Thursday, August 21, 2008

Discussion Topic: Racism

The Korean was intrigued by the discussion in the comments following the posts about the Spanish basketball team’s photo. (Related posts here here and here.) This looks like high time for another Discussion Topic post, since the last one about authenticity went so well. Again, the Korean will throw out a discussion question and state his position. Readers, you are all invited to participate. However, bear in mind that the discussion will be actively quality-controlled. Serious, civilized discussion only, please.

Let’s have this picture at the top, since this is what started everything:

The Korean’s question is this: Does the word “racism” include racially insensitive actions/remarks which is not motivated by racial hatred, such as the one done by the Spanish national basketball team here?

It is clear that the Spanish basketball players did not intend any harm through this photo. (See some quotes from Jose Calderon, the starting point guard for the team, here.) In fact, for all we know, it was done out of affection for the Chinese. Nonetheless, many people, including the Korean himself, were offended. Is this action racist?

This question is separate from the issue of whether the Spanish national team has to apologize for the picture or not. Since there are a large number of people who are offended by this, it might be wise for the team to apologize. (Good write-up on this point here.) But if they truly think they did nothing wrong, then maybe they have nothing to apologize for. Regardless, that is not the question that the Korean is interested in – the Korean wishes to tackle the question on a more conceptual level rather than a more practical level.

Reasonable people may disagree on this issue. The Korean will give his best rendition of the opposing argument, then put out his own.

“Not Racist” Argument

First, there needs to be an abundance of caution in throwing the word “racism” or “racist” to someone, because of the explosive connotation that the word carries. Especially in America, being labeled as a racist leads to a social suicide. (Example in this post, towards the bottom.)

Such social death may be appropriate for white supremacists or KKK members, but not necessarily for, say, Fisher DeBerry, the former football coach for Air Force Academy who said “Afro-American kids can run very, very well.” After all, that statement was made out of admiration for black athletes’ ability, not out of any ill will.

The question of motivation is very important in making a distinction between “racist” and “racially inclined”. The reason why racism is an evil that must be eliminated is because of the hostile motivation behind the racial discrimination. Our society has no place for a hateful attitude based on the color of a person’s skin. But if a race-related action or remark was made without any hostility, but with affection and admiration, where is the harm? Maybe people are too sensitive about these things, and are making a knee-jerk reaction?

Such reaction is understandable given the history of racial strife in America, and people who make racially insensitive actions or remarks may have to apologize because they can reasonably foresee that their deeds would generate hurt feelings. But that does not necessarily mean that those actions/remarks are, in fact, racist.

“Yes, Racist” Argument – the Korean’s Position

And now, the Korean’s position on this question.

The Korean’s belief is that the distinction between “racism” and “racial insensitivity” or “racially inclined actions/thoughts” is illusory. (One reader of this blog termed them as “active racism” and “passive racism”, if you prefer.) Instead, racially inclined actions or thoughts can escalate into racism at any moment given the right circumstances.

Previously, the Korean stated that America is the least racist country in the world because it is the country in which a large number of different colored people have lived next to one another for the longest. This is what the Korean wrote:

Why do numbers matter? Because unless the minorities are somewhat numerous, they are not threatening to the majority. Hating takes energy; people don’t hate for no reason. Widespread hatred in the majority toward the minority takes place only if the minority is somehow threatening the majority’s position.

So if you are an African-American tourist traveling through Korea for two weeks, you will find that Korean people are generally nice to you. Why wouldn’t they be? You will leave in two weeks! But trying living there and see how you like it. …

God help you if you were trying to date a Korean. Interracial relationship is a racist’s greatest fear, especially if it involves a minority-race man and majority-race woman. Ever wondered why Emmitt Till was so brutally lynched, just for whistling at a white woman? When a minority-race man dates a majority-race woman, other majority-race men feel their position threatened, because they feel that their possession is being taken. (It should not come as a surprise that racism goes hand-in-hand with sexism.)

On the other hand, Asians in America are not numerous enough to be threatening, so we have been spared from blatant racism so far. But whenever Asian Americans do appear to be threatening, the reaction is exactly the same – just look at what happened to Vincent Chin when Japanese automakers were threatening to American jobs.

In short, other than juvenile childhood situations (in which most minority people in the world are first exposed to the trauma of being racially classified,) racial hatred comes up in a situation in which the minority race is in a position to threaten the majority race. But the necessary ingredient for such a flare-up is a racially-inclined thought.

In this sense, one can no longer say that a racially-inclined thought or action is harmless. As long as people continue to see a person through the person’s race, it is only a matter of time before such attitude grows into a “true” racism, as it were. This is especially true in the modern world where every place in the world is getting more racially diverse. World economy is more integrated than ever, and no single country can afford to live in racial and cultural isolation. Immigration will be a greater and greater trend. People who are not accustomed to living with different types of people will soon find themselves sharing a subway car with a strange-looking person; their sense invaded by unfamiliar smell of exotic food; their streets covered in signs of incomprehensible languages; their jobs eliminated by those willing to work harder, cheaper.

In such a situation, a racially-framed paradigm is just the thing necessary to fire up the racist hatred. All that is necessary is for a demagogue to exhort: “Look at these “other-raced” people! They are different from you! They are incomprehensible, and they are looking to destroy everything we hold dear!”

This must be stopped, and the best way to stop it would be to force people to get out of racially-inclined thoughts. To that end, the explosive connotation of the word “racism” does not bother the Korean as much. So what if it is not as conceptually neat as the distinction between “racism” and “racially inclined behavior”? If the threat of social death would get people out of that paradigm, then that’s exactly what we need.

