It would be easy to blame the fact that the rest of the world perceives Americans as arrogant, prejudiced and in denial of reality on President Bush and the Iraq war, perhaps along with anti-immigration hardliners. But that would be too convenient. And it would also be an oversimplification. At most, all Bush and the anti-immigration crowd have done is confirmed and strengthened feelings that have existed towards Americans for years.
It is a prevalent opinion around the world, and opinions like that have to be earned. And so it was today, after the United States Olympic Committee, shortly after arriving in Rio de Janiero, Brazil, had to apologize for the actions of one of their workers who scrawled, 'Welcome to Congo,' on a message board, apparently comparing Brazil with the war and poverty torn central African country.
SAO PAULO, Brazil (AP) -- In a joke that made Brazilians cringe and forced the U.S. Olympic Committee to apologize, a USOC worker scrawled "Welcome to the Congo!" on a board in the organization's Rio de Janeiro media center for the Pan American Games.
Rio's O Globo newspaper published a photo of the message on its front page Saturday, and ran a headline saying the joke was "full of prejudice." The message was condemned in a nation extremely sensitive about being compared to less-developed countries, especially by Americans -- who often are perceived as arrogant by Brazilians.
The controversy occurred as American athletes arrived in Latin America's largest country to compete in the event that starts Friday.
The USOC issued a "deep apology to the people of Brazil and Rio de Janeiro" in a statement Saturday, and said the worker who wrote the phrase was disciplined and is no longer a member of the U.S. delegation to the games.
And on top of that, even when trying to explain the 'joke' away, a USOC member also made us look like wimps:
The picture in O Globo showed USOC media employee Kevin Neuendorf in front of the whiteboard, and the story quoted him as saying it was written because "it's really hot in Rio."
O Globo noted that Rio is in the middle of its South American winter, and that the USOC office at the games is air conditioned. The average temperature in July in Rio is 78 degrees -- on Saturday, the temperature was in the low 80s.
translation: 80 degrees to an American is 'really hot.' And those are supposed to be our athletes! This is embarrassing.
I'm glad that the USOC made an apology to Brazil (which is not such a backwards country as some uneducated Americans may think-- the living standard in Brazil is probably about what it was in the U.S. twenty or thirty years ago, and most Brazilians now have access to the internet.
I might also suggest that they make an apology to the people of Congo (who are probably too preoccupied with trying to keep alive to have paid much attention to this story, but we should apologize anyway.) After decades of the tyrannical, corrupt and despotical rule of the dictator Mobutu ended about a decade ago, Congo has been wracked by war, violence, anarchy and starvation, in which the only attention the world pays to the country is when they also have the occasional outbreaks of Ebola. Congo is a tragedy, not a joke.
Attitudes like those held by the Brazilians can be stoked overnight by comments like these, and they aren't easy to erase.