In 1932 the great scholar and poet W.E.B. Du Bois staged a pointed historical pageant titled, “George Washington and Black Folk”, in deep contrast with the near universal hagiographical treatment of the nation’s first president, Du Bois highlights Washington’s ambivalence on ending slavery, his reluctance to act, and puts a spotlight on the many contributions of black Americans in the Revolutionary War. The hero of the pageant turns out to be former slave and leader of the Haitian Revolution Toussaint L’Ouverture, of whom abolitionist Wendall Phillips wrote, “I would call him Washington but the great Virginian owned slaves.”
Days before the U.S. Men’s National Soccer Team was set to play New Zealand in a friendly, Saudi Arabia, with the tacit approval of and using weapons sold to them by the United States, bombed a mass funeral in Yemen, killing and wounding hundreds.
This is what ran through my head the evening of the October 11th at RFK Stadium when the American Outlaws unfurled their banner proclaiming us, “First in War, First in Peace, First in Soccer.”
It made my stomach turn in disgust. “First in War,” is not something to be proud of and I have yet to see evidence of either “First in Peace” or, indeed, “First in Soccer.”
I’d been expecting something different, something lighthearted. This wasn’t a competitive match, after all. Why not a banner making a reference to some of New Zealand’s cultural output--a joke about Flight of the Conchords or The Lord of the Rings, perhaps? But the fun, bantering atmosphere that I’ve come to love at D.C. United games is completely absent from U.S.M.N.T. games.
I attended my first Men’s National Team game earlier this year, during the Copa America tournament. My buddy Paul had an extra ticket to the game against Paraguay at Lincoln Field in the Stadium District of Philadelphia and, not knowing better, I accepted it.
There was a big, very friendly Paraguayan family seated to our left and a drunk American bros on every other side, including a real gem of a bro in Edgartown Red shorts kept standing up to flip the bird at the Paraguayan family. The chants of “USA USA USA” felt inappropriately belligerent and more than a little nativist. Chanting “USA USA USA” at the local immigrant population was not something I felt comfortable doing. I didn’t join in with that or any of the cheers.
Later that month, also during Copa America my friend L., who is Mexican-American, was going to attend an American Outlaws watch party with her husband, who is white. They ended up separated by the crowd. He was waved into the bar but she was turned away. “Members only,” the guy at the door said.
After those experiences I had decided never to attend another national team game or watch party again. That nativist atmosphere was just not something I felt comfortable with. But when this game against New Zealand was announced, I’d decided to give it another try, especially after local boy Bill Hamid was called up by Jurgen Klinsmann. My hope was that a friendly against a “white” country that didn’t also represent a local marginalized immigrant community would be free of uncomfortable jingoism. I was wrong. It still felt like a Trump rally when my section rose to its feet chanting “USA USA USA”.
I’d brought a cheeky handwritten sign with me expressing my disapproval of Jurgen not starting our homegrown hero in goal: “FREE HAMID.”
I’d intended it as a lighthearted joke but as the game wore on, and my discomfort grew, it felt more like a protest. FREE HAMID to join the Black Lives Matter protests or take a knee with Colin Kaepernick if he wants to. FREE HAMID from having to suck up to Europe-biased Jurgen or put up with these nativist chants of USA USA USA. FREE HAMID from this bullshit.
I’ll still cheer on and support the players on the national team but I cannot in good conscience participate in that supporter culture.
I’ll stick to D.C. United.