So there you have it readers – let it rip. The Korean will be looking forward to the discussion. Thank you all in advance.

Got a question or a comment for the Korean? Email away at


  1. I've actually just got a question that's related to this whole fiasco.

    Did Asians living in Asian countries, such as the Chinese find all this stuff offensive or is it just people in the U.S. where this has a history of being used in a discriminatory manner? Being Korean and growing up in the U.S., I have very specific ideas about the intentions behind pulling back ones eyes (having been the victim of it numerous times growing up). However, I found that some Asians that I work with who are recent immigrants had no idea that was supposed to be offensive. They'd probably never had anybody do that to them in any context whatsoever and it occurred to me that this is probably the case to most Asians in the world.

    What infuriated me most about the actions of the Spanish team were not what they did but the fact they continually defended themselves even after they found out. As a soccer fan, I've seen some of the things that Spanish soccer fans are notorious for and it's pretty widely accepted that there are a lot of incredibly ignorant fans there. As a result, this wasn't much of a surprise but their refusal to admit they made a mistake was shocking.

  2. It's one thing to do something in ignorance, and another to keep doing it even after you've been told it's wrong or offensive. IMO what the Spanish basketball team should have done, even if they wanted to explain why the did the pulled-back eyes, was apologise and then not do it again (sorry for the all caps).

    And in answer to the actual question, I'd say there is indeed a slight (very slight) internal divider between merely being ignorant (and insensitive) and actively being racist. Like you said, it doesn't take much to step over that line, but there is a difference and it lies in being informed. The racist will probably keep going anyway...
    It varies from case to case, methinks. I remember coming across this blog with photo of a white girl and her Japanese friends, where the Japanese girls were making 'Western eyes' (her words not mine) and the white one did 'Japanese eyes'. Both sides knew what they were doing, and I'd be a little reluctant to call a gesture like that racist since clearly no offence was meant (it was also in the context of them being friends, too).
    Sorry if I've rambled for too long..

  3. I think it's similar to a question like this: "if a motorist hit and killed a person with no mal-intensions, should we call the driver a murderer?"

    The motorist did kill a person so the title "murderer" is technically suitable. However, the title is supposed to be a traumatizing scarlet letter, so maybe it should be reserved for someone who deserves it more, rather than diluting its shock value.

    Now, here's my obsrevation:
    "Yes Racist" camp wants to use the shock value to reduce racism. "Not Racist" camp wants to preserve the shock value to reduce racism. The final goal of both camps is that they want to use the shock value of the term to reduce racism.

    HOWEVER! if usage pattern of the term "rasicm" follows the path of "murderer" or "criminal", popular culture will very quickly dilute the shock value of the term.

    My point here is that this discussion is rethorical at best; our weapon of choice, the shock value, will disappear. Discussion on how we should use a weapon that will disappear is meaningless. All attempts to save the shock value such as creating BS words like active/passive racism are futile and you will be assimilated.

    Rather than trying to come up with a single answer, we should approach this as a rhetorical question which bears no answers. Just share your opinion and learn from others rather than trying to "win" this argument.

    But then, what do I know. I'm typing with my nose anyway. falala

  4. I don't think that having a sad every time certain fetishistic words or actions are said will really reduce racially-inclined thinking. I think it'll just inflame them. I think reacting to things like the slant-eye with polite condescension would be more effective anyway.

    Having said that, I agree with your overall reasoning.

  5. In my opinion the intent of something has very little to do with its effects, unless you know the person very well.

    For me, part of the strength of "racist"/racism" is using it in ALL instances where it applies, whether that's a cross-burning or someone calling me a chink. Sure, there is a difference in degree, but they are in the same family of actions.

    Excusing actions by people who take the time to think about what they did and really apologize is one thing, but "it's YOUR fault you're offended"-style apologies aren't going to cut it. The actions of the Spanish teams were evidence of deep-seated racism in Spain, just like the fact that we Americans all recognized what they were doing is evidence of the same in the US.

    Racism's harm can be both psychological and physical. I've noticed that part of the way systemic racism affects people of color is that it makes us constantly doubt whether we were right to call something racist, because somewhere, somehow, we are delegitimizing "real" racism. To me, all racism is racism.

  6. Both acts (from the Spanish Basketball Team and the Argentinean Soccer Team) were racist and I can supply evidence.

    It was suggested that the pictures were considered racist only in the USA where people are more aware and sensitive to racial issues. It was also suggested that Asian people who live in Asia don't have the same awareness and they may not have taken insult in the pictures.

    Furthermore, we have comments from the Spanish players, who have said the picture was taken as a symbol of affection for the Chinese, hosts of the Olympic Games.

    I concede that the Chinese (or other Asians living in Asia) may not have thought this was a racist thing. I also concede they didn't take it as an insult, since they were never target of the "slant eyes" gesture like many Asian-Americans, for example.

    But I know for sure that the Spanish and Argentinean athletes in those pictures knew perfectly well what it meant.

    While living in Brazil, I visited Argentina several times (for the Geography impaired, Argentina and Brazil are neighbouring countries in South America) and some Korean people living in that country told me they were sometimes "attacked" with the slant eyes gesture and some kung fu sounds, especially when they were kids.

    One of my best friends is Philipino and he's very sensitive to racial issues since he grew up in Indiana (never been there myself, but by what he tells me it must not be the nicest place in the world for an Asian guy to live). For honeymoon, my friend and his wife (also pinoy) went to Europe and he told me the only problem with racism he faced was in Spain, where several people made kung fu sounds and the slant eyes gesture to him and his wife.

    Coincidence? Perhaps. Are Argentina and Spanish the only racist countries in the world? Of course not. In Brazil I also faced some anti Asian racism and the slant eyes thing is an universal way to make fun of Asian people.

