Wednesday, August 20, 2008

It's all fun and games until someone does the slant eye

Yesterday I posted four photos of athletes from Spain and Argentina doing the tried and true racist gesture of taking their fingers and pulling up the corners of their eyes as a gesture meant to mimic the eye shape of Asians.

Some bloggers have already done a fine job parsing out the racist implications of this gesture: Angry Asian Man (which is where I found the images), Racialicious (which has a great clip from a CNN interview Carmen did), and Anti-Racist Parent.

Now here's a question for you: Is this a big deal? Spain says it was all fun and games and just a "wink" to their fans, their sponsors, and the host country of the Olympics, China. The Chinese embassy in Spain said, no offense taken.

Is it a big deal? I guess no and yes. I mean, if we are going to compare contemporary racist incidents, is this particular racist incident worse than others? Worse than Spanish fans showing up in black face to taunt a Formula 1 driver? Well, maybe it's on par (and it certainly shows that Spain and racism and sports is not a new phenomenon). There are certainly worse things--in terms of racial discrimination and violence.

But here's the thing: the small things matter too. In some ways, the small things are profoundly important, because they are the everyday things--the assumptions we make without wondering where they come from, the small hurts we inflict on others without realizing that we are being harmful. The judgments we make that we don't realize are causing others to second-guess their place in the world.

All that from pulling your eyelids up? Yes. Chinese eyes, slanted eyes, chink eyes--anyone who is Asian in America (or in a non-Asian country) has experienced this particular taunting. And it's painful. Because they often occur in childhood--and kids don't have the same type of rationales and defenses as adults. For Asian American kids, having kids pull the slant eye at them, usually with an accompanying taunt like "ching chong Chinaman!" or "So solly Cholly!" or "Chinese, Japanese, dirty knees, look at these" is an exercise in learning how different you are from everyone else--to be made to feel less than--to feel like your difference is bad.

That's the thing. Difference isn't bad. Difference just IS. But when racial difference is turned into a taunt--a reason to single out someone and mock them--to make them feel inferior--then that's racial discrimination, also known as racism.


CVT said...

What bothers me about this one is that people argue that it "isn't a big deal." That's not a private photo for one of the players - it's a freaking public advertisement!!! Either way, it's B.S. - but on an ad for a whole nation?

I love how non-Asians think they can know whether it's "just a joke" or not. People who don't actually know or understand what is behind that gesture . . . That a country can stand by that is painful - but that people try to tell Asian folks to "just take a joke" - that's what makes me lose hope.

Jennifer said...

I hear you on this CVT, I hear you all too well (sigh).

It's not funny and as you said, it's a public photo, it's for an international/global sporting event--one in which these athletes are representing their nation.

And thus, this is just sad, sad, sad.