Perhaps the most surprising part of Friday’s World Series game — the third in a series of seven — was just how unsurprising the reaction was to Houston Astros first baseman Yuli Gurriel’s pointedly racist gesture toward Los Angeles Dodgers pitcher Yu Darvish.
After Gurriel slapped a solo score home run out of Houston’s Minute Maid Park in the second inning, he took a seat in the dugout, where he proceeded to pull the corners of his eyes back as he mouthed “chinito,” a racially charged term roughly translating to “little Chinese boy,” at the Japanese pitcher.
In response, Major League Baseball (MLB) Commissioner Rob Manfred issued Gurriel a five-game, unpaid suspension — one that will not take effect until the beginning of the 2018 season. In his statement, Manfred assured fans that “[Gurriel’s behavior has] no place in our game,” but his actions suggest otherwise. With the Astros’ next meeting scheduled for Saturday — just a day later — Gurriel has been cleared to make all of his upcoming World Series appearances. The league’s tepid reaction, which lacks in both immediacy and severity, reinforces a long-held, hidden precedent in American culture: prejudice against Asians and Asian-Americans remains as one of the few, if not only, brands of racism you can still get away with.
For all those following the championship series, which drew more than 23.4 million views in 2016, Gurriel’s prompt return to the field acts as a reminder: prejudice can come without punishment and intolerance, without consequence.
Many who took to social media to defend Gurriel were quick to respond by saying that these behaviors are representative of an increasingly frequent few, and that — to an extent — is true. What they don’t realize, however, is that “increasingly frequent” does not necessarily mean infrequent, and what’s more, they fail to understand how damaging the impact of this “few” can be.
In truth, the issue of racism against Asian-Americans does not begin, and will certainly not end, with Gurriel. It can be seen in films and on television, and it can be heard in schools and on playgrounds. Because of its normalization, few are aware of the discrimination Asian-Americans face, and even fewer can comprehend the emotional harm that being called a “chink” can have on young, adolescent children.
The issue, in many ways, is exacerbated by events just like these. The negative portrayal of Asian-Americans in popular culture — a routine, but socially toxic pattern — further typecasts Asians into derogatory stereotypes, creating an environment that allows, and even at times encourages, social mistreatment and exclusion. These quietly permitted cultural standards coax diminutive misconceptions that not only rob an entire people of their cultural identity, but also make Americans feel like foreigners in the very place they call home.
Last year, during the “Oscars So White” controversy, which predominated over the 88th annual Academy Awards, comedian Chris Rock leveled an underhanded joke toward Asians in what would have otherwise been a powerful monologue about racial liberation in America. And it is this kind of hypocrisy that is exactly the problem.
The narrative surrounding race in America, while particularly flammable as of late, is a negligent one. Despite the diverse assortment of ethnic minorities that color and contribute to American society — each crutched with their own uniquely difficult challenges — the dialogue is often thought of and, by extension, discussed in black and white.
In the days following his misstep, many will argue that Gurriel is not the problem. And they’re right; he’s not. But he is certainly a symptom of a larger, more pressing one.
The unfortunate reality is that there is little use in complaining about all of the racist things that happen in America. It’s a waste of time and it’s a waste of energy. But when something as obvious and deplorable as this occurs on a national stage, especially one as culturally significant as the World Series, it creates an opportunity for us to set an example and establish new precedent for what we, as a country, will and won’t allow. And we’ve squandered it.
Ken Chang is the Editor in Chief of The Review. He is a senior neuroscience and psychology major, and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.