexually damage white females, I think it is clear he didn’t mean it in that way. He meant it as a tasteless and infantile joke. Exactly what it was.
McGregor And The Dancing Monkeys
The third and final offense from the press tour occurred during a backstage interview. McGregor was asked a question about who would win in a fight, him or Rocky 3. Struggling to decipher which one of the seven movies the reporter was referring to, McGregor asked was it the one “with the dancing monkeys?’’. I’m not going to lie. When I first heard this comment I was shocked. Irish and Europeans alike are well aware of the racial context of referring to black people as monkeys. We’ve had many well documented incidents in soccer across the last decade where black players had been victims of monkey chants or having bananas thrown at them, so there was no excuse in my book.
I was pretty hurt. Although I had never met Conor before, I felt I knew him better than that. I was angry at myself for idolising a racist! How could I have been so stupid?
After beating myself up for a day or two I decided I had to look into the comments further. I realized I hadn’t actually seen them for myself. Only reading sensationalized media articles displaying the same photo, bolstered by comments on social media from consistent band-wagoners. You know the type who would go to the opening of a packet of crisps but only if they thought the majority supported it.
First I looked up the interview in full to ensure the quote wasn’t taken out of context.
“I’m trying to think which one was Rocky 3! Was that the one with the mad celebrity gym, with the dancing monkeys an all?’’
Mad celebrity gym? Every article I read online had referenced the scene where Rocky walks into Apollo Creeds gym, inhabited solely by black men. That wasn’t a ‘mad celebrity’ gym was it? I had opened a can of worms.
That night I watched Rocky 3 start to finish. Eagerly on the lookout for anything that resembled a ‘mad celebrity gym’ or ‘dancing monkey’. Moments before the scene that the alleged racism is linked to aired, another scene caught my eye. It was set in a ‘mad celebrity gym’ and Rocky was surrounded by idiots, dancing to his every wish and command as he trained in their vicinity.
Why Conor McGregor Isn’t A Racist
While monkey in Ireland certainly has well known racial ramifications, it also has other meanings. Parents would often redress their children for messing by saying ‘’don’t be acting the monkey” or telling them to ‘’stop monkey-ing around’’. Could this have possibly been what he was alluding to while talking in his native brogue? If you watch the video, there’s no hate, no venom, no malice in what he says. No ‘oh fuck – what did I just say’ reaction after the words left his mouth. It was innocent and classified as racist based solely on his actions earlier in the tour.
Even if you don’t agree with what I’ve said above, we’ll never actually know which sense he meant it in. Although I think that we are all educated enough to realise that if McGregor had really referred to black people as monkeys, he would be dealing with the repercussions; even Dana White wouldn’t stand by that.
Now this is where the real McGregor haters come to life
‘’But he has a history of this in previous fights’’ I can hear them scowl.
‘’What about the stuff he said in the run up to the Dias and Aldo fights?’’.
‘What about it’ is my exact sentiment to those claims. Again those comments are the victim of people getting offended who have nothing to be offended about. Fighting for the greater good in something, when there is no good to be gotten.
In the media tour for the Aldo fight McGregor is quoted as saying ‘’I own this town, I own Rio de Janeiro. I would invade his favela on horseback and would kill anyone who wasn’t fit to work, but we’re in a new time, so I’ll whoop his ass instead”. Racist? No. Insensitive and disrespectful? Yes very much so.
In the build up to the Dias fight he was accused of racism when he called Nate ‘’a little cholo gangster’’ and referred to the UFC’s Diaz brothers as cockroaches. Again, racist? No, although like many words ‘chollo’ has different interpretations but I would find it hard to deem these comments as racist – only insensitive and disrespectful. I’m sure if the Diaz brothers felt they were racially abused they would have spoken up and defended themselves. Thrown a few cans of Monster at the stage perhaps.
So while my views on Conor McGregor and his alleged racism are clear cut from the piece, it has raised a lot of other questions for me. Questions relating to context, culture and emotional sensitivity. Questions relating to what actually makes someone a racist? At what point do we deem someone a racist? And more importantly, justifiably so?
Should we employ a three strike rule like in working environments? Or do we continue to do as we are and senselessly name people racists with little to no proof?
Either way, for now my flag is well and truly nailed onto team McGregor. Roll on August 26th.