Non-Asian celebrities constantly make the slant-eye gesture and raise controversies. But why do some Asians feel the gesture is offensive or racism? Let’s see what Asians actually say about the slant-eye gesture and why they feel uncomfortable with it.
Note that I’m not trying to offend anyone, but I’m only trying to convey how Asians feel about the slant-eye gesture. I’m also not trying to say that all Asians are offended by it. The comments I picked up in this article are opinions of some Asians and they don’t represent all of them. They don’t represent my opinion either.
What Asians say about the slant-eye gesture
Before giving my comments on the topic, let’s see what Asians (Japanese) say about the slant-eye gesture on Twitter. As I don’t read other Asian languages, I’m only focusing on comments from the Japanese here. Some of the comments include sensitive languages, but I translated most of them faithfully to the original Japanese (I omitted some harmful expressions).
— たんどれ (@tandtandtander) February 11, 2019
“Well, discrimination? When I traveled to Sweden, a black person said to me ‘monkey, bwahahaha, nihao’ and made me cry. I almost gave up on my dream to immigrate. The slant-eye gesture came next at my language school. But I said ‘stop it. It’s considered racism throughout the world.”
— ポラリス (@est_suo_imas_) July 12, 2020
“They kept discriminating us with that slant-eye gesture and now they justify themselves saying it’s a fashion trend? Don’t f**k with Asians.”
— ヒール (@erikamazikawai) June 4, 2020
“Some say ‘Asians are discriminated only because of COVID’ and it’s a temporary thing, but don’t they know that racism against Asians didn’t begin recently? There is that ‘slant-eye gesture’ too. Doesn’t matter if people make that gesture without racism intent, it’s considered taboo because of the background where people discriminated Asians with that gesture. What I want to say is, Asians are not only discriminated because of COVID.”
— なおき (@cb400sbcbr600rr) December 22, 2018
“But do you guys feel it’s that discriminative when foreigners do the slant-eye gesture? Don’t you guys feel ‘yeah indeed’?”
— sakamobi.com (@sakamobi) December 19, 2018
“A fencing champion says ‘I ate sushi for a week like a Japanese and won the championship’ with a slant-eye gesture photo and raises a huge controversy LOL
And he’s a wheelchair fencer?? Couldn’t he even imagine how it felt like to be discriminated even though he was disabled? Miserable.
— ぶたげ (@Buri_goki) July 11, 2020
“What? The slant-eye gesture is in fashion?! Even though a comedian mimicking Eddie Murphy is racist??” (*A Japanese comedian wore blackface to disguise as a black person. I’ll mention this later in this article)
— BB (@0090bb) July 11, 2020
“Don’t ever forgive the slant-eye gesture. Especially those who are enthusiastic about BLM.”
— あんぐらうさぎ (@uraurafsb) July 11, 2020
“Seeing that the slant-eye gesture is a fashion trend… Seriously, what are you guys doing… After all the anti-racism demos… you guys don’t feel anything about the racism against Asians? Yeah, all righty.”
Surprisingly, there is a certain number of Japanese that don’t have any negative feelings about the pose, but many of them are offended by it.
The above tweets are only from the Japanese, so let’s look at comments from Korean people too. Here is a video about how Koreans felt about the slant-eye gesture by Mexican soccer fans after a German team won a game against a Korean team.
Korean people are so humble that nobody in this video says anything extreme (or the YouTuber cut extreme comments), but the majority of them say “those who do that gesture don’t think about anything” or “it’s a mockery and offensive.”
Many (or most) Asians don’t feel good about slanted eyes
So you learned that many Asians felt the slant-eye gesture was offensive.
Now, why are Asians offended by the gesture then? I think every non-Asian kinda knows that it’s because the gesture can be a mockery or racism, but there is another reason.
In Japan or other Asian countries, bigger eyes with double-fold eyelids are considered more beautiful, and those who have thin, slanted eyes with single-fold eyelids don’t always feel good about their eyes. In fact, many Asians with single-fold eyelids get an eye job to make their eyelids double folded.
I know that many Westerners don’t feel anything bad about slanted eyes and they only think it’s a physical trait, but many Asians feel in a different way. If one has negative feelings about his physical traits (eyes) and someone else comments on it with a gesture, how would he feel? He would probably feel that the other person is mocking him and get hurt, wouldn’t he?
As long as you don’t know what people of other races feel about their physical traits, it’s not wise to even mention them. Even if YOU don’t mean any harm, OTHERS might take offense.
Slant-eye gesture is as unpleasant as blackface
For all these years, I’ve been wondering what people, who thoughtlessly make the slant-eye gesture, think about blackface. Do they accept it as they do the slant-eye gesture? Or do they get upset every time they see blackface but make the slant-eye gesture without thinking that those two would be essentially the same?
But in my opinion, the slant-eye gesture is as unpleasant as blackface.
If you think blackface is racism, you should stop the slant-eye gesture too because many people feel it’s racism.
However, the Japanese are not quite aware of racism either and they sometimes dress in blackface to disguise as black people. I’m so embarrassed about this, but many Japanese are only offended when they feel they are mocked, and they thoughtlessly mimic people of other races.
Recently, a Japanese comedian blacked up his face and foreign news media criticized him:
Japanese TV show featuring blackface actor sparks anger
Many Japanese feel offended by the slant-eye gesture because they are the subject of racism, but they don’t understand what could possibly be wrong about blackface because they are not the subject.