    Chinese people and other Asians in Asia may not know it (I seriously doubt it, though). But those stupid Spaniards and Argentineans in the picture KNEW it. They grew up in their own countries, not in Asia. Of course they know that the slant eyes thing is offensive to Asians. Even if they're not racist now, they probably did it to an Asian kid in the neighbourhood while they were growing up.

    Affection for the Chinese? BS! They didn't know it was offensive? BS! They knew it and they still did it.

    To put it in perspective, it would be the same thing if the Games were being held in some country in Africa and they dressed and jumped like monkeys and ate bananas as a symbol of affection for the African people.

    Would that be considered racist?

  7. IMO, I do consider those actions to be racist. For others to claim that those offended are just being oversensitive just means that they, themselves, haven't been on the receiving end of such gestures, or simply don't care either way. In no way was that gesture a show of affection. It was more along the lines of mocking. Not cool.

  8. I honestly cannot understand those that claim that the actions of the Spanish and Argentinian teams are considered racist only to those living in the U.S. The fact is that of all the "affectionate" tributes that either team could have chosen for their photograph, they deliberately chose what they consider a funny feature of the Chinese people (hence all Asians in their minds), fully aware of how that gesture is used to mock Asians in Spain and Argentina. Why not choose a more flattering and respectful gesture if their intentions truly were honorable? Their unapologetic, even defiant, behavior afterward leaves no doubt that racial discrimination is so deeply ingrained in their countries that they simply are incapable of understanding or caring about their actions. Laughably pathetic in my opinion.

  9. My understanding is that the spanish people don't feel the photos were offensive as they were meant for a spanish audience (that dont find such gestures as ill-intentioned) above comments say otherwise but in any case, what bothers me so much is that the spanish team not acknowledging that the photo may be insensitive puts out the wrong message to their spanish fans. I'm especially amazed about the indifference that the NBA players (Gasol, Calderon, etc.) have shown considering they've had opportunities to travel and live in America (who are apparently the only ones offended according to the Spanish)

    these players are WORSHIPPED in spain and to say that perpetuating a gesture like that within their fan base (kids included) is okay ONLY makes sense if they plan on closing off their borders, outlawing the internet, and generally closing themselves off from the entire world so that they can continue to make inappropriate gestures for a purely spanish audience that won't either be offended or interact with people that may be.

  10. Calvin,

    The Korean thinks the term "murderer" still carries weight. It is still a strong condemnation. "Racist" would remain its strength as well. But the point that "racist" is a term of art (= a term with a technical meaning) is an interesting one.


    Responding to the point you made in a different post -- The point that perhaps Asians people who live in countries in which they are the majority race may not be offended by this gesture is a fair one. But the Korean fails to see how that determines whether that gesture was racist or not. The question of whether something is racist is separate from the question of whether anyone was offended by that something.

    The Korean disagrees with the point you made on this post as well. The threat of social death has been very effective in the U.S. to curb this type of behavior. The Korean does not see a reason why vehement reaction would inflame people with racial inclinations more. Sure, hardcore, "true" racists may be more inflamed, but those people with generally good intentions would learn from the experience.


    You would love these pictures: Australian footballers in Hitler costume and black face.

    Yes, they were a consideration in taking out Australia as the least racist country in the world. At least the players were sanctioned for it.

  11. All this talk about racism makes me really curious about your views on this new movie Tropic Thunder featuring Robert Downey in blackface. Isn't it pretty horrible? Apparently alot of people don't think so and I find that pretty shocking

  12. Actually, this is also another case of people claiming that since the movie makers didn't do it with the intent to slander african americans, it's ok, that it was done with "respect".

  13. Good point. I didn't find 'Tropic Thunder' to be racist. The movie acknowledged that Downey was 'in character' and the Black guy had a chance to berate Downey 'in character' so it kind of balanced out in some "Hollywood" kind of way. I feel the same about the Wayan's brother's movie, 'The White Chick'. I guess that with creative works of art, offense is subjective(?) While I'm anxiously awaiting the new Resident Evil video game, some people think that the game is racist because the zombies are mainly Haitian. I also disagree with that assessment because I'm familiar with the series of games. I cannot really explain why I see a difference in the 'art' I stated above, and what the Spanish teams did, but I do. Sorry for going so far off topic. Interesting discussion here.

  14. jw & eileen,

    Full disclosure: the Korean has not seen Tropic Thunder except for a few snippets in the previews, shown before Wall-E and Dark Knight.

    Even in a work of art, the Korean does not think intent matters. Road to hell is paved with good intentions; what matters is execution.

    That said, there has to be some leeway with respect to charges of racism in a work of art. (The Korean is loath to call Tropic Thunder a work of art, but bear with him here.) It has to be evaluated within the context of the art and the artist.

    Tropic Thunder seems ok because it appears that Downey's character is mocked for his blackface throughout the movie. The Korean thinks it is equivalent to The Office episode in which Steve Carrell character could not distinguish two Asian girls so he puts a dot on one of the girls' arm. It was obvious for the whole episode that Carrell's character was the dumb one, and the jokes were on him, not on the Asian girls. Similarly, the jokes on the guy with the blackface, not on black people.

    As to Resident Evil game, the Korean thought the zombie myth originated from Haiti, as a part of the voodoo tradition? Nothing wrong with trying to go old school. The Korean would find it odd if King Arthur and the Knights of the Round Table included black folks somehow.

  15. Nuna reckons Resident Evil was incredibly stupidly made. They purposely ignored the reality and instead consciously chose to perpetuate myths about Africans and vodou. Seriously, how much resources does it take to just google up things?

