Ezequiel Lavezzi’ juvenile, ignorant “slant eyes” gesture in a preseason photo should have gotten him suspended for multiple matches, instead it appears the Argentine is avoiding punishment for the gesture & even in some places receiving praise.
The gesture, familiar to anyone in the west, is one typically limited to school kids & the playground in the United States, Europe, and yes, South America. It is one tinged with racism, meant to point out and tease the differences between the Asian and the non-Asians doing it. It is hateful and rarely seen done by adults, though for whatever reason we’ve seen it by athletes in Asia, in particular the Spanish basketball team & the Argentine women’s football team during the 2008 Olympics in Beijing.
In China, the gesture isn’t heavy with all the cultural references that it has in the west. Indeed, Chinese are often far more direct about the differences between people in a way that can make first timers to the country almost uncomfortable. Skin color, hair color, the size of one’s nose, the size of one’s belt line, these are all factors which Chinese people, even total strangers will point out and discuss. Further, in a country where 90% of the people look just like you, a Chinese person who hasn’t travelled abroad is unlikely to ever have faced racism or stereotyping based on their being Chinese.
While overseas the gesture is immediately seen in a negative light, in China some view it akin as a foreigner respecting Chinese culture or wanting to be “Chinese”. Despite foreign media outrage regarding Lavezzi’s action, Chinese media has been on his side calling it much ado about nothing, while teammate Zhang Chengdong has passionately supported his “big brother” Lavezzi. Much of the support has come after Lavezzi (or more likely his minders) being smart and getting out in front of the situation with a public apology, professing his love for China.
We can’t label him a racist for this as we don’t know what was in his heart, though I do tend to believe he isn’t a racist, that doesn’t mean the gesture isn’t racist or that he shouldn’t have done it. Lavezzi is known for being playful and childish and it seems that was the spirit this was done in, but he should have known better, period.
The key is that if Sun Shilin is going to get a multi match suspension for a sarcastic thumbs up gesture, especially after the league declared he showed contrition for his act, than how can Lavezzi not get suspended for this behavior? I don’t accept that because some or even most in China don’t find it a racist gesture makes it acceptable. In the western culture that Lavezzi comes from, this is universally viewed very badly, and for someone on a minimum of $500,000 a week (though rumored to be nearer to $1 million), whose team stuck with him despite an extended injury last season, it’s simply unacceptable.
If the CFA wants to be fair, it will punish him, if the CFA wants to coddle its foreign stars, it will brush it off, I have a feeling I know what will happen.