Ignorance no excuse for cultural insensitivity

By Wang Wenwen Source:Global Times Published: 2017/5/18 19:28:39

There have been no lack of stories regarding racism against Asians, including Chinese, in foreign countries. But when the discrimination occurs on Chinese soil, the anger of those offended is to be expected.

Argentine soccer star Ezequiel Lavezzi has triggered an online outcry after a photo of him was circulated in which he appears to pull at the corners of his eyes, a gesture mimicking East Asian characteristics and widely considered insulting to East Asian people.

What makes this slant-eyed gesture more intolerable to the Chinese public is that Lavezzi plays for Chinese Super League club Hebei China Fortune Football Club and is one of the highest-paid players in the world. To put it another way, as many Chinese netizens cried out, "How could he insult the Chinese while earning money from the Chinese?"

Both Lavezzi and Hebei China Fortune promptly released statements apologizing for this racially insensitive behavior. They also refuted claims that the player did this intentionally.

Intentionally or not, Lavezzi has touched a raw nerve of the Chinese public, who has been exposed to racial abuses constantly. Early this month, a drama episode on Singapore's national broadcaster that featured a Chinese actor with blackface make-up touched a nerve over stereotyping in this city-state where ethnic Chinese make up a large proportion.

In February, several Chinese students at Columbia University found that door tags with their names in Chinese were removed. Obviously, the perpetrators did so not because they dislike Chinese names, but because they are racist against Chinese people.

Lavezzi explained that he was only trying to pull a "funny face" for the camera, but racially insensitive as he is, the face is not funny at all among his Chinese audiences. He may be unaware of the mistake Pau Gasol, a Spanish professional basketball player, and his team made during the 2008 Beijing Olympic Games.

During the games, an image showing the players using their fingers as if to slant their eyes, exactly as Lavezzi did, stirred controversy with Asian rights groups. One group that represents Asians in the US described the photo as "disturbing" and "divisive."

In another case, Günther Oettinger, a German conservative lawmaker, caused considerable public outrage last October when he referred to a delegation of Chinese diplomats as "slant eyes" during a speech in Hamburg.

One may claim innocence when making an offense, but such "innocence" still hurt's others feelings. In a world with diverse cultures, you may not know when you are offending people from another culture unless you make the effort to learn the ways of the place you are visiting. Otherwise, you may offend locals even if you claim to be a well-meaning tourist.

For instance, one had better keep in mind not to give the "OK" sign in Brazil, as this common gesture is roughly equivalent to the finger in the US.

As public figures can generate a wider impact than ordinary people, they need to pay more attention to their behavior. Canadian teenage heartthrob Justin Bieber had to apologize to his Chinese and South Korean fans for posting photos of himself visiting Japan's Yasukuni Shrine in 2014, as the visit courted many controversies for him.

If Bieber learned a bit about the history of the Yasukuni Shrine, he could have avoided touching on a highly controversial issue. Likewise, sports stars like Lavezzi are advised to learn what is racially offensive in their host country, even if they try to deliver a goodwill gesture. To avoid the risk of people misinterpreting an innocent mistake, it is better to avoid the confusion at the very beginning by becoming more cultural aware and sensitive.

The author is a reporter with the Global Times. wangwenwen@globaltimes.com.cn


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