Spanish Basketballers Go Pee Pee in Your Coke
Are they serious? Unfortunately, they are. This is a real advertisement from Spanish sports newspaper Marca, featuring the national basketball team doing the “Asian slant-eyes” trick for the camera. You know, the one little kids at school do. The same little kids that say, “Me Chinese, me play joke, me go pee pee in your Coke!”
To recap: I’m Chinese-American and have lived in Madrid. Apropos of my blog on racism in Spain, and given its notoriously poor record of racial abuse in athletic arenas, this is sadly unsurprising. According to the British newspaper The Guardian, which first reported the story, and the players involved in the photo, the pose was not meant to be offensive. Based on my experience in Spain, I believe this, but that’s unfortunately beside the point. As I mentioned before, while I feel most Spanish people have their heart in the right place, many are bafflingly ignorant when it comes to decoding what actions would be interpreted as racially offensive.
Now that this has turned into an international flap, the Spanish paper El Mundo has started a forum for readers to comment on the photo called “Racism or an Affectionate Wink?” Just going through these comments is a fascinating look into the Spanish perspective on race. Most reader comments angrily accuse the British press of trying to fan the flames of paranoia, and of the American press of subverting their attempt at hosting the games in 2016 (you can bet this photograph will resurface during that campaign.) However, as some readers have rightly pointed out, it doesn’t matter what we (Spaniards) think; if people are offended by it, then it is by definition, offensive. Another reader writes that “The problem here is one of ignorance.” That’s one step in the right direction.
Interestingly, as the NY Times reports, the Spanish Basketball team is sponsored by Li-Ning, a Chinese footwear company, and evidently their pose was a “wink” towards their sponsor, as directed by the photographer. (By the way, reading the comments on the Times page gives you a fascinating look into the American perspective on the Spanish perspective on race.) One of their players has said that “Anyone who wants to interpret this differently is totally confused.” He goes on to express his “great respect for Asia and its people”, but then proceeds to talk about his Asian friends in Toronto (in Spain they don’t know that doing something racist and then denying it by claiming friends of the offended race is just so 1980’s), where he plays for the Raptors. Let’s see if he still has those friends when he gets back from Beijing.
Obviously, it’s all about cultural context (remember all those HSBC ads in the airport?). A gesture that might be “affectionate” in Spain may be the same that’s been used historically to malign a demographic for looking different in a white population. In China, this gesture is probably only seen as absurd, as would be any used to manufacture a physical attribute that is shared by the other 1.3 billion people around you.
I honestly believe these players didn’t believe they were doing anything wrong or insensitive. And therein lies the problem.