More Olympic Racism

As the Olympics continue in Beijing, I wanted to follow up on Terence’s excellent post about Blacks being banned from certain venues around the games, to make note of a couple of examples of both racism and the sort of white-framing that characterizes the majority of mainstream writing about race. First, I’m not the first to remark on the rather astonishing racism displayed by Spain’s basketball team (pictured here, photo from ABC). The Spanish national basketball team posed for a photo in uniform pulling back the skin on their eyelids, with smiles on their faces. As C.N. at The Color Line explains:

As any Asian American will tell you, this “chink eye” gesture is deeply hurtful and offensive to us. Many of us have experienced the pain and humiliation associated with this racist gesture throughout our entire lives, whether it’s in the playground of our elementary school, or as we walk down the street even as adults. For Asian Americans, it is the visual equivalent of being called a “nigger.”

C.N. goes on to note that the “racial insensitvity” meme used by most writers in the mainstream media to explain the Spanish team’s actions is obfuscate the underlying white privilege in such a gesture:

Of course, many Whites will respond by basically saying that even if the Spanish basketball team meant it as a joke, Asians should just shrug it off, that it was harmless and that we Asians should just lighten up and not take things so seriously.

The problem with that argument is that it ignores the larger historical and cultural context. What we need to recognize is that there are fundamental institutional power differences inherent in situations in which Whites denigrate minorities.

Each time an incident like that happens, it reinforces the notion of White supremacy — that Whites can say and do whatever they want toward anybody at any time without facing any negative repercussions.

Indeed, this sort of racial obliviousness is part of the underlying problem that Joe has written about here (and elsewhere) so persuasively, and it’s a key element in the white racial frame. Take for example, this reporting on Olympic gold medalist and African American Cullen Jones, this time from the New York Daily News (tip of the hat to Mordy for sending this along). This is the lede on the story about Jones’ achievement:

Bronx-born swimmer Cullen Jones didn’t just help power the U.S. relay swim team to Olympic gold – he just may have shattered the stereotype that blacks can’t swim.

This opening paragraph sets the tone for the rest of the article, which is entirely framed around this moronic stereotype. The article also notes that Jones’ started swimming after he nearly drowned as a child and the fact that his mother took him to his first swimming lessons, and as he progressed in skill-level, drove him to lessons at 5 a.m. in the morning. So, the article could have started out with the dramatic near-drowning story, or with highlighting the dedication and sacrifice of parents of Olympic athletes. Instead, the reporters in this instance chose to start within a white racial frame by reiterating the stereotype that “blacks can’t swim.” No matter how solid the reporting and writing is in the rest of the article, that’s the part that most readers are going to take away from the piece.

While the ideals of the Olympic games are “tolerance, equality, fair play and, most of all, peace,” the incidents described here and elsewhere suggest that the hosts, participants, and observers have fallen far short of these ideals.


  1. GDAWG

    Ahhh. This is nothing new for the Spanish. These are the same folks who, when Black soccer players in tin their enviorn/stadiums, make monkey sounds and jesters. But think about it. These are the same also who gave us Chistopher Columbus, so why would one anyone expect anything else from these fools?

  2. GDAWG

    During the late 16th and early 17th centuries, when Spanish and Portuguese colonists were experimenting with work systems to support their growing economies, several of the largest west African nations locked in warfare that produced tens of thousands of captives for the slave markets of the New World. Portugal pioneered European trade with West African nations. By the time Columbus discovered America, Portugal had already established an efficient trade network with some of the largest and most powerful of the West African states—and one of the items that Portuguese merchants imported was slaves. When American markets developed for this commodity or “pieces of the Indies,” as the slaves were called, Portugal stepped in as the logical supplier. In 1580 the Spanish and Portuguese crowns united. Now with access to the Portuguese slave trade machinery, Spain put that engine to good use in supplying the labor needs of rich new colonies like Mexico.
    Hat-tip Patrick J. Carroll. Africans In the Americas.

  3. GDAWG

    Hat-tip to Lifeline Expedition:


    Seville is significant as it was the first place from which Africans were taken across the Atlantic to the Americas as slaves. This might initially seem surprising as we might suppose they would have been captured in Africa and transported directly. Here is the explanation from Aristocrats and Traders: Sevillian Society in the Sixteenth Century by Ruth Pike :

    After the discovery of the New World the constant demand for a source of cheap labour to work the mines and plantations of America increased the flow of Negroes into Seville during the sixteenth century. The city soon became one of the most important slave centres in Western Europe, second only to Lisbon. In fact the first Negro slaves introduced into the New World came from Seville, and some of them had been born in that city. During the first decades of the sixteenth century, the Spanish monarchs, anxious to keep the colonies free from religious taint, insisted that the slaves sent to America be Christians — that they should have been born in Spain or have resided there long enough to be baptized. In 1510, for example, King Ferdinand gave permission to ship as many as two hundred slaves from Seville for sale to the settlers of Hispaniola or for work on the royal properties there. Eventually slaves were shipped directly from Africa to America, though they continued to come to Seville as well. (pages 174-175)

    It is abundantly clear that greed was again the prime motivation for all that took place in Seville at this time.

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