Yao Ming was inducted into the Basketball Hall of Fame on April 6.
The headline in the Washington Post now reads, “How Yao Ming subverted stereotypes and brought basketball to millions.” But only because the original headline, “Hall of Famer Yao Ming redefined ‘Chinaman’…” generated a huge backlash on social media.
In an attempt to be creative, the Washington Post missed the mark.
A spokesperson explains, “The story deals with the bigotry Yao Ming encountered and had to overcome. The headline was an effort to convey that, and the story also makes it clear that this is a derogatory term.”
“Asian American” please “Chinaman” is not the preferred nomenclature. And grammatically, it is incorrect; a strict parallel would be
“Englandman” or “Franceman.”
“Chinaman” was a racial slur directed toward Chinese Americans when they first came to the United States over a century ago. The Organization of Chinese Americans (OCA) said, “The use of such names devalues our progress in the struggle for equality. Racial slurs have been used to dehumanize people of color and remind us of a shameful but very real part of American history.”
“Chinaman’s chance” means no chance at all, and implies injury or death.
Unfortunately, many people still use those words without realizing that today, both terms are perceived by many as having racist connotations.
During a Rockets game in 2004, former basketball player and TNT broadcaster Steve Kerr also referred to Yao as a “Chinaman.”
Kerr later apologized. “I was thinking of the term Frenchman and Dutchman, and I had no idea it was used as a demeaning term in any way. I feel terrible about it, and I apologize to anybody who was offended,” he said back in 2004.
Bringing the matter to light
Perhaps Yao, being in the spotlight, has been the biggest megaphone — bringing an increased awareness and sensitivity about Asian Americans. Through his NBA career, Yao broke stereotypes and shattered preconceptions of Asians.
In 2003, Shaquille O’Neal infamously said in a TV interview, “Tell Yao Ming, ‘Ching chong yang, wah, ah soh.’” Shaq has come a long way. Last week, he congratulated Yao with a Chinese greeting when the former rivals were announced as two of the newest members to be elected to the Basketball Hall of Fame. O’Neal said, “Yao, I want to say congratulations to you, to the nation of China, you definitely deserve it — you are a great player, a great ambassador to the game, a great friend. Ni Hao. Congratulations, brother.”
The “model minority” notion, though often seemingly positive, are in numerous ways constraining, and create intense pressures on and stress for Asian Americans seeking to live up to such unrealistic and racially stereotyped expectations.
It’s time for us, as a community, to reject the “positive” attributes like being docile, and speak out.