Colin Davies brought this story to my attention (can’t see how I didn’t spot it before!). It’s a full page ad that the Spanish Basketball association ran (see it here on elpais.com), which shows the Spanish Olympic Basketball team, in full regalia, pulling the sides of their eyes up to try to imitate “oriental” eyes. Whilst sitting on a chinese dragon.
The Spanish Embassy in China told El Pais “that we do not consider this to be an offense towards the chinese public, nor a racist gesture”. The spokesperson continued, saying that “this is a friendly gesture towards our hosts, and we are surprised that it has been considered offensive by the foriegn press”.
The Guardian (story) is upset, although of course this is the normal attitude for The Guardian. The US press is also morally outraged, and is suggesting that this might be brought up when Madrid bids for the 2016 Olympics. The New York Times suggested that the outpouring of emotion “from this normally phlegmatic race” when the Chinese beat the Spanish team in basketball (75-85) might have been due to this advert.
Reading through the many online comments posted by Spanish readers, and the articles in the Spanish press, most people and reporters seem to feel that this is a case of the “anglosajones” forcing their own racial inadequacies upon the Spanish and Chinese. One person said “this is a matter between Spain and China – we don’t mind, they don’t mind, so why do we care what the Brits and Yanks think?”. Another asked if “is it racist when a Brit sees me in the street and yells ‘Olé olé olé ¡toro!’?”
Others comment that while racism exists in the Spanish society, this is not considered to be racist and calling it such simply distracts from the real issues of racism that exist.
I asked two Spaniards (all I could find at this time of the morning), one of which is an IU councillor. Both thought it a bit tasteless, but neither found it “racist”. On the contrary, the issue of calling Thierry Henry a “Negro de mierda” (for example) seems to universally deplored both by press, public and friends.
My opinion? As an Englishman (taken to calling myself that after Axe Grinder opened my eyes to the differences between people based on cultural heritage, language and not getting on with the bastards from the next valley over coz they don’t speak like what I do) I look at the photo and feel appalled at the racial overtones. But, and this is important, this is because pulling up the sides of your eyes to make yourself look chinese is a racist gesture from our (anglosaxon) past. Not the Spanish past. The Spanish don’t have a cultural tradition of imitating and exaggerating other races physical tendencies. So they don’t generally, for example, pretend to be a monkey to be racist about Africans. So they look at this advert and think “Oh look, they’re pretending to be Chinese, how funny”. Not “Racist blighters, you can’t do that, it stinks of past problems, colonies, and general taking of your lands money women etc”.
So the bigger questions is, is it racist? Well, if it isn’t done with malice aforethought, and society as general does not take it to be such, and the society receiving it doesn’t feel it racist, then it’s not racist. Maybe naïve, but not racist. So if I did as an Englishman, it’s racist. If the Spanish basketball team does it, it’s just a very bad joke that fell flat.
No word, by the way, in either UK/US/ES press, about what the Chinese actually think about the photo. Which is probably the most racist part of the story, seeing as how nobody seems to have stopped and wondered what they thought about it – again, we just assume we know what they think.
later: José Manuel Calderon of the Spanish basketball team announced his disgust and disgrace with people who believe that this photo was taken with bad intentions. He told Elpais.com (story) “this which is happening is not bad news for us. We did this with all the love in our heart, but nobody wants to talk about that. We went to China and some people want to run us down for that [getting here]. Anybody who sees this thus [badly] should first think of what is happening [to them]. We did it with love, and without wanting to offend. We come from one of the most multicultural countries in the world. Maybe some people have a problem with us, but we have no problems with them. I don’t know if in the US or UK some people have problems [racist] with other groups. We ask for forgiveness from any offended Asians with all our hearts, that is first, but we did this without any bad intentions. All we want to do is feel closer to them”.
I´ve also just realised that the female basketball team released a photo doing the same thing! I hope The Guardian doesn’t pick up on this, we’ll never hear the end of it.