My RSS feed to BBC World news today has two stories which mention England, Spain, racism, football (soccer), monkeys, apes, and paleontology.
Since Wednesday November 17, 2004, when the English national football played in Madrid, the media has been focussed on the fact that Spanish soccer hooligans made monkey noises when black English players touched the ball.
Black players are not exactly a novelty in European professional soccer and the elite national teams from countries including Holland, France and England have several black players. The fans in Madrid have seen black professional players for decades. The media are implying that racial taunting is new, but that isn’t clear. Whether the behaviour of Spanish fans on Wednesday demonstrates racism, nationalism, tribalism, or hooliganism is being debated by soccer coaches and sociologists in the sporting press. I have to have some sympathy for the Spanish fans who want to get back at the English for ethnic taunts hurled at Spanish players by English hooligans when Spaniards play in England, although that is a poor reason for harassing black players.
Meanwhile the Science/Nature part of the BBC feed has a lead story about an article in Science magazine (November 19, 2004 issue, Vol. 306, No. 5700) on the discovery of Miocene era fossils near Barcelona. These 13 million year old fossils have been classified in a new species, a new genus and a new family. The taxonomical name is Pierolapithecus catalaunicus.
The discovery of ape fossils in Spain should make Spanish soccer fans think twice about calling black players monkeys. It will probably be a scientific excuse for English fans to start calling Spanish players and fans monkeys, although that isn’t an especially scientific interpretation of th discovery. I don’t expect soccer hooligans to give this dialectic up just yet. I still listen to Peter Gabriel’s song “Games without Frontiers” (Jeux Sans Frontiers) every once in a while. Tribalism is still part of our culture, perhaps it is in our fundamental consciousness.
But the discovery of this fossil should help to make a point about evolution and equality. If Spaniards and Europeans are descended from Catalaunicus, so are all other humans. All humans are members of a modern ape-like family evolved from a lineage of extinct specieses. No race in the human race is more highly evolved, or any closer to the trees and the savanah. That idea has been pretty much dead to scientists for a long time, and this discovery should make the point pretty clear even to soccer hooligans and skinheads. We are all out of Africa, and out of Europe too.
I often listen to a song by the late Dave Carter and his partner Tracey Grammar, “Gentle Arms of Eden.” The chorus is:
This is my home. This is my only home.
This is the only sacred ground that I have ever known.
And if I should stray in the dark night alone,
Rock me goddess in the gentle arms of Eden.
I usually roll my eyes when I hear about the Goddess and New Age ideas, and Carter’s writing often emphasizes imagination. But this a pluralist’s barn dance. It transposes the goddess metaphor, the Gaia metaphor, the Biblical story of Eden and the story of evolution, in a simple message that life is a miracle.