What I am disappointed, nay, ashamed about is the behavior of some Chicago Cubs fans in regard to Mr. Fukudome.
Cubs fans have a reputation for being drunken layabouts (cf. Lee Elia), more interested in the Wrigley Field atmospherics than the game on the field. Marty Brennaman, Cincinnati Reds broadcaster, made this point earlier this week after an incident in a game between the Cubs and Reds, and at times I have a hard time disagreeing (despite being a Cubs fan myself).
But in addition to being obnoxious on occasion, are Cubs fans also racist?
The arrival of Mr. Fukudome in Chicago has been largely but not entirely incident-free, but the Chicago Sun-Times reports that some horribly offensive Cubs-related merchandise is selling heavily around Wrigley Field. I saw the t-shirt in this picture on a fan sitting a few seats away from me on Friday afternoon.
Mr. Fukudome was restrained in his comments on this merchandise.
“I don’t know what the creator of the shirt meant this to be, but they should make it right,” Fukudome said through his interpreter after being shown one of the shirts Thursday. “Maybe the creator created it because he thought it was funny, or maybe he made it to condescend the race. I don’t know.”
I will be less restrained.
This kind of thing is embarrassing in the twenty-first century: I am embarrassed as a Cubs fan, a Chicagoan, an American, and as someone whose life is spent, well, observing Japan.
I don’t want to generalize about Cubs fans or Chicagoans — Mr. Fukudome’s reception in Chicago has been quite friendly, and fans besieged the Cubs organizations with complaints about these items, prompting the team to stop their sale — but the fact that people find this sort of thing funny or cute is a blot on the US. I don’t think it’s a product of outright racism, just ignorance. But that ignorance is wide and deep, and is not without consequences for US foreign policy. The stunning ignorance about other countries — allies and “enemies” alike — means that ugly stereotypes like this have survived for far too long. (And then there’s the question of the older generation of Americans, some of whom revert to embarrassing stereotypes of Japan perhaps in large part because their images of Japan were shaped by a horrendous race war.) Knowledge about Japan among Americans of all education levels is shockingly poor, allowing offensive (or dated) stereotypes to persist.
Perhaps I shouldn’t take this so seriously, but it’s that kind of attitude that allows this behavior to persist. A person wearing a shirt like this should be stigmatized.
It’s small incidents like this that speak volumes about America’s place in the world in the twenty-first century.