Offered by the Olympics. I don’t know if I can stand any more racist commentary, jokes, headlines, news articles or whatever. Here’s the most recent: Spain’s basketball federation published a photograph of Spain’s men’s team in which they all are pulling up the corners of their eyes. Link via Angry Asian Man.
And here’s what the Guardian has to say:
There is no obvious intention to upset their Olympic hosts in Beijing, but the irresponsible picture is likely to cause controversy and could be interpreted so as to lead to accusations of racism.
Okay, I give somebody at the Guardian credit for even recognizing that this gross, obvious display of racism was racist. I mean, what a display of great racial sensitivity. But here we go with the intention argument again.
What kind of intention can be inferred from this gesture? Why, it seems obvious. It is a racist intention. There is no other interpretation available. Making this gesture towards others cannot be interpreted as friendly or even neutral. It is racist.
In addition, there clearly was intent involved. Somebody made the decision to pose the team this way, and any of a number of people went along with it as it progressed. There are fifteen people in this photograph, all of whom had to agree to make this gesture. The team coach and team PR people were undoubtedly involved. The photographer was involved. Somebody looked over the final pictures.
And nobody ever stopped to say, “Hey, wait a minute guys … do you think that maybe this isn’t a good idea …?”
In other words, a number of people chose this racist representation. That is intent.
It’s possible that somebody did express some reservations about the picture. But the fact that it was eventually published demonstrates that the ingrained racism was stronger than any possible objection.
I believe that white people tend to use the intention excuse because they relate more to the perpetrators of racism than the victims. They’ve done things like this in the past themselves. They have grown up viewing themselves as the top of the racial hierarchy, and never stop to question their position there. So the racismese translation for “lack of intention” is “I never really thought about it.” Similarly, stating that the action is likely to offend the “Olympic hosts in Beijing” suggests that only a very small group of people would object to racism. Because they’re oversensitive, yanno.
The Guardian’s commentary quoted above is just one sentence, but it bears a load that would take some time to unpack. The picture is “irresponsible”; it’s “likely to cause controversy.” It could “lead to accusations of racism.” Because you know how those people of color like to accuse white people of racism.
“Irresponsible” tends to suggest “boys will be boys.” Oops! Just a little racism slipped in! “Likely to cause controversy”–if those troublesome people of color speak up. Because what exactly is “controversial” about it? Whether or not the basketball team should have done it?
Finally, white people typically don’t enjoy being accused of racism. So when they are called out on racism, they tend to portray the accusations as unfounded, probably unmerited, controversial or unfair. Because if they say it, you know it has to be true.
Edited to add: It’s worse than we thought. The Guardian has updated this article. Apparently the women’s basketball team posed for a similar pic. Here’s what the updated Guardian article has to say:
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, below, 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. No offence was intended by the advert, but whether the Chinese see it that way is a different matter and it is likely to provoke more criticism at a delicate time for Spanish sport. The failure to recognise the potential consequences is striking in the light of the problems Spain has had with issues of race and the Spanish Olympic committee’s continued desire to host the Games in Madrid in 2016 or 2020.
Just a quick comment: you can see that “offence” and “intention” have been raised again. Why does the Guardian writer state that “no offence was intended”? There are no quotations from the team or others to suggest this, even if the intentionality was at question. Additionally, the situation is posed as problematic not for its racism, but because of the fallout that might land on the racists.