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Jeff Brantley, Accidental Racism, and You

So, those of you who were around for Thursday's game thread will already have heard all about this, and a few more of you who listened to the game on the radio will have heard it as well. During the broadcast, Jeff Brantley began to talk about how his experience working the 2006 World Baseball Classic.


Brantley: That was one of the toughest assignments I’ve ever had was doing the World Baseball Classic and doing the Taiwan team and the team from China. Trying to pronounce those names. (chuckles)

Kelsh: Was that back in ’06?

Brantley: Aw, man, I was struggling!

Kelsh: That got you ready to go, though, didn’t it?

Brantley: Oh, I was ching-chang-ing to death. It was hard.

Warning: This post is the epitome of tl:dr. So, I have bolded some points. These are not for emphasis necessarily - just what you might read if you don't fell like reading the whole thing.

Now, I'm sure you are all familiar with the use of the phrase "ching-chong" or 'ching-chang". They are not friendly. (Here's a wikipedia article to help). And Mr. Brantley is almost certainly not in ignorance of the usage of that phrase. For one, a quick search of all the players who played in the 2006 WBC reveals that there was no player in the classic named Ching in any form. (If you search for "chin", you get both Hu, Chin-Lung, and Menechino, Frank.) Incidentally, there were three players with the last name Chang, and 6 players with the last name Perez. Back to the point – he was almost definitely referring to the racial slur "Ching-chong" and not to anyone's name, at least subconsciously.

Furthermore, I'm not sure it really makes sense. I mean, if there was a player named (and forgive my language) "Ching Chang Chong", that would actually not be hard to pronounce at all. Perhaps a bit of a tongue twister, if you had to say it ten time fast, but I'm going to assume that was never part of the 2006 WBC telecast. (As a disclaimer, I am Korean-American – but I was adopted when I was four months old, my first and only language is English. I can say "hello" in Chinese, but it takes a lot of effort to get the inflection right, and the one time I said it to a Chinese person, she laughed for 5 minutes straight.)

This really raises another point. Certainly, the main problem I have is with Mr. Brantley's mode of expression, but his sentiments are not wholly unobjectionable either. Are Chinese (and Taiwanese) names so hard to pronounce? I realize it may be a legitimate challenge if you are unfamiliar with the language, as Brantley, undoubtedly is, and the romanization of Chinese characters is definitely not designed help you out phonetically, but the phrase "ching-chang-ing to death" is pretty sad. Mr. Brantley, expanding your horizons will not kill you: I promise. (Incidentally, if Jeff Brantley was working for ESPN in 2006, I would think he would have some practice in saying "Chien- Ming Wang, tied for the American League lead in wins.")


Let's get back to the really objectionable part – the racial slur. And it is one, make no mistake. It is a slur, an epithet, and an insult. It says, you are different, you are a freak, and you don't belong here. It creates and reinforces the idea that Asians aren't welcome. This is a pretty big deal, honestly. As ken mentioned in an email, Asian Americans have had a serious challenge breaking in to society as film stars, musicians, athletes, etc. In 2002, Shaquille O'Neil said on Fox News Radio, "You tell Yao Ming, 'Ching chong yang, wah, ah soh.'" Not...not helpful. (It was a 'joke' but as you may notice, it's not really very funny. But, let's cut Shaq some slack. It's way funnier than Kazaam.)

Yesterday, we also discussed Paul Daugherty's column in the reposter. (You know, the one that SI decided to highlight as "The Reds have decided to offer sushi at ball games; it's un-American." Nice use of the semi-colon though). Daugherty's main point seems to be that all this new-fangled junk is no good – he wants it old school. This is fair, but is sushi really the worst crap we have at the ballpark? Honestly, Daugherty's technique is pretty popular: resisting the influx of immigrants and foreigners by insisting that the cultural changes they bring somehow dilutes the "purity" of our Great American Society. (Haha, that was pun – get it?) Get over it. My deviant sushi lifestyle is not going to upset the sanctity of your hotdog.


Now for my main point. I am sure that Jeff Brantley absolutely did not intend his remarks as an insult to Chinese people, which is indisputably better than if he had said it with malice. Here's the thing: in many ways, it doesn't matter. Children (and adults) are still going to hear it, and think that it's ok, and more than that, they're going to take away the sentiment – that Chinese are "other", and it's cool to make fun of them.

I think there's a large segment of society that thinks that malicious racism is gone (not true) and that accidental racism isn't a big deal (also not true). As a law student, let me put it this way. You might break someone's leg by beating the crap out of him, or you might break his leg through reckless operation of a backhoe. Sure, it matters whether you did it purposefully or not, but to him, it probably matters more that his leg is broken. And either way, you're probably going to be paying the medical bills.

The other thing about accidental racism, is that it really isn't accidental. It's a reflection of the racist structure of society as a whole, and more often than not, reflects subconscious racism on the parts of many. It's also much harder to end. Letting racial slurs slip out when you talk, is hurtful and damaging, but more importantly, it renews the racism. Jeff Brantley, as a broadcaster, whose voice will reach into people's homes hundreds of times a year, should have a greater responsibility to take care and avoid this. How many people may have been listening Thursday afternoon? (A Reds spring-training game? Probably not a whole lot – but, uh, that's beside my point.) How many people will go out, and accidentally let that phrase slip into their own conversations and their own lives? The Reds have a responsibility not to propagate hurtful insults, and should take measures to make sure it doesn't happen again. I have contacted the Reds, and haven't really heard back from them (although I did get a nice response from Dave Armbruster with WLW referring me to the proper person with the Reds), so we'll see what happens there.


What about you? Do you think that Brantley's language was offensive? Do you care? What responsibility do you think the Reds have? I realize some of us may have certain opinions on Jeff Brantley and his broadcasting capabilities, but let's keep a thin veneer of respectfulness on the comments.