Read Part 2: My slanted eyes are beautiful
Why is it that we make fun and poke others through caricatures. You want an example? How about the entire Spanish men’s Olympic basketball team [and supposedly the women’s team as well] using their fingers to apparently make “their eyes like Chinese” [or Asian].
Depending on who you listen to, a common response is, “It’s no big deal.”
But, it’s always no big deal.
But it is. It is a big deal. It is demeaning and has been historically used to denigrate Asians – past, present, and I’m sure, in the future. Every single time someone slanted their eyes at me, [trust me], it was intended to hurt or poke fun. And it hurts even now when my daughters come home from school [occasionally] to share how some jerk kid slanted their eyes at them. Hurts me enough that I want to go challenge that 3rd grader boy to an Ultimate Fight Club match…until I remember that I’m a pacifist…and a pastor. Probably wouldn’t be good press for my church.
But I want to be gracious because I got the Olympic spirit but when folks get dumb and dumber and try to defend the picture or the actions, I get a tad upset.
Just say sorry. Plead ignorance and profusely say sorry. Learn why people are offended but don’t say, “It’s no big deal.” Yes, I know that the originators and creators of the photo have said t was intended as an “affectionate gesture” but this is why it’s so troubling. There are people out there that actually think that mimicking Asians by slanting their eyes with their fingers is affectionate.
Umm. So, let me tell the entire WORLD and Pau Gasol and the entire Spanish basketball team that it’s not affectionate.
Ok. I’d like to hear from you. Be honest. What do you think? Is it no big deal? Am I overreacting…too much angry asian man and not enough Jesus? Is “it” racist?
Thanks to a comment by a reader named Will, on an earlier post about Spain’s basketball team, we were alerted to an article in the Guardian by Sid Lowe — a Madrid-based correspondent for the site’s excellent Football Weekly podcast — about the photograph above. As Lowe explains:
Spain’s Olympic basketball teams have risked upsetting their Chinese hosts by posing for a pre-Games advert making slit-eyed gestures. The advert for a courier company, which is an official sponsor of the Spanish Basketball Federation, occupied a full page in the sports daily Marca, the country’s best-selling newspaper.
The advert features two large photographs, one of the men’s basketball team, above, and one of the women’s team. Both squads pose in full Olympic kit on a basketball court decorated with a picture of a Chinese dragon. Every single player appears pulling back the skin on either side of their eyes. The advert carries the symbol of the sport’s governing body.
No one involved in the advert appears to have considered it inappropriate nor contemplated the manner in which it could be interpreted in China and elsewhere.
Our own Pete Thamel, who covered Spain’s victory over China earlier today for The Times, writes in from Beijing to point out that
The typically sedate Chinese crowds vigorously booed the Spanish basketball team at times in Spain’s overtime victory here on Tuesday night. It’s unknown whether it has anything to do with the publication of insensitive pictures in which the Spanish men’s and women’s team appear to be mocking people of Asian descent by pulling back their skin behind their eyes.
UPDATE: Pete Thamel has more from Beijing.
Roberto Hernandez, the Spanish press officer for basketball, said he was not aware of the picture when reached by telephone. When told about its contents and asked if the Spanish team had made any effort to apologize, he asked a reporter to call Li Ning, the Chinese Olympic hero from the 1984 Games and the man who floated through the air at the Bird’s Nest to light the Olympic torch at the opening ceremony. The Spanish team is sponsored by Li-Ning, the footwear company.
UPDATE 2: Jeff Klein, again demonstrating his inability to take a day off, writes in to add more context:
Li-Ning is the Chinese footwear company sometimes called “the Nike of China,” but the ad, wishing the two Spanish national teams good luck in Beijing, was sponsored by a Spanish courier company, Seur.
The Li-Ning company’s Web site boasts of its sponsorship agreement with the Spanish national basketball teams.
Li-Ning’s agreement with Spain basketball was noted in the U.S. press as long ago as 2004, in the L.A. Times , and the deal was signed in 2002, as noted. a couple of years ago in the English-language Beijing Review.
In Spain, the association with Li-Ning is hardly a secret. A blog for the business paper El Comercio took note of the visit of Spain basketball officials and players upon their arrival in Beijing to the Li-Ning hospitality center, Spain basketball federation president Jose Luis Saez among them.
Moreover, on Aug. 6 Spain basketball and Li-Ning renewed their sponsorship agreement through 2012.
So while the gesture of the Spanish teams in the ads might seem, or be, culturally insensitive, their ties to China are more complex when you look deeper.
Jeff also points us to a post on the Web site of the Madrid daily El Mundo, which asks whether the ad constitutes Racism or a Casual Wink?, in response to Sid Lowe’s article and the discussion on this blog.
El Mundo makes an attempt to answer the central question here: What were they thinking?
The photograph, widely disseminated now by the press, was made during the preparation campaign for the Olympic Games in Beijing. …
Jose Manuel Calderon, an icon of the national team, explains in his blog at elmundo.es that it was a wink of the sponsor, something they thought appropriate and affectionate. He is blunt: “Whoever wants to interpret something different, totally confused.”
“It turns out that in the photo shoot for the submission of our team, one of our sponsors asked us to make, as a ‘wink’ to our participation in Beijing, an expression of Eastern eyes. We felt it was something appropriate and that it would always be interpreted as an affectionate gesture,” says Calderon. “However, some European media have not looked on it well,” laments the linchpin of the national team.
Calderon denies any racist tinge in the gesture and expressed his “great respect for the East and its people.” The Extremaduran highlighted his great personal relationship with several Chinese friends by his team in the NBA, Toronto Raptors, and recalled that the sports brand Li Ning China outfits the Spanish team as one of its sponsors.
UPDATE 3 A reader named Carlos writes to us from Barcelona to bring our attention to another article in the Spanish press following up on this story. El Pais reports that the Chinese embassy in Spain has pronounced the ad “ni racista ni ofensivo.”