Letter To The Editor: Does Racism Live in Shaq?

By Zoungy
Updated: September 25, 2005


To Joe Booker or to Whom It May Concern,

Hi. My name is Zoungy, and I came across the article by Joe Booker “Racial Profiling Not Limited to Black Drivers” while searching for information on comments Shaquille O’Neal made about Yao Ming. [Possibly you are familiar with the story of how Shaq made mock-Chinese words, and "imitated" Yao's accent. On other occasions he made comments about physical violence he intended toward Yao, to test Yao's manhood.]

The comments were later explained by Shaq as a “joke” and publicly accepted by Yao as such. Shaq offered a partial apology, but not a direct one.

I hope a person like Joe Booker can be my ally. I therefore think it is important to point out to him my reaction when he asked when Shaquille O’Neal would speak out against racism.

I for one found O’Neal’s comments insensitive– and part of a very specific tradition of racism against so-called asians in America. My mother is from Asia, my father is from the US and I was born in the US. Therefore I am not “Asian” but not many people seem convinced of that (we don’t call American white people “Swedish” or “French” or “European” in the US for example). As an “Asian” in America I have endured all my life the same kind of taunts, belittling, de-masculinization, and physical threat that Yao or millions of spectators and fans can easily identify and respond to in O’Neal’s ‘joke.’

I don’t think we live in a culture where the combination of mockery of an Asian accent/language, broad stereotyping of a culture, and physical threats towards Asians, especially so publicly, can be seen as a joke. When O’Neal spoke that way, he just confirmed the stereotypes. he “endorsed” them with all the authority, fame, and respect that comes with being Shaquille O’Neal, and he failed to make a clean, definite apology.

Racism towards ‘black’ people and racism toward ‘Asian’ people in America take on very different forms, but the end result is, as Joe Booker wrote, feeling excluded from the American family, feeling not loved, feeling less secure in life.

I hope that black leaders and writers such as Joe Booker, think about these important issues when they expect leadership on racial issues from Shaquille O’Neal. I look forward to hearing from you, and looking more at your work on blackathlete.net.

Sincerely, Zoungy


Joe Booker wrote on Blackathlete.net:

“It is time for black athletes to come to their senses and realize that they are liked by most fans because of their athletic skills. Just because they are been shown a lot of love does not mean they are a member of the family.

“Most blacks are too afraid to lose their endorsements to speak out or take a stand against racism. Why haven’t we seen such high-profile athletes like Tiger Woods, Michael Jordan and Shaquille O’Neal speak out against racism?” [my bold marks]

On Asianweek.com, Irwin Tang writes:

“In his most recent racial taunt of Yao Ming, Shaquille O’Neal told a reporter, “Tell Yao Ming, ‘ching-chong-yang-wah-ah-soh.‘” No, the superstar center of the L.A. Lakers was not trying to speak Chinese. Shaq was, in a most derisive tone, aiming a racist barb at the rookie center for the Houston Rockets.”

Further along he writes,

” Let’s not beat around the bush. If a white player had, for instance, made monkey sounds to taunt a black player, it would have been a national controversy. But Yao is Chinese and Asians are fair game. For evidence, watch TV for a couple of hours

ESPN.com has a thoughtful article by Bill Walton I hope you will read. He explores the idea at the base of all this– it hurts to be singled out, to not be “part of the family.”