    To start off with, Haitians are a mix of South Americans and African former slaves. Their colouring is much lighter than portrayed in Resident Evil, 95% of them believe in Christanity, and vodou is actually very rarely practiced. While there are stories of zombie-creation in the original African tribes, vodou has very little to do with zombie-making.

    These generic "black people" in Resident Evil don't even dress like Haitians, or live in a (supposedly) Haitian background. Note that initially, nobody knew where the heck it was supposed to be geographically.

    If anything, the only thing Resident Evil faithfully recreated was a whole bench of generalist racist views and stereotypes perpetuated through eye-rolling, twitching, BIX NOOD style black and white movies of old, then stuck a few palm trees in the background and called it Haiti.

    Nuna wouldn't be surprised if they re-cycled the engine, coloured the enemies yellow and released Resident Evil 6, then see video game shills defending it to the bitter end. Actually, they already did it: it was called Crysis, and besides an incomprehensible plot involving aliens, it had generic Asian models labelled "North Koreans" who inexplicably coudnd't speak a clear word of Korean frolicked amongst... PALM TREES. If Nuna has to see another bloody palm tree in a bleeding FPS, Nuna will probably overdose on painkillers. A good FPS has no palm trees. See: Goldeneye, Deus Ex. Anyway, how did Nuna get here.

    As for whether racism should be accepted if it's wrapped in a nice well-meaning package, Nuna would like to direct you to the infamous Australia Post racism ad.

  16. Nuna the zombies in Resident Evil 5 are zombies because they came in contact with the T-Virus, not because of their association with Voudun, which is similar to Yorubaland's Ifa/Orisa, a Traditional African Spirituality, which I have studied. The series just moved geographically. The last installment had them in Europe. They had to leave Raccoon City sometime. :-)
    *still anxiously awaiting the release*

  17. the korean,

    I appreciate your point, thats fair enough. On further thought I have likely been giving the spaniards too much benefit of the doubt.

    I'm not sure I approve of some of the reactions that have sprung up in the blogosphere though. Been some pretty racist things said about hispanics by people offended by this. That, however, is neither here nor there when judging the original case.

  18. Dear everyone,

    I was astonished about the zeal in all your comments. As a German, if I had seen the photo without reading this blog post and comments along with it, I wouldn't have stopped to think, and would've been completely unoffended.

    Being (and more importantly, looking) German means that I have never been a target of racial discrimination, so maybe this is why my point of view differs from yours (not knowing everyone's ethnical background). But I also feel that discussion about this kind of topic in Germany is usually a lot cooler than your comments here.

    Also I must say that I have never seen the gesture in the photo used ill-meaningly in my country (I don't think I've seen it much at all), and I wasn't aware that it was used as a racist gesture in certain other parts of the world.

    Do I think it is OK to poke fun at another person's appearance? Yes! Face it, Chinese people look funny for Westerners who aren't really used to the sight. It shouldn't be wrong to point out these differences as they don't, in any way, determine a person's worth.

    And if we're not allowed to make fun of anything, what are we going to do all day? We can't keep censoring ourselves about everything.

    I asked myself what I would've thought if there was a photo of, say, a Chinese team making big eyes, wearing large false noses, or anything you'd say is typical for Europeans. I don't think I would've been offended. Of course, this may be because I've never been the target of racial discrimination.

    Context and intention really *are* the important factors here. Mobbing people is bad, be it for racial or other reasons.

    But going abroad and making some fun of your host country - that's exactly the thing I'd do as a tourist! How many travel photos are there out there where tourists make fun of Japanese, Chinese, Americans... you name it - would you say all of these are racist? I think this kind of thing can be done without any ill intentions, always aware that you are actually a guest in that country. And normally, I'd also say that it does no harm.

    What I think *does* harm is oversimplifying things. Real racism isn't seen with the naked eye. Focusing one's energies on a football team goofing around obscures the view of the actual problems. Stopping racism takes more than telling people to stop pulling back their eyes, no?

    A person who makes a gesture as depicted out of affection for the people (may that have been the team's true feeling or not) is NOT a racist.

    A person who wears a business suit and would never be found saying a bad word about immigrants, but gives a job to a native in favor of a better qualified immigrant IS a racist.

    Having said all that, letting a photo like that go to mainstream media wasn't a very smart move, and apologies are due.

  19. Sebastian,

    Being that you have admitted twice in your response that you have never been racially discriminated against, I think that that says a lot.

    I will not debate with you your feelings because you are entitled to them, just know that your world of never having being discriminated against because of the color of your skin or your facial features of which you have no control, has not been the experience of a vast number of human beings on Earth who have been discriminated against, mocked, ridiculed, even tortured and beaten simply because they looked 'funny'.

    I don't think that that is something to take lightly, given the context of history and it's strange way of repeating itself.

    People who have been discriminated against are wary when people make comments and gestures which mock and/or ridicule them. You learn to develop a certain sensitivity that might be hard for those of whom have never experienced racism to understand.

    Not only are apologies in order, imo, the teams should be made aware of why those gestures are offensive, hopefully never to repeat them.

  20. eileen: Perhaps parapharasing a magazine article once written on the subject might make things clear.

    Let's say 40 years later in Resident Evil franchise, the plot involved two planes carrying fanatical middle eastern looking people flying into two skyscrapers in a generic cityscape. The player has to contain the T-virus within the collapsing buildings, presumably by blowing the head off the raging hordes that stream down the fire stairs.

    Would you readily accept that the clearly middle eastern looking fanatics were Pakistanis, infected with the T-virus and not religious fervour, and the game was set in Canada(there were patches of snow on the cityscape)? Would you really chalk it up to so much coincidence? Even if it was coincidental, the overall effect is pretty offensive.

