Can a simple sign be unwittingly offensive? Can it be (unwittingly) racist to advise people about proper hygiene?
I ask because it never occurred to me until my wife pointed it out. And now, like that song that keeps running through your head, the one that won’t stop playing, I can’t unsee what my wife saw.
A little background: As most of you know, my wife was born in the ancient, mysterious land of Cathay, modern China. She is descended from the mighty Hànrén (漢人), the Han people, who (she says) are proud bearers of the Han nose—to my mind, one of her most attractive features.
Furthermore, as some of you know, we both patronize a local gym, where she usually swims and I usually lift weights (but I swim a few laps afterwards to cool down). Last night, as we crossed paths in the pool area, I saw her complaining to a lifeguard about this sign. As I never do these prohibited things, I had never before paid the sign any mind. But my wife seemed offended about the pictures at the bottom, so I took a closer look.
And if you look at it in a certain way, it does indeed (well, kind of) look like a stereotypically “Asian” representation of a face—the hair, the eye shape, the roundness—along with the close-up of the “Han nose.” She took a picture of the sign, so, being a good husband, I did too.
Here’s my question: Does it look racist to you?
The Japanese “accept our material civilization, but they reject our creeds,” wrote Lowell. “At most, Christianity succeeds only in making them doubters of what lies beyond this life.”