I protest. Wait – can I do that?

by Anti-Racist Parent columnist Margie Perscheid

By now, pretty much everyone knows the story of the Spanish and Argentine teams who thought it might be cute to do a little yellow face for the press. If you haven’t, you can catch up on the whole sordid affair at Angry Asian Man. ARP’s own Carmen Van Kerckhove was interviewed on CNN about the incident, too – you can watch here. My reaction was pretty strong, as I’m sure yours were, too. A commenter to my post got me thinking about something, though; I’d like to hear your thoughts about it.

First, let me explain how I see this incident: Three of Spain’s world-level athletic teams are photographed making “Chinese eyes.” The teams are bound for the Olympics in Beijing; the photos will appear in “good luck” advertisements. An outcry follows the publication of the photos, which the teams dismiss. They offer no apologies, but instead point back to those who speak out in oppostition of the photos and and say they are overreacting. One of the team’s members put it this way:

Jose Manuel Calderon, an icon of the national team, explains in his blog at elmundo.es that it was a wink from the sponsor, something they thought appropriate and affectionate. He is blunt: “Whoever wants to interpret something different is totally confused.”

What I hear in these words is It’s YOUR fault if we offended you.

I see ignorance on many levels here, and racism. There is something about the smiles on the faces of these athletes as they pull back the corners of their eyes that makes me wonder if they have a clue about what they’re doing. It makes me ask myself how prevalent this attitude might be in Spain, because everyone in the photos seems happy to join in the fun. I picture my kids traveling there, and wonder if people could just as easily make fun of them, out of affection of course. Would they then need to join in the fun, too, out of respect for their affectionate hosts? It brings back memories of the day my Korean son came home from school one day when he was in kindergarten and ran around the house doing exactly what the Spanish basketball teams were doing – pulling his own Asian eyes back and saying “Chinese eyes!” It was my wake up call – and it still hurts to think of how innocently he followed along.

On the other hand …

Is it wrong to extrapolate this behavior beyond the actions of these teams? Certainly not all Spanish people are racists, I know that. But why did my mind jump to a broader judgment in this case? What is it about these photos and this incident that speaks to me as much about these team members as it does Spanish attitudes toward racism?

I have identified two things that contribute: First, these teams are representatives of their nation, and as such surely have received coaching and guidance on how to behave in the host country. It’s more than a little odd to me that something this blatant could have been missed. Second, they admitted no fault, showed no remorse, and didn’t concede that they might have caused offense.

Which brings me to the questions I have for you:

First of all, what was your reaction to this incident?

Do we, with our continued history of racism and a gazillion examples of our own of institutionalize racist behavior, have a right to cry foul?

Margie Perscheid is the adoptive mother of two Korean teens. She is a co-founder of Korean Focus, an organization for families with children from Korea with chapters across the country. Margie is on the Board of Directors of the Korean American Coalition DC Chapter, a former board member of KAAN, the Korean YMCA of Greater Washington (now KAYA), and ASIA (Adoption Service Information Agency). Margie writes about her intercountry adoption experiences at Third Mom. She, her husband Ralf, and their two children live in Alexandria, Virginia.

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