To the Japanese, black skin is just a physical trait and there is nothing wrong about mimicking it. Ironically, it’s exactly the same as what non-Asians usually think about slanted eyes. But what is important here is, many people don’t understand what’s wrong with a certain gesture or comment unless they are the subject of it.
Non-Asians don’t understand how it’s like to have slanted eyes, and non-black people (the Japanese in this case) don’t understand how it’s like to have black skin. I’m not saying these traits are either good or bad, but unless you understand how it feels like to have that trait(s), I don’t think you should mimic or comment on them.
Many Japanese say “oh but there is nothing wrong about blackface because we have respect for black people and we only wanted to disguise as them,” and say “but slant-eye gesture is offensive” because they only have a subjective view of the slant-eye gesture and not of blackface. I hope one day they will realize that those two are the same thing and they will stop blacking up their face.
And I also hope that you won’t think anything like “oh but the Japanese wear blackface which is racism. They shouldn’t complain about the slant-eye gesture if they are racists too.” If you want to remind the Japanese that they are racists, you shouldn’t make another racism example because that will only make yourself a racist. Besides, the majority of the Japanese don’t associate blackface with racism unless you elaborate on it.
Imagine how you would feel if someone of another race mimicked your physical traits with a gesture
I hope the majority of you guys have a better understanding of how Asians feel about the slant-eye gesture by now, but let me give you some more examples. Note that I’m not trying to offend you in any way, but I’m only trying to give some easy-to-understand examples. Let me apologize in advance that they are not good examples and might be offensive, but what I’m going to mention are at least considered to be good traits in Japan.
Now, imagine this: You are white and have a relatively big or long nose. An Asian approaches and says “wow, your nose is BIG” with a gesture. How would you feel?
Or how about this: You are tall and have a relatively small head for your height. Looking at you, a Japanese says “oh, your face is so tiny!” with a pinching gesture.
I’m almost certain that neither of the above would give you the best feeling. In fact, I found a forum thread by an assistant English teacher in Japan with a big nose. The Japanese constantly say to him “your nose is big” and he is sick of it:
Dealing with nose comments
How did you feel reading this forum? You might not have been directly offended, but you certainly didn’t have the best feeling about the Japanese people constantly telling the guy that he had a big nose, did you? This is exactly how Asians feel when non-Asian does the slant-eye gesture.
If you felt uncomfortable reading these examples, you should stop doing the slant-eye gesture.
But let me explain why the Japanese constantly comment on your noses or faces. They keep telling that to you because they think that are compliments. When a Japanese says “you have a big nose” or “you have a small face,” he/she is trying to praise you because big noses and small faces are considered beautiful in Japan. It’s like saying “you are good looking.”
Interesting huh? Each culture has a different aesthetic taste and the Japanese don’t have any negative feelings at all about big noses or small faces. So even if you don’t have any negative feelings about slanted eyes, don’t comment on them because many Asians do.
Each race and ethnicity has a different aesthetic taste
As I described in the previous section, aesthetic taste differs depending on your race, ethnicity or culture. Now, if everyone thinks in a different way, how can you be so sure that commenting on a specific physical trait of a person of other race/ethnicity/culture will not hurt anybody?
As long as you don’t have a trait which is peculiar to a specific race, you don’t understand how it feels like to be born with that trait. And as long as you don’t understand the feelings, it’s not wise to comment on any physical traits that you don’t have.
Even if you are trying to praise a person, your words might hurt him/her like the Japanese in the above example did the assistant English teacher. With this in mind, we can reduce conflicts among people from different backgrounds.
Is the fox eye makeup offensive?
Lastly, I’m going to talk about the recent “fox eye makeup” trend. Some people say it’s offensive or cultural appropriation, but I personally don’t feel that way because it’s just a type of makeup and people wear it out of adoration for Asian eyes.
Let’s look at what the Japanese say about the fox eye makeup on Twitter. There were many comments on the gesture, but not many about the makeup itself. Here are some of the few top tweets about the makeup:
— ミロ (@mir0_) June 24, 2020
“I see many foreign celebrities wearing that makeup lately and some news media already started criticizing it as ‘discrimination.’ But don’t they have better things to do than caviling at someone else’s eyeliner? Nonsense.”
— フナミ (@PENTATO64803246) July 11, 2020
“I didn’t feel anything wrong about the foxy eyes. I even thought it was a big step for Asians to be subject of a fashion trend, but why all the criticisms about that? I hope that people would just go like ‘wow, you have cool foxy eyes by natural and it’s cool that you don’t even have to wear makeup!’ People that keep telling us it’s a discrimination kinda make us feel foxy eyes are inferior thing and I might begin to have an inferiority complex about that even if I didn’t use to. It might be difficult to change the way all generations think, but at least if a younger generation feels foxy eyes are cool, maybe we can change things. Or do I think this way because there are no discriminations around me?”
— arinco!arinco!🏴🇬🇧🇯🇵🇧🇩🏳️🌈🐜 (@arinco_85) July 11, 2020
“What was that? The foxy eyes? Looks like it’s popular now. 🙂 But that pose is questionable. I think they perform the pose to emphasize the slanted (foxy) eye makeup, but they should know what kind of message it could have if they took a minute to think about it. I hate it when they f**k with us because they think Asians don’t speak up.”
Looking at these comments, the Japanese don’t necessarily feel the makeup is offensive, but the gesture that comes with the makeup is offensive.
There might not be an answer to this controversy, but many Asians have negative feelings about the slant-eye gesture. As long as it hurts certain people, I hope non-Asian people will withhold from making the gesture because it’s not absolutely necessary anyway.