An advertisement for the Spanish Basketball Federation that appeared in the Spanish daily sports newspaper Marca featured Spain’s 15 national team members in uniform pulling back the skin on their eyelids, with smiles on their faces.
Why, yes. Yes, they are.
For those of us keeping up with 8Asians.com, remember that whole Mister Wong debacle? A brief synopsis: German Web 2.0 site uses mascot with slanty eyes, I write a big WTF post, CEO takes down logo, I get hate mail by hundreds of Germans for “American PC bullshit,” CEO gets a nice photograph and profile in Newsweek, with this blog here as a passing reference, life goes on.
Now replace “German” with “Spanish” and “Web 2.0 CEO” with “Basketball team,” and really it’s just the same thing over again, right down to the “our caricature of a whole fucking ethnicity is us being affectionate, not slandering” response, this time via bad translated Spanish newspaper column. So having gone through this before, my reaction to this stuff is slightly different:
1) Call me bitter, jaded or indifferent, but this is my biggest takeaway from the Mister Wong debacle: after dealing with angry Germans and talking with friends of mine who grew up in Europe, I have deduced this: I, as an American – especially as an Asian American – infer something different from someone in, say, Europe or Asia when someone pulls back their eyes to show “Asianness.” It’s been mentioned that one of the sponsors of Spains basketball team is Li-Ning Footwear. Why would they shoot themselves in the (Chinese manufactured) foot? And we haven’t seen much Chinese response through the social media outlets, either. (Another parallel to the Mister-Wong.com drama: two Chinese community managers commented that the caricature mascot didn’t offend them, and people were quick to judge “SEE? IF THEY’RE NOT OFFENDED, YOU SHOULDN’T BE. AND THEY’RE MORE CHINESE THAN YOU ARE.” To which I muttered, “fuck you, you don’t know me” and chain smoked half a pack of cigarettes. Anyway.)
I concede that there may be people who don’t think that’s as big of a deal, and I accept that — they have not grow up the same background as I did, they were not mocked on an elementary school playground this way, they did not experience the pulling of eyes with a chorus of “ching chong ching chongs” like me and some of my Asian-American peers.
So maybe the Spanish basketball team wasn’t being racist. Culturally insensitive and blissfully ignorant? Sure! To the point of being complete fucking douchebags? Totally!
2) Really, Organization of Chinese Americans in Washington, D.C., this is all you can come up with?
The Chinese-American organization also issued a statement from deputy director George Wu, calling the photo “disturbing” and “divisive.” “It is unfortunate that this type of imagery would rear its head during something that is supposed to be a time of world unity,” Wu said.
Seriously? Because somehow, OCA, that’s a kind of written response where it sounds like you had five minutes to write up a prepared statement, after some sports section from a newspaper called you guys up and said “Hey Chinese people, what do you you have to say?” It’s disappointing because of all the sound bites you can give in media-saavy Washington DC, it comes off as incredibly passive; ironic, since <sarcasm>Chinese people aren’t known for being passive at all.</sarcasm>
So, in conclusion, I throw out this argument: yeah, what the Spanish basketball team did is fucked up. Culturally insensitive, even. But do I think it’s racist? Not really. Besides, Spaniards can’t be racist towards the Chinese. You have to be African, Moroccan or Indian for that to happen.