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Sunday, May 6, 2007

Say what?

According to this article in today's Taipei Times  New York Yankees pitcher and son of Taiwan Chien-ming Wang (Wang Jianming) 王健民 has been named by Time Magazine as one of the 100 most influential people of the year. Good for him, but there was one quote in the story that bothered me:

"Author Bette Bao Lord, the Shanghai-born wife of former US ambassador to China Winston Lord, wrote the introduction for Wang on the magazine's Web site, comparing him to the first black American to play in the Major Leagues, Jackie Robinson...She said that Wang, like Robinson, is 'chipping away the culture barrier.'"
(Lord's piece can be found here)

What I don't like about this comment is the comparison of Wang to Jackie Robinson. How can she possibly connect the two? Can you even begin to compare whatever difficulties Wang has faced playing in New York with the hardships Robinson went through while breaking down the color barrier in baseball back in 1947? For example, has Wang been the object of racist abuse from fans and fellow players? Has Wang received death threats because he is Asian? Has Wang ever been denied a seat in a restaurant or a room in a hotel solely on the basis of the color of his skin? I'm pretty sure the answers to these questions are "no". Not to take anything away from Wang, who is an excellent pitcher (for the Yankees, unfortunately) and a decent human being from the looks of things, but he is no Jackie Robinson, not in any way, shape or form. To even begin to compare him to Robinson only serves to cheapen the latter's accomplishments, both in baseball and in American society as a whole.

If Ms. Lord wishes to celebrate the achievements of a pioneering Asian athlete in the United States, she should have chosen to write about Hideo Nomo 野茂英雄, though he can no longer be thought of as a currently influential person. Ironically, most of the abuse that Nomo had to put up with came from his fellow Japanese, many of whom felt he was a traitor for leaving Japan to play in the majors, and who confidently predicted he would fail in America (of course, when Nomo turned out to be a great success, many of these same people turned around and praised him for bringing glory to Japan, but that's another story).

But Nomo is Japanese, and there's the rub. Ms. Lord is Chinese, and so is Wang (in an ethnic sense, anyway). I don't think she meant to insult Jackie Robinson in any way, but perhaps if Ms. Lord felt a little less pride about being Chinese ("He's a member of my tribe"), she wouldn't be inadvertently denigrating the memory of a true pioneer.

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