Thursday, April 2, 2009

The Spanish basketball team strikes back!

An astute reader made the following comment to my last post on the Spanish basketball team (see post below, Derogatory expressions: the chinky-eye):

"I don't agree with your reasoning here, Jang. You acknowledge that this gesture [the chinky-eye] would be less offensive in China, but then project your childhood experiences in the Bronx onto the Spanish basketball team. Spain is also a different country with different racial and cultural complexities. Granted, they are not ethnically homogenous, but it's still not fair for you to hold them to your experiences in the Bronx. The Spanish national teams have long had a strong connection with China and are sponsored by the Li-Ning shoe company, which is the Nike of China. Regardless of their motives when they took the picture in question, it's not rational for you to hold them to your personal childhood experiences."

This was my response:

"Your comment is so good that I wanted to dedicate a separate comment [post] for you. Thanks for bringing up the apparent flaw in my reasoning. And I was actually hoping that someone would catch it. But let me tell you why you are wrong and why I am right... haha.

First, as you pointed out, Spain is not ethnically homogeneous. That is key. I'm going to make a wild stab at this but you'd be hard pressed to find a Spaniard who has never seen an Asian person. Spain has many immigrants from all over the world, in fact. Not being ethically homogeneous means you hear, read, and see social interactions with other kinds of people. That fact alone should make you aware that some people are different and they generally don't like it when you make fun of that difference.

Also, this is not the first trouble Spain has gotten into when it comes to race and sports. You may recall how it was reported that the Spanish soccer players and fans were making monkey gestures and sounds at a black player on another team during a game. Will you not hold them accountable for this just because they don't understand what making fun of a black person is? Will you say that Spain's cultural experience is so different that they didn't understand that their gestures and sounds constituted mockery? If yes, then I cannot win this argument.

Also, if there's any country that should understand racism, it should be Spain, given their history of colonizing nearly all of Latin America, parts of Africa, the Philippines, etc. They KNOW racism.

As for China, you could live there your whole life and never see a non-Chinese person. In fact, that's probably the case for 90% of Chinese. That means they have never come across a person who calls them a chink or gives them the chinky-eye. And as you can see from Saerom's comment above, who grew up in homogeneous Korea, she initially didn't think the chinky-eye was a big deal. Why? because noone has ever done it to her! Asians who live in Asia have absolutely no concept of why having a smaller or "slanted" eye is even considered a bad thing. There's no problem seeing out of the eye and everyone around them has that kind of eye so why would it ever cross their mind that it's a negative thing to have an eye like that? Because obviously, it's NOT a negative thing, but some people, like the Spanish b-ball team would like to make light of it.

And as a last point, you don't have to come from the same background as me to understand when you are mocking someone. Mockery and ridicule is a universal language. Now that doesn't mean everyone equally understands the social significance of a certain form of ridicule, but there is certainly more understanding from the person who is doing the mocking as opposed to the one receiving it.

But then again, if your momma didn't teach you that teasing other kids is not right, then that is a whole other problem..."


  1. Just wanted to mention that I grew up in Idaho around zero Asians and zero black people and I know that the "chinky-eye" is offensive. I know that the N word is offensive. There are just certain things that are common sense. Now if we just wanted to say that Spain did it because they are stupid athletes, and athletes have no brains, that might be a better argument. I don't feel that that is the case, if small town Idaho girl knows better then so do they.

  2. This is unrelated to this particular post, but ultra-relevant to the overall blog. I was just thinking what your take is on Nate's grandpa's name?

  3. I think we're getting to an important point. Not all the rest of the world is as race centric as the United States. While we're not the only ones who have discriminated on the basis of race we have a very recent history and race has been at the core of our ethical moral position in the world because of racism's conflict with democratic principles we so deeply espouse...bravo for groupthink!

  4. Wow. What a great blog! I have a question for you, it may be stupid but it's one I think of often. I'm 50% Greek. I grew up with strong Greek traditions but if asked my race I have to check Caucasian. My daughters are 25% Greek and 25% African American. At what percentage to we define one's race?

    How much easier it is to define oneself as a child of God than by race alone. I've always felt race is something important, a heritage and legacy to learn and grow from, but it can get confusing.

  5. Karen, thanks so much for pointing that out. It has a lot to do with common sense.

    Brody, I think it's very funny.

    Nate Kiser, you are my blood brother.

    Jody, yes not everyone is as race centric as the US. You have noted recency of race issues as well as our high standard of democracy as two reasons why this is so. Another important one to note is that the US holds itself out as an immigrants' haven, a melting pot, a place where anyone can obtain the American dream.

    Sojo and MaNini, you are the poster child for this blog: it's not always black and white! Glad you like the blog. Anyway, I agree that the human race is really what is important. One of the purposes of the blog is to show that I am no different than you and that we are all the same.

    Defining one's race for those who are multi-racial is quite ambiguous. I don't have a whole lot of experience with this. What I will say is that you generally identify with the race that others perceive you as (this has mostly to do with how you physically appear). If people think you look Caucasian, you will be treated as Caucasian, which means you will generally think of yourself as Caucasian. And the same holds true if people think you look African American. So while your racial identification should be something completely internal, it is really the result of externalities. But I'm sure you already knew that....