    An entire developing team decided to become selectively blind to racist propaganda films depicting zombiefied savages and the actual demographics and culture of Haiti. Oh, and the fact that their government supported Apartheid, which doesn't help things. Who are they kidding? They should've apologised already, intentional or no.

  21. This comment has been removed by the author.

  22. Nuna, I do see your point.

    Honestly I don't think it coincidental that the Resident Evil series is now in a place which had a reputation, because of Western media, as a place rife with the undead.

    Certainly it could have influenced the decision to place the plot there.

    Perhaps I a coming from a place where Voudun is a "legitimate" spiritual path, as Christianity, Buddhism, Taoism, etc. It strikes no fear in me. I make no wild nor baseless assumptions about the residents of Haiti because of this.

    I assumed that people were more informed about difference and would not denigrate a population of people based upon Western ignorance no longer perpetuated in media. I may have been wrong in my assumption.

    However assuming that I am right, what would be wrong with the series moving anywhere? To Mexico? To Germany? Even to Japan, where the series was created? Sorry to be crass, but shouldn't every country have it's share of T-virus produced zombies if we are all on the table as equals and are equally susceptible to the ravages of such said virus?

  23. ...all this resident evil talk makes me confused. you guys are big nerds. period.=)

    (sorry, I make fun of video game nerds even more than spanish people make fun of asian appearance)

  24. I should clarify before I get jumped on: spanish national basketball team, not spanish people

  25. LOL, Daniel. You're right... I'm SUCH a horror RPG nerd. Sorry for veering so far off topic. *exiting stage left* :-D

  26. Sebastian,

    "Do I think it is OK to poke fun at another person's appearance? Yes! Face it, Chinese people look funny for Westerners who aren't really used to the sight... And if we're not allowed to make fun of anything, what are we going to do all day? We can't keep censoring ourselves about everything."

    If/when Germany hosts the Olympics in the future, we should strongly urge the Chinese basketball team to don the Nazi uniform, put on the Hitler mustache, and give the Nazi salute in their team photo as a friendly gesture to the hosting nation. It would be funny to hurt and offend those good-hearted Germans trying to overcome their painful past, wouldn't it? Beside, what else are going to do all day?


  27. Sebastian:

    You are a troll. Chinese are "funny looking"? Shut the %%%% up while grown ups are trying to have a discussion.

  28. I guess it's my turn to apologize. Re-reading my post, I acknowledge that the passage from my post that has been quoted twice was very insensitive. I realize that those who responded are - rightly - very sensitive about the topic of racism, and it was wrong of me to use this kind of trivializing language in this context. Sincere apologies to everyone who was offended.

    Let me just state for the record that I DON'T think Chinese people look "funny", whatever that means, that I don't think it's "good" to think so, and that I didn't intend my statement to imply that.

    At the same time, I thank everyone who has responded to me. I am aware that, with my relative lack of personal experience with racism, I can not appreciate the pain this kind of image causes to a person whose experience differs from mine, and therefore my views on the topic may be naive. This is the reason I joined the discussion: I have seen a lot of people make good points here, and I would like to learn from everyone's opinion. That's the point of a discussion for me. I've already learned a few things.

    Now if you'll bear with me, I'll try to state my point once more. If you still think I'm trolling after reading this, tell me so and I'll shut up for good on this topic.

    Please note that I am in agreement with the general opinion here on that publishing that kind of photo was insensitive, a mistake, and demands apologies. I just have a problem with putting the label "racist" on it. I am, if you will, in the "Not Racist" faction.

    Calling someone racist is, as the Korean correctly stated, a condemnation that may have a severe social impact. A characteristic of a free society is the principle of the "presumption of innocence". While not the whole world is a courtroom, I believe it is also a reasonable principle to follow when trying to attach an ethical value on an action, regardless of the legal consequences.

    In the case of racism, I think this means you have to try to take the offender's point of view. It's particularly easy for me, as I admit to be poorly educated about the kind of discrimination that ethnically Asian people encounter in places where there are many Asian immigrants (Germany, alas, isn't one of them). However, I don't think my education on this topic is below average for my country.

    Because of this, I can very well picture myself commiting the same kind of mistake - spilling a glass of water on a persons shirt, thinking nothing of it (referring to "Some Jokes Aren't Funny", I believe it is possible for the most educated, good-hearted person in the world to make this kind of mistake, if they just let their attention slip for a moment. I for one have done and said a lot of things I regretted later on, including hurting people (though not on racial basis), that I really didn't intend to have that effect.

    I think the word "racist" is much too strong to be applied unconditionally. There has to be a line between "racist" and "not racist", and I think in border cases, the offender's actual intention matters, which can only be guessed at.

    In my opinion, if you are going to apply a really harsh judgement, you must never be rash about it, you must not let yourself be guided by strong emotions, and you must try to think about the incident in question from every possible point of view.

    I'd like to say all this without making a judgement about the actual case in question here, as I feel unable to do that due to lack of background knowledge.

    I'm sincerely interested in your opinion about this. I've tried my best not to offend anyone. I am not trying to trivialize the issue: I consider racism a very severe problem, that is why I spend so much time discussing it. I just want to state my opinion that no crime in the world justifies rash judgement.

  29. I never thought it would be possible to make that gesture without some ignorance or malice behind it.. but being in Korea, I do get the 'Western Eyes' gesture now and again, mostly from kids under the age of 17, and mostly younger than grade school. But it hasn't offended me because it seems that in such a homogeneous country, and one which was quite the 'Hermit Kingdom' for so long, it has more to do with a good-natured curiosity and mimicry as opposed to mocking. This is also the first time in my life I've ever been a minority, and it is an interesting experience, but certainly there is less vitriol directed at Americans in Korea (white non-military, to be particular about such things) than there is against other minorities in other countries. Who knows? Maybe it was the Spanish way of saying, "One world, one dream, look! We're like you, China!"

