The first day at a new school is a frightening experience. We moved to a new neighborhood in the middle of my first year in elementary school. This particular section of the Bronx had a lot more white people. When my dad introduced me to the new teacher, it was in front of the whole class. My new teacher, Ms. Tanlish, smiled at me and instructed the class to say hello to the new student. In unison, as elementary school students do, they greeted me with a half-sung “Hello, Jang.” I peered around the class looking for a friendly face. In the back of the class was this one kid who had a scowl on his face. My focus stayed on him. And then he made the face; the world famous Chinese chinky-eyed face.
For the people who don’t know what this is, I’ll explain the chinky-eye. It’s when you take your fingers and pull the outer corners of your eyes to make your eyes appear slanted and smaller, like Asian eyes. I have been the recipient of this middle-finger-gone-racial more times than I can count. That’s why whenever I see or hear of it now, my blood boils.
Never would I ever expect a childhood method of ridicule to become the center of international controversy, but it happened during the 2008 Beijing Olympics. Briefly, this is what went down: the Spanish basketball team posed for a full-page newspaper ad that had all the players doing the chinky-eye. Of course, because of the internet, the picture was quickly disseminated, and the world got a quick introduction to the chinky-eye. And most of the world was pretty upset. The Spanish team, and actually most Spaniards, were taken aback and were not prepared for such criticism. Their defense was that they did not intend to offend anyone but wanted to “commemorate” or show “affection” the fact that the Olympics were being held in China and that the chinky-eye was the symbol for Chinese people in Spain (or some crap like that). The Chinese were actually pretty quick to forgive, issuing an official statement of “it’s all good.” But it was the international community, namely America, that protested the lack of forethought and sensitivity that went into such a public and, presumably, premeditated mockery. Spain was baffled by America’s reaction, especially since the intended target, China, seemed to be fine with it.
Now, I was very glad that there was any reaction at all. Because when something like this happens to Asians, no one could care less. In fact, I would have been satisfied if just one big publication like the NY Times reported on it. But for some reason, the media rode the story out for days. I was impressed.
So, here is my take on it. I heard many arguments that went like this, “But look, even the Chinese were alright with it.” Ok, do you remember who we’re dealing with here? It’s China. This is a country that is almost completely ethnically homogenous. Chinese are the overwhelming majority in China, so chances are, they’ve never been subjected to such racial gestures, let alone racial hate, and therefore don’t quite feel the full sting of the slap in the face. So yeah, why not forgive Spain for something that just seems childlike and petty?
Ok, and second of all, do you remember who we’re dealing with here? It’s China. This is a country that will stop at nothing to look good in front of the world. I think we saw evidence of that with the lip-syncing girl, the underage gymnasts, and the millions of dollars poured into the opening ceremonies. So, it’s no surprise that the Chinese government would brush this one off, not wanting to fuel unnecessary controversy and draw attention away from what we really came to see; this was China’s once in a lifetime chance to showcase its awesomeness.
But still, I heard other arguments that went like this, “What’s the big deal. They weren’t intending to offend anyone. It was just a joke.” Now, how can I put this plainly… ok, that is just plain stupid. Yes, they were intending to be offensive. What they didn’t intend for to happen was that newspaper ad to ever leave the country of Spain. C’mon, how do you expect me to believe that a group of twenty-something year old men didn’t understand the offensive nature of a racial gesture when I’ve been subjected to that same gesture from four-year olds who knew perfectly well that they were making fun of me? I have never had a kid give me the chinky eye because he wanted to be “affectionate” towards me. If you really want to claim that you are dumber than a four-year old then be my guest.