In “Mocking the Slit-Eye” we investigated the racist and stereotypical tendency of some cultures to make fun of the “Asian Eye” by pulling down the skin next to the eye toward the ear to create the “Classic Asian Look.”  As you can see below, the “Slit-Eye” is considered such a problem for some Asians that they surgically “correct” what nature and genetics provided straight out of the box.  Teen sensation Miley Cyrus was even caught making the “Slit-Eye” gesture on camera.


Faithful Urban Semiotic reader “MJ” placed a thoughtful comment on our original “Slit-Eye” article that deserves deeper investigation in this new look at the old eyelid prejudice:

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.”

MJ, we will guess you are Asian when you say — “kids do it to me at least once a week” and “I am personally offended by this gesture” — but even if you are not Asian, the “Slit-Eye” gesture is universally insulting and intentionally intimidating and you must never accept the insult or stand for the degradation under any circumstance.

You fight back with cool correction and with the calm intellect of knowing you are right.

If you were to paint your skin to appear darker or more “culturally Spanish” — would your students be wounded and insulted?

If you decided to rename them all with a single label like “Spic” or “Wetback” do you think they would object to that lumping together of them all under a single, Racist, meme?

We know the students would not like your reversing the psychology on them because their Race and their familial names are important touchstones in their culture — and that is the point that must always be sharply made in return every single time the prick of prejudice is wielded against someone in a “fun” or in a “majority rules” setback that wrongly controls the group attitude against the foreign and the unfamiliar minority.

There was a time in America when Blacks were routinely called “Niggers” in public without any pocking of the majority spirit.  Some Jewish people were mocked for their “big noses” — the “ugly among us” were routinely punished for how they looked and behaved.

It was only through routine and purposeful protest and action that common slurs get removed from the shared social mindset.  Explanation, teaching and talking are all necessary weapons in pressing back against the gesture and the label intended to separate and elbow away others from being accepted into mainspring of the ruling cultural caucus.

The lessons that must always be taught and forever learned are:

  • The majority is not always right.
  • What you have known since childhood may have always been wrong.
  • There is value in the minority.
  • Commonality and colloquialism must never be synonyms for appropriate and fair.

If we begin to accept cruelty and bad behavior as the ordinary mandate of the day — even if everyone agrees that’s the standard norm for kept cultural values — we must always disagree while never losing the need for kind persuasion by example.

If we continue to be vigilant, other minds in the majority will begin to change, and that action — that quiet and savage and gentle movement from the safe majority into the persecuted minority — is the only way we are ever able to move embedded notions from the bones of our ancestors and into the minds of our now.

8 Comments

  1. Excellent article – very well written. It is so true and sad that very often, being right means being one of a few. Nevertheless, one should fight injustice however possible.

  2. Thanks, Gordon! It’s such a difficult and touchy topic for many people to consider what they have learned has always been incorrect, but when someone like MJ brings home the experience in a new and devastating way — and then shares that pain with us — we begin the process of a necessary change that propagates into important, vital, moments of being.

  3. It’s sad how old prejudices creep into the “normal” and “habitual” routines of the majority of our modern cultures.
    There would be no difference in the discrimination of the African American being referred to as “nigger” which actually, means “black-hearted, than the gesture commonly used to differentiate the Asian nationality. It’s crude and just simply disrespectful.
    By the way, I have encountered the “Black-hearted” in various colors of skin. It is not indigenous to one particular race or nationality. The term “nigger” is simply misused due to lack of knowledge and understanding … but that still does not make it right, especially when it’s meant in a degrading way.

  4. That’s a good point, Kimberley. We create our “put downs” based on visual features and then apply words to those prejudices that can make meaning confusing and context vital.
    I think it’s always best to question that sort of behavior than condemn it. Trying to find out why is always better then pushing forth an answer.

  5. Hi Katha!
    I agree! People can be very cruel. Now, sometimes they are raised in a certain way and they don’t know any better — but when the correction has been explained and yet they still choose cruelty over convergence, then they deserve our disdain and they have earned their own dishonor.
    Love that link! The world is filled with such interesting minds and arguments!