  30. People who have problems with using the word "racist" regarding those pictures are not reading all the posts.

    In my previous comment I gave my explanation why I believe it was racist. In short, I explained that in Argentina and Spain the "slant eyes" gesture is used as a way to mock Asians and all those athletes knew exactly what they were doing.

    So, Sebastian and others who are even considering this was not racist, please stop just blurping opinions, read other people's comments and reply to their arguments.

  31. ksoje,

    The Korean understands what you are saying, but he wants to have a broader discussion than that particular picture/gesture. What if, giving the benefit of doubt, the players truly had no malicious intent? If that gesture clearly implicates malice for you, how about the football coach and his thing about how black people run fast?

  32. Hey Korean, I thought you were on a vacation, bro!

    Considering this particular case, lets say 20 (Spaniards and Argentineans) athletes were in those pictures. Can you honestly say that none of them knew that gesture was offensive to Asians?

    I could give them the benefit of the doubt if they were from a country with a very small to non-existing Asian community like (I'm guessing here) Finland or Iceland. In those places, maybe there are people who could have posed for a picture like that innocently. But not Spain and Argentina.

    Just for a radical experience, try searching for "Spain racism" on Youtube, you'll find some amazing stuff.

    About the football coach, I'm in doubt on how I feel about it. On one hand, I'm inclined to say it's nothing, something like saying "Asian kids are good in math". He wasn't making fun of black people, quite the contrary. But then again, if black people are offended by that comment, I'd be more than happy to listen to their opinion.

    I share your hatred of racism but I don't think that racially inclined thoughts are to be completely eliminated to eliminate racism. One simple reason for that is that it's not possible. For instance, calling yourself The Korean is a racially inclined thought, isn't it?

  33. ksoje,

    "So, Sebastian and others who are even considering this was not racist, please stop just blurping opinions, read other people's comments and reply to their arguments."

    I think you have been misunderstanding me, as I do agree with you on what you wrote in your last post.

    "I share your hatred of racism but I don't think that racially inclined thoughts are to be completely eliminated to eliminate racism. One simple reason for that is that it's not possible."

    I completely agree, and this is one reason that leads me to the conclusions I made in my second post, which you are welcome to read.

    The reason I did not respond directly to your previous posts was that I wanted to start my argumentation from a different direction. If you read my post, you will find that I try to avoid judging the concrete incidents in question, because I feel unable to and not entitled to it.

    My point is a much more abstract one, and IMO your posts (except the last one) contain relatively little argumentation that is valid in an abstract discussion. You have a lot of concrete evidence, and this gives you a strong standing point in your argumentation. However, I personally am not so much concerned about this concrete case, which I feel I cannot judge, but about the general question:

    Judging from your post above, I believe we both share the opinion that there has to be a line to be drawn between "not racist" and "racist" racially inclined actions (I am reluctant to use the word "thought" here, as I believe in free thought). Where is this line to be drawn?

    I argue, once more, that decisions about this line have to be made very carefully, and that in border cases, the intentions of the "offender" should play a role.

  34. I agree ksoje with your assessment that although a generalization (and most likely his personal observation) that black people run fast, the coach meant no harm or malice in his statement, imo.

    If giving the benefit of the doubt to the Spanish players, I'd say that at the very least the act was childish and immature and they should have known better. If addressing a global community at least do more research, unless it's your intention to offend, imo.

    What about the question that blim asked at the beginning of the thread?

    "Did Asians living in Asian countries, such as the Chinese find all this stuff offensive or is it just people in the U.S. where this has a history of being used in a discriminatory manner?"

    Or is it something along the lines of what Sebastian posted earlier, that Asians look 'funny' to Westerners not used to seeing Asians, where instead of out and out mocking, the Spanish teams used the gesture in a playfully teasing (but respectful) kind of way? Which btw, doesn't make it any better, imo.

  35. Having talked to my girlfriend (Japanese, living in Japan) about this story, I feel I have to correct what I said in the beginning.

    She told me that, yes, she hated them doing this kind of photo, but thinks they probably did it without ill intentions and says they could make up for it by apologizing.

    I found the reason she told me for not liking it rather interesting: She said that there are many people in Asia who don't like having small eyes, so she thinks reminding them about this fact is not nice.

    I recognize that me saying earlier "Do I think it is OK to poke fun at another person's appearance? Yes!" was overboard and impudent. Just because I don't care much about being made fun of within certain limits, doesn't mean everyone else doesn't. This opinion was due to my own lack of regrettable experiences, and I can't simply apply that to others. So sorry for that.

    I think I'll keep the rest of my opinions up for discussion, though.

  36. Sebastian:

    1) Initial question

    I read your comment before I wrote mine so no need to welcome me to do it again.

    "I just have a problem with putting the label "racist" on it. I am, if you will, in the "Not Racist" faction."

    "In the case of racism, I think this means you have to try to take the offender's point of view."

    With this, you're implying those athletes may not have known that gesture was offensive to Asians. I gave arguments (very strong as you even admit) against it. Well, giving these guys a pass and the benefit of the doubt includes countering my arguments, which nor you or anybody has done yet.

    2) Broadening the discussion

    Where do we draw the line between racist and non-racist racially inclined actions?

    This is a very deep and thought provoking question and I look forward to see what others will write.

    I particularly think that such line can't be drawn. It would be like having a formula to determine whether a racially inclined action is racist or not but how do you mathematize common sense?

