Some disturbing photographs have peeled the eyes off of Internet readers over the last few days as the Asian “slit-eye” gesture has made the news.  The first image to hit the eye was this one of the Spanish basketball team in Beijing mocking the “slit-eyes” of their host nation:


That awful image was quickly usurped by this image of the Spanish women’s tennis team:

The Argentina women’s soccer/football team was also photographed making the “slit-eye” gesture in Beijing while wearing their Coca-Cola team shirts:

Do you find the “slit-eye” gesture insulting or funny?

Are these teams racist, or are they merely saluting, in a rather sad way, the distinctive, stereotypical, shape of their Asian counterparts’ eyes? 

Is this sort of mocking humor part of their culture?

What amazes me the most is the dialogue that might’ve taken place in the posing of the images…

“Okay, so everyone?  Index fingers ready?  Place them next to your eyes and pull back to your ears where the sun don’t shine.  Harder.  Harder!  Goooood.”

“Umm… you on the left… you aren’t pulling back hard enough.  Yes.  Right.  Make a slit!  They’re slanty-eyed, you know!  Most excellent! Say ‘cheese!'”

“You there!  You aren’t smiling enough as you pull!  Fight through the pain.  You’re an Olympian, ya know!  That’s better, but I don’t think the upside-down-hands-with-thumbs-pulling-back is giving us enough slant.  We have masking tape if you need help holding the slit still.”

Let’s hope these teams will be able to learn from the international exposure of their behavior just how their taste in humor damages the performer so much more than the intended mark.

16 Comments

  1. David!
    I’m not sure what to make of this! it is in somewhat poor taste but i don’t see any malice, maybe a little insensitivity. i can imagine how people – who are perhaps keenly aware of this minor physical characteristic and living under an isolationist regime in a world more fragmented than together – may find it insulting.
    also while mocking humour has its place and is a fine thing in its own way, i would assume a little familiarity would precede something that can so easily be taken the wrong way.

  2. I appreciate your fascinating insight, Dananjay. Most people made aware of this are insulted by the propagation of a physical stereotype that cannot be helped and they embarrassed for those caught being so insensitive. Your response has given us new things to consider!

  3. Reminds me of the political comics that come out of certain countries depicting Jews as having gargantuan noses or the comics in America that depicted African Americans like they were more ape than human. So wrong. I see DJ’s perspective and appreciate it as well. (Is that an okay nickname? It feels like a good one.)

  4. That’s a fine connection, Gordon. I’m not sure if it’s a good idea to make fun of people for physical reasons. If they’re tall or short or fat or have big noses or tiny toes — you’re making fun of something that cannot be helped because they were born that way.
    Mocking personal choices, however, is fine for societal correction via peer pressure. Physical attributes are always fodder for discussion — but not for condemning an entire Race of people.

  5. Hi Gordon,
    dj is fine 🙂
    I agree, that such political comics are driven by a divisive agenda to mock and make fun of a physical characteristic shared by a people. It’s a ploy from the school playground.

  6. Hi David,
    The gesture is unfortunate, but I guess Dananjay is right – there is no malice.
    Sometimes “making fun of others” unknowingly becomes insulting.
    I am not sure I will expect this from the Olympic Teams though!

  7. Katha!
    It’s so interesting how you and Dananjay are not as offended by these images as some of the rest of us.
    A sense of humor can be a private and a delicate thing — but it’s always best to mock yourself and not the birthright physical features of others.
    If there isn’t malice in the “slit-eye salute” — what is the intention? To provoke a laugh? To become Asian? And if the point is laughter… what’s so funny? The shape of the Asian eye?

  8. Hey David!
    I didn’t say I was not offended, I tried to understand the reason… SMILE!
    I am not sure the logic behind displaying this – trying to “one of them” – might be the one.

  9. I appreciate your defense of them, Katha, but I wonder why being “one of them” is tied to a physical feature rather than an intellectual one or an emotional stream?
    I read their behavior as a “put-down” and the drawing of a bright line between “us and them” and “common and strange” and I don’t like it much…

  10. You got me David!
    Yes, I was trying to give them a benefit of doubt because it seemed these teams were merely performing a command – they didn’t have a chance to think about it.
    It’s the person-in-command – is to question!

  11. I could probably understand it on some level, Katha, if it were only one person making the sign… perhaps they’re isolated, don’t know any better, etc. … — but when it’s a bunch of them and they’re all laughing — something very wrong and very mean is at stake.

  12. I am an American living in Spain. Spanish people do this gesture all the time without any inhibition. They simply don’t consider it offensive. At all. I teach English at an elementary school and kids do it to me at least once a week; it’s amazing. They pull their eyes back whenever the topic “Chinese/China” comes up(actually Japanese and Korean too, but they call all East Asians “Chinos”). I personally am offended by this gesture but they don’t understand why I don’t like it. The other teachers at the school think it is absurd for me to be offended. With these “sensitive” matters it’s always hard to draw the line. If 99.9% of the people (like in my school) don’t think it is offensive, should it just not be considered offensive?
    I do believe that these athletes bear no ill intentions. When they don’t even know this gesture has the ability to hurt people, how could it be part of their intention? But do they offend people? The answer is yes. Bottom line is, it is acceptable when they do it within their own group, given that no one in the group finds it offensive. However, as Olympic athletes, they should know that their actions have worldwide influence, and they should have the sensitivity to be able to accept it when people of a different culture find certain “normal” things offensive, instead of calling such reaction “absurd.”

  13. It’s easy to not be offended while not being part of that group, but suppose the tables were turned. Whenever the topic of Spanish people came up, I said “let’s all stretch our noses and talk with a funny lisp”. Or whenever the topic of Indian came up, I said, let’s all draw facial hair on ourselves, both women and men. Then it doesn’t feel so funny does it? I find that some cultures are inherently more insensitive towards racial issues than others. Spain is one of those countries. But given new news that top international football stars Robinho and Pato have done the same thing recently, maybe Brazil fits into that boat as well?