Conor McGregor, Billy Joe Saunders and the politics of oppression

19 Jul , 2017  

By  -  
Amit is the co-editor of Consented

Two incidents have occurred recently in the world of combat sports which have highlighted the structural nature of racism and homophobia. The first involved Conor McGregor and the second Billy Joe Saunders.

On the McGregor vs Mayweather world tour McGregor shouted “dance for me boy” at Mayweather during one of the press conferences. This isn’t an isolated incident. McGregor has previously referred to Nate Diaz, a fighter of Mexican heritage, as a “cholo gangster from the hood” and has also said to José Aldo (a Brazilian fighter):

I own this town, I own Rio de Janeiro, so for him to say that he is the king and I am the joker, if this was a different time, 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.

Yet when he was accused of racism, McGregor defended himself by declaring that he couldn’t be racist because he is “half-black from the belly button down” and “doesn’t see colour”. On the defensive, McGregor made things a whole lot worse and showed that he did not understand how race operates and that he was not, even for a second, going to try and take responsibility or reflect upon his comments or the offence caused.

Many observers passed the Irishman’s actions off as “banter”, harmless fun and trash talk, but there are obvious real life implications of the assumed hyper-sexuality of black men. Yet these types of critiques are sadly always missing from the apologists who dismiss their comments as simple fun and games.

Meanwhile, British boxer (WBO World Middleweight champion) Billy Joe Saunders got himself into hot water over a homophobic tweet. Saunders posted a photo of a shop assistant commenting that he was “confused” over the worker’s gender.

The photo was clearly posted in order to mock the person in question rather than being about genuine confusion and even if it were, the individual has nothing to do with Saunders and it was grossly irresponsible of him to post the photo to his 92,000 followers (who proceeded to direct abuse at the shop assistant in question).

Saunders was initially defiant and refused to accept he had done anything wrong, calling his detractors “small minded” – without a hint of irony. Later he said he was sorry but defended himself by declaring he was “not homophobic” and that he had “gay mates” and “bi-mates” before making a joke about how one of the interviewers counted as one of his gay-mates, thus proving he is not homophobic by being homophobic.

In short, both McGregor and Saunders dealt with their respective situations terribly. Both men are guilty of making hateful comments, even if they were not meant to be so – this is how oppression works.

Something doesn’t have to be intentional for it to be hateful and damaging. Most oppressive behaviour is subtle and not as overt as we might think. This fact is what terrifies liberals. Even through their silence or politically correct language they can still be guilty of oppression, or recreating negative and damaging tropes.

This isn’t to say these two men are particularly bad, they are just human. Instead their actions are reflective of how our society is not post-oppression, but actually built upon oppressive structures that we all skirt around and pretend don’t exist, whilst simultaneously propping them up.

The result is that nobody wants to be accused of being oppressive. So instead of taking a moment to learn, grow, or accept responsibility we end up making it worse by deflecting any accusations that come our way.

In our society to be labelled racist or homophobic is seen to be so negative that people will do anything to avoid that happening. They are labels that are only placed on the worst of the worst, rather than being applicable to almost all white people or all heterosexuals.

What people need to do is take a step back and admit that they, shaped by the oppressive structures that surround us all, have said something stupid and damaging. In doing that we can start to have more honest conversations around everyday injustices and the structural nature of these problems.

Everyone recreates these oppressive narratives on a regular basis. It isn’t an awful thing to admit that if we then take it as a chance to grow and learn. It is the inability to acknowledge that these oppression’s are structural that is the problem. Racists and homphobes aren’t just bad blokes and “wrong’uns”, they’re most of us.

Society is racist and homophobic so it shouldn’t shock us if we end up recreating these norms.

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