    There are so many things to consider and it's rarely a matter of black or white (no pun intended).


    "Did Asians living in Asian countries, such as the Chinese find all this stuff offensive or is it just people in the U.S. where this has a history of being used in a discriminatory manner?"

    I think it doesn't matter. What matters is that the athletes knew what they were doing.

    Think about this case, which is clearly racist. It doesn't matter if black people living in Africa don't feel offended by it, does it?

  37. Point taken Ksoje.

    Regarding that link, now surely that cannot be misconstrued as a token of affection by anyone, for any reason.

    What's going on in Spain?

  38. Eileen:

    One of these days my philipino buddy was telling me of a theory of his that Asian men and black women are the ugly ducklings in American society. His argument being that both are mostly depicted by the media as physically unattractive.

    As examples, he mentioned that in movies or TV:

    - Asian men never get to kiss the girl
    - Asian men are always shown as nerds, martial artists and/or the comedic relief
    - Asian women are always paired with non-Asian men (meaning that even Asian women don't find Asian men attractive)
    - Black women only are attractive if they have Caucasian features
    - Black women are always shown as hookers, drug addicts and/or the comedic relief
    - Black men are always paired with non-black women (meaning that even black men don't find black women attractive)

    Thinking about it, I have to agree he's got a point. In the spirit of adding more to this discussion on racism, what's your opinion?

  39. Ksoje, I always thought it a shame that Aaliyah and Jet Li were not allowed to kiss. :-)

    In essence I agree with your Filipino friend. Apparently we're not marketable unless we are stereo typed as the asexual buddy, the martial artist, the gum smacking, attitude having chick or the hyper sexual vixen.

    In my *always trying to think positive* mind, I think that means that we strike fear in the majority and we are a force to be reckoned with. :-D

    I think that we have more in common than not, to be honest. I'm glad that you brought that up actually, because I wondered why it seems that relations are so difficult between Asians and black people in America, when I think that working together we could be so much stronger.

    Anyway, I'll expound later, if you want me to. I'm rushing right now so please excuse all typos, etc.

    *if this is a repost, sorry*

  40. eileen, please write more. =)

  41. :-) Well Ksoje, since my initial discovery of the awesomeness of the Ask A Korean! blog, I've lurked on many different forums, and the general consensus of AA men (in my opinion of course. I am not trying to overstep my bounds) seems to be that their image, according to the powers that be in Hollywood, is limited based upon very narrow minded views.

    Not only that, while AA women enjoy the freedom of diversity in having a variety of roles and/or love interests, that privilege has not been extended to AA men in any substantial way.

    As a black woman in America, I can relate to those sentiments.

    It appears that, taking Aaliyah and Jet Li for example, we offend the general viewing public if we show interest in one another. That is curious to me.

    It also seems to offend the general viewing public if we show interest in anything that is beyond the caricatures Hollywood deems us meant to play. This disappoints me.

  42. Adding some numbers to eileen's comment,
    CNN's article Black and single: Is marriage really for white people? states that "Forty-five percent of black women in America have never been married, compared with 23 percent of white women, according to the U.S. Census Bureau's American Community Survey in 2006."

    This is clearly OT for this discussion so I'll stop around here. Maybe the numbers will be useful in your future articles about ugly ducklings of today's world: black women and asian men.

  43. calvin,

    that may well have something to do with what we're discussing here. Do you have any numbers on black men?

  44. eileen,

    that would be something I'd like to see in a movie, an Asian man and a black woman kissing. We will show them someday.

    Anyway, it looks like we both agree on the depiction of Asian men and black women in the media. Follows the discussion of why it happens. Why do you think it is?

  45. Sorry for the late response. I've been on my own 'mini' vacation and had a really great time.

    North Carolina, of all places, but the population was diverse and that was really nice.

    Honestly I have no idea why the stereo types of Asian men and black women persist.

    Apparently black men and Asian women are more appealing to the general viewing audiences, especially with interracial love scenes. More so Asian women though. They'll allow black men to get close... but not too close, imo. Of course if you're Halle Berry, those 'rules' get thrown out the window...

    I thought of you guys while I was on vacation because I saw Lucky Number Slevin in my hotel room. The movie has a love scene between Lucy Lu and Josh Harnett.

    Although I do know an Asian male/black female couple, and I saw another couple in my tiny little military town, I suppose it is rare to see us coupled therefore it isn't something often seen in film.

    On this black female message board that I frequent there is a full on discussion going on amongst the women there about the same things that we are discussing here.

    Mainly that we're both (Asian men/black women) the 'black sheep' of this so called melting pot of America. That we're both more 'loyal' to our 'race' more so than our counterparts and there are tons of pictures there of the Asian guys that they think are cute. :-)

    Anyway, enough of me rambling! I've enjoyed this conversation. I've even learned a thing, or two. :-)

  46. Boo. Fricken. Hoo. They didn't intend to be racist by doing something blatantly racist...hmm. Sounds like the same excuse I've heard in Korea time and time again for every slight imaginable against people who've been "othered" by Koreans and other Asians. As someone who has lived in Korea for several years, I can confidently say that the racism that Koreans and other Asians may face abroad is NOTHING compared to the institutionalized racism and utter lack of compassion that foreigners will most likely experience as foreign residents in places like Korea or China.

    When a Korean is raped, murdered, assaulted, or negligently killed there is a serious investigation and people are held accountable. When the same thing happens in Korea, we are ignored, laughed at, or told that there is nothing Korean "police" can do.

    A less extreme example? The makeup ads with Nazi imagery? The Bubble Girls in blackface? The girl in blackface on the Rush and Cashee commercials? Are there more examples? In light these might suggest that one shouldn't complain so much about the karma they've worked so hard to deserve.

