So many opportunities to be racist

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.

Say what?

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.

10 thoughts on “So many opportunities to be racist

  1. Great post.

    And, I agree, the levels of racist commentary that’s taken place during the Olympics have been stunning. I haven’t really watched that much, because I haven’t been interested, but when it’s been on in the background – it’s all been just so blatant and out there. When a rider from Spain won a bicycle tournament, the announcer said “And just like the brave conquistadors of the past, the rider from Spain takes the gold.”

  2. The interesting thing is the difference between private and public “jokes” that can be racist in nature. In our own living rooms and with our friends we often make jokes that cease to be appropriate on an international stage. Thus I join you guys in denouncing the picture and all the players and participants of its production.

    I do, however, want to address some of the questions raised by the post. First I want to make sure that when we say “white people” (as in par.9, “I believe that white people tend to use the intention excuse because they relate more to the perpetrators of racism than the victims”), we do not categorically exclude all other people. In Mexico the Mexicans from the north look down on the indigenous from the southern region, and even the indigenous people in the southern region look down on particular tribes. So racism is not uniquely expressed by ‘white people.” It is important for me to keep this in mind because although it is easy to criticize “white” comments (as in the conquistador “joke”), one must not gain a false sense of superiority.

    I agree with Resistance that article’s continuous referral to the un-intentionality of the offense is curious. I agree that there should be a quote from a team member if such a claim is to be made. Still, it appears we can safely assume that a guest would not *want* to offend his host. Thus, I would believe that they didn’t mean it–which doesn’t make it any more O.K.–but it is not the writer’s place to excuse the team.

    Good post and topic. It is astonishing to notice the unexamined assumptions and notions about race that we all have ingrained.

  3. The Telegraph says something startlingly similar to the Guardian:

    Although no offence was intended by either the players or the Spanish federation, the advertisement is unlikely to be viewed kindly at a time when the Spanish Olympic committe is pursuing a bid to stage the Games in 2016.

    Hi Nohpalli, thanks for coming over. Just to clarify, when I refer to “white people” I am nearly always referring to white people/racism in the United States since that is my experience.

    Sinoangle, if you hurry you can be the first commenter on the Mirror site, which asks “What do you think? Is the advert inappropriate? Racist even? Or simply a piece of harmless fun.”

  4. There is intent in every action i believe. The question is not if there was intent, regardless of these journalists’ suggestions to the contrary. The question is what was the intent?

    i cannot imagine in any way that the intent was tribute or respect. Those who would tout this as “harmless fun” scare me with their utter lack of empathy or understanding of cultures different than their own. Their obliviousness regarding the offensiveness of such an act really blows my mind. Are there so many who are out of touch? Ignorant? Shallow?

  5. “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.” Good point. I hate how the only people supposed to be offended by races are those in the attacked ethnic groups — why wouldn’t the act offend moral people of all races?

  6. Unbelievable, that an entire team would take part in that. And how does the newspaper know what they did/n’t intend, anyway? On the one hand, it seems like the article is trying to make the attempt to all out the crap, then they turn around and just give them an out … “they didn’t mean anything”, like that’s just fact.
    Shame on the athletes, bringing that to the Olympics.

  7. Had to come back — I’m watching the men’s gymnastic all around competition. The announcer just said, “The Koreans, they’re sneaky little warriors.”

  8. More on this form the SF Examiner AP article:

    “It was something like supposed to be funny or something but never offensive in any way,” said Spain center Pau Gasol, who also plays for the Los Angeles Lakers. “I’m sorry if anybody thought or took it the wrong way and thought that it was offensive.”

    “We felt it was something appropriate, and that it would be interpreted as an affectionate gesture,” Calderon, who plays for NBA’s Toronto Raptors, wrote on his blog. “Without a doubt, some … press didn’t see it that way.”

    “…Gasol said it was “absurd” people were calling the gesture racist.”

    “We never intended anything like that,” he said.
    The Spanish basketball federation declined to comment Wednesday. “The players explained what happened,” Villanueva said. “We think that’s enough.”

    “A Seur official in Madrid said the company had not intended to offend the Chinese people, but has no immediate plans to withdraw the ad, which is scheduled to run on selected days until the end of the games.”

    So, again, intention equals reality. If the players are unconsciously being racist, then it’s absurd to call it racism? O rly?

  9. Apparently tennis players from Spain were photographed making the same gesture, with the caption “Estamos preparados para China.”

    Here’s what the Telegraph has to say:

    The latest image appears to show players in Spain’s Federation Cup team doing the “slit-eyed” gesture along with members of their support staff. There is no suggestion that they intended to cause offence.

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