An anonymous reader asked the City Beat the other day how I would feel if some university had the nickname of "Fighting Asians" and the mascot were some guy in a "pony tail" as mascot.
This was after I suggested that hardcore anti-Fighting Sioux nickname people should temper the self-righteousness they revel in because, when given a chance to vote, 67 percent of Spirit Lake tribal members said they favored the nickname. It’s hard to claim something is racist when the group supposedly being demeaned likes it. They even came to the ballot wearing Fighting Sioux gear, not to make a point, but because that’s just what they wear.
The question/accusation intrigued me though. In fact, I had thought about it before and concluded that I really couldn’t care less, though I’ll admit "Fighting Asians" sounds pretty goofy. But let’s go with that instead of narrowing it down by ethnicity, as Fighting Sioux does. Fighting Asians is more analogous to the Braves, or the Chiefs, or the Indians.
Given that we’re generalizing about all Asians, a true analogy to any Indian mascot would be more of a warrior Asian type. A fellow in a queue isn’t really in full warrior regalia. He is more like the coolie or, at best, the laundromat owner.
Or a samurai of some type, like this, but with a sword (The image is from Japan.):
While we’re on the the Japanese page, check this slanty-eyed cat creature out:
Or how about this dude for a mascot:
On the same page, you’ll see video of Bruce beating up some dude named Chuck Norris. You know, the dude who counted to infinity twice. Well, Bruce counted to infinity four times, because four is the number of death (Death times infinity! Have some of that with your pansy drink.).
The only thing that could make this better would be two pairs of whirling nunchucks — ON FIRE.
Holy smokes! You know what? That would be awesome.
Unfortunately, there aren’t any well-recognized images of Vietnamese warriors, except guys in black pajamas, and they were on the wrong side, so I would not advocate that.
Now I’m not saying a whole lot about the Fighting Sioux nickname with any of this. That’s up to Sioux people to figure out. The Asian-American experience in America is completely different than American Indians’ so the context is different. For example, no genocide. Also, our homelands are currently fairly safe from foreign devils and our peoples aren’t in reservations.
The wrong kind of nickname
Coincidentally, after the question of Asian nicknames came up, I encountered a reference to the Pekin (Ill.) Community High School Chinks. Chink, as you well know, is a not-nice thing to call Chinese people specifically and Asians more generally, mostly because white people have such trouble distinguishing between different kinds of Asians (Don’t tell anybody, but it’s not that easy for us either.).
A little Googling landed me on a blog belonging to a Pekin alumnus who had this to say:
In 1961….and for many years prior to that and until 1967 or so…..we were the Pekin Chinks.
No lie!……Our radio program broadcast by students, including Moi, five days weekly, was Inside Chinkland, and we wrote, produced and spoke the words of the 15 minute daily show on a local station. (eventually led to my 8 year radio-TV newsman stint!)
Each year we elected the Chink and Chinklette who appeared at sporting events and welcomed the other team…..in their Chinese costumes and coolie hats!
I look back today, in this time of "political correctness" and am amazed we did it…..
We interpreted Chink to be a term meaning "worker", and we were proud "workers" for Pekin High.
I still have the glasses, letter sweater, etc. proclaiming our heritage.
Inspite of the renaming of the team, and the era of political correctness…..we are still
and shall be forever……..
In fact, in the right small shirt shop in Pekin, in a back room to which access is controlled, you can still purchase bright red tee shirts that proclaim Pekin Chinks; and, of course, I have one! Next year, 2006, I plan to attend our 45th year reunion in Pekin, and join my fellow Chinks as we enjoy our heritage.
This line absolutely slays me: "I plan to attend our 45th year reunion in Pekin, and join my fellow Chinks as we enjoy our heritage." I’m pretty sure I should feel infuriated.
But I’m laughing because, well, how the hell do you get mad at someone so earnest and clueless? He doesn’t sound particularly hateful or disrespectful, but it doesn’t seem like he knows a whole lot about "chinks" either. Those "workers" he spoke of were not very well liked and I have to wonder what his reaction would be if a Chinese married his daughter. I like to imagine he would boast about his "chink" son-in-law to the rest of the town. Or maybe not.
I’ll tell you a funny story.
Many years ago, I met a certain county commissioner from one of the counties up north. Very loquacious fellow. Anyway, a year or more goes by and I never ran into him again and had kind of forgotten who he was.
One day, I’m at the border station covering some press conference that Sens. Byron Dorgan or Kent Conrad was holding. Up comes this commissioner and he walks right up in front me and bowed very deeply, oriental style, without saying a thing.
Bewildered, I looked all around. Who the hell was this guy bowing to? It was like a comical bow that you do to your buddy after you’ve both spent the weekend watching old kung fu or samurai flicks. I just stared like he was out of his mind, because there was no one in that part of the room but us and I didn’t remember that we’d met. He must’ve been embarrassed because, without a word, he quickly walked away.
It only dawned on me on the drive back that he was trying to show respect and must’ve gotten his lesson in Asian culture from the movies.
The guy who said he was celebrating his "chink" heritage could’ve been this county commissioner. He means well, but screwed it all up.
By the way, you’ll notice the Pekin high school nickname are now the Dragons.
That’s also the mascot of the East (Akron, Ohio) High School Orientals. They call him Chang the Dragon (via — God you’ll love this — Angry Asian Man). I really think I’m going to have to buy the T-shirts.
One final race-related thing.
I ran into this old controversy while surfing the Web the other day. The Spanish basketball team, overenthused about going to the Beijing Olympics, decided to pose for a photo while making slanty-eyed faces. Like so:
Holy smokes was there a lot of indignation by westerners, including, I think, some Asian-Americans.
In China, the response was more like "Oh? So what?"
Here’s a Chinese-American journalist talking to the Chinese man in the street:
I showed the picture to some people here in Beijing, who never saw it or heard of the debate. One man said the team was being funny, and that they were just making a joke. He was also very curious that the notion of pulling at the eyelids could be considered racist.
"Doesn’t hip-hop culture allow for these types of things?" he added.
Another man said the team was only acting mischievous and that the eye-pulling was just a sign of affection.
"If I did this," he said, as he pulled his eyes wide open with his hands to create a ’round-eye,’ "Would that be racist against white people?"
The New York Times did something similar:
Chinese Web sites have been reporting on the issue but without great energy or emotion. In my office Wednesday, the photo was shown to two Chinese staffers. Neither viewed it with surprise or disgust, but more with bewilderment.
An American I know who has spent much time here speculated that the Chinese reaction would naturally differ from that of Chinese people living in the West, where, as with any minority, they would understandably be more sensitive to such a display.
Here’s a column by some Brit named Tran — we are not related — who thinks it’s dumb, but not offensively dumb:
Perhaps the Spanish athletes and officials who posed in the pictures intended to show their solidarity with their fellow Chinese athletes, albeit in a crass, cack-handed way. There is little point in getting too worked up over this foolishness, but somebody should gently point out to the Spanish sporting authorities that there were probably better ways to show empathy with their Chinese hosts.
This is more my feelings about the Pekin Chinks. That word is just too loaded to be used, though the old timers can have it for the sake of their memories.
But the Spanish thing, I’m with the Chinese. Big frickin’ deal. They’re a nation of a billion people with the third biggest economy in the world and an army that could crush the Spanish ten times over. They have the confidence to see beyond the formulaic if-they-do-this-then-I-must-be-offended response. It’s clear the Spaniards were just being friendly. Unlike the British who uncovered this scandal, the Spaniards never stole any Chinese territory.