    I wonder if the Chinese exhibit any racism that might mitigate the empathy they expect for this very minor incident?

  47. Mike:

    First of all, welcome to the other side. Now you at least have an idea of what Asians and other minority groups face on a daily basis living in the U.S. and other countries.

    Second, your having "lived in Korea for several years" still does not qualify you to judge the severity of the kinds of racism "utter lack of compassion" that Asians, Blacks, and Latinos face – institutionalized and otherwise.

    As much as I want to hope that your experience with racism will instill in you empathy, I despair that you'll just become bitter and feel justified in treating others as you have been treated. I don't know, it's an inkling I get from reading your comments.

  48. mike,

    what you said is irrelevant to the topic at hand, and it is not particularly interesting. If you bothered to read the "popular questions" on the right, you would see this blog extensively discusses Korean people's own racism. You have been warned.

  49. Very well, is it true that the Chinese photog that did the picture asked them to pose that way? Not sure where I neard that. Sorry if I can't be bothered to read every post on the subject.

    I didn't defend racism as a practice or advocate it being directed at people who practice it with impunity in their own country. Nor did I comment on the racism that other minorities face in other countries.

    My apologies for my insensitive opening. I guess in light of other instances of racism I've witnessed or directly experienced, this seems fairly innocuous...I am happy that someone saw fit to call them on it just the same. Small slights can lead to bigger ones (which is what I was pointing out, using some examples I've seen while living in Korea).

    I'm not sure what I'm being warned about...are you threatening me??? I do think it is germane to examine how racist people who complain about racism are..and to draw comparisons from the source of their complaints to their own transgressions.

    I'm sorry you don't support the right of others to disagree with you.

  50. mike:

    "Very well, is it true that the Chinese photog that did the picture asked them to pose that way? Not sure where I neard that. Sorry if I can't be bothered to read every post on the subject."

    The photographer wasn't Chinese. The picture was taken in Spain, for a Spanish transportation company which sponsors their basketball team.

    "I didn't defend racism as a practice or advocate it being directed at people who practice it with impunity in their own country. Nor did I comment on the racism that other minorities face in other countries."

    To me it sounded like you were justifying racism against Asians since Asians themselves are racist.

    "My apologies for my insensitive opening. I guess in light of other instances of racism I've witnessed or directly experienced, this seems fairly innocuous...I am happy that someone saw fit to call them on it just the same. Small slights can lead to bigger ones (which is what I was pointing out, using some examples I've seen while living in Korea)."

    It's not innocuous. It's extremely serious when public people like these athletes subject themselves to such a picture. It looks as if they encourage the mocking of Chinese (and Asian) people. Spain is already a racist country, acts like this will only make matters worse.

    "I'm not sure what I'm being warned about...are you threatening me??? I do think it is germane to examine how racist people who complain about racism are..and to draw comparisons from the source of their complaints to their own transgressions."

    We could discuss how racist Koreans (and Asians in general) are. It's a welcome discussion and I believe it's been featured in this blog a few times. But this thread is mostly about those pictures, right?

    "I'm sorry you don't support the right of others to disagree with you."

    I fail to see how your post disagrees with anything that has been said here. You just countered "These pictures were racist" with "Asians are racist".

  51. I am, therefore I think: I totally agree with this:


    First of all, welcome to the other side. Now you at least have an idea of what Asians and other minority groups face on a daily basis living in the U.S. and other countries."

    I also like what Expat Jane had to say about the topic of foreigners living in Korea.

  52. I don't think being "victim" of racism in Korea will make a white person understand how life is for minorities in the USA. It's a different situation for two reasons:

    1) Minorities in the USA are being discriminated in their own country. Most whites in Korea are there for a limited amount of time and will eventually go back to their countries. I don't think there's a significant percentage of whites who consider Korea their home.

    2) In the USA racial insults and the marginalization are used to put the minorities down. We are a significant enough part of the population to be considered a "threat" to the white majority.
    Whites are not a threat to the vast Korean majority in Korea. I don't believe they are trying to put the "whitey" down. When a white person is mistreated in Korea, I believe it's mostly the fear and curiosity about the unknown.

    This is not to say Koreans are not racist. I feel ashamed every time I read about how Korean men treat their Vietnamese mail order wifes.

  53. mike,

    As the owner/editor-in-chief/administrator/grand poobah of Ask A Korean!, the Korean reserves the exclusive right to run this blog in any way he damn well pleases. While the Korean could possibly eliminate all dissents on the comment boards, he is content to only eliminate irrelevant and disrespectful comments, after sufficient warning. That's what the warning was for. Ask A Korean! will NOT become a "yell blog", either in its posts or comments, and the Korean will impose rigorous quality control to achieve that.

    However, you did make your comment relevant in your follow up comment, and your tone improved, so you're good for now.

  54. Eileen,

    I've just read Expat Jane's blog, and I give her mad props for her insight and candor. I don't want to sound Anti-White, but I have absolutely no sympathy for those that cry foul when they experience racism in another country. I see some that gain insight and empathy from their experience and become more receptive to the plight of those around them; but then, I see whiners that pout because they find out that the world does not revolve around them. Please, go cry elsewhere.

  55. I am, therefore I think,

    I totally agree.

    Sometimes it helps some people to even slightly experience what others feel.

    With others so accustomed to privilege, no amount of displacement (is that the right word?) will gain any understanding.

    I do hold out hope for all of humanity, but I'm also a realist. There is only so much that some are willing to humble themselves enough to learn.

    Expat Jane is awesome, isn't she? :-)


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