If It’s Not Funny, Is It Racist?

Can racism be defined in black and white terms (no pun intended) or is it subject to interpretation?

As a Korean adoptee growing up in Iowa, I remember numerous times when kids pulled back the corners of their eyes as a way to make fun of me. Decades later the men’s & women’s Olympic basketball teams from Spain are being called racist for having done this same gesture in a pose for photographs to be used in a publicity campaign for one of their sponsors.

It’s hard to believe these teams and their officials had no idea this might (at the very least) be interpreted as hurtful. But if they are racist, would they really risk posing this way for team pictures they knew would be published?

Some would say because they were meant only for local publication, they thought only their fellow countrymen would see these photos. Several team members say they were just trying to be funny (and only following photographer’s instructions), but many believe those actions show the team is racist. Assuming their countrymen would get the joke, does this mean the entire country of Spain is probably racist?

Dictionary.com defines funny as “Providing fun; causing amusement or laughter; amusing; comical .”

Racist is defined as “Based on racial intolerance; “racist remarks”. Discriminatory especially on the basis of race or religion. A person with a prejudiced belief that one race is superior to others.”

As one who knows personally what it’s like to be hurt by that gesture, I still cannot presume to know the true motivations of the Olympians from Spain. I’m not excusing what they did, but I do think there is a middle ground in this particular situation. Here are a couple more definitions I’d like to throw into the fray when it comes to the debate.

Ignorant: “Lacking education or knowledge.”

Insensitive: “Deficient in human sensibility, acuteness of feeling or consideration; unfeeling; callous.”