Australian sports journalist Andrew Wu sparked a heated debate on social media over the weekend. Covering the fourth Test between Australia and India at Dharamsala, Wu took offense at the cricket term "chinaman".
As you can see from his tweet, the term has specific meaning in cricket.
The term chinaman is widely used in cricket. It was employed over the weekend to describe the bowling of debutant Indian spinner Kuldeep Yadav. As you can see in the image below, the world's leading cricket website ESPNcricinfo.com has no qualms about using it in its official player profiles.
The origins of the term are interesting. It harks back to the first player of Chinese origin to play Test cricket. His name was Ellis Achong, and he played for the West Indies. His Cricinfo profile is here. It includes the line:
Essentially an orthodox slow left-armer, at Manchester he had Robins stumped by a ball which, bowled with a wrist-spinner's action, turned into the right-hander from the off and gave rise to the use in England of the word chinaman to describe such a delivery.
So essentially, the term was coined in honour of a talented and unusual bowler of cricketing yesteryear. It was not in any way designed to be mocking of Chinese people.
Why is it racially offensive? It was named after a player of Chinese origin. https://t.co/T9A8A2mEdH— Rob McLean (@P10Rob) 25 de março de 2017
But of course, the phrase "Chinaman" has often carried nastier overtones in the wider world.
At various points in history, it has been used to mock Chinese people -- and therefore functioned in the complete opposite way of a neutral term like "Englishman", which connotes a person's land of origin but not social or ethnic status.
Wu tried to highlight this subtle but important difference, but encountered resistance.
Not IF, it IS offensive to Chinese. Re other points, I can't speak for pygmies or Yorkshiremen https://t.co/mvfEe9WzNX— Andrew Wu (@wutube) 25 de março de 2017
Thus did social media reach its usual impasse, which is a polite way of saying its usual "clusterf-ck".
For all the nasty replies to Wu on social media (which we won't share here), there is a valid argument that the term "chinaman" bears no racist overtones in the cricketing context, not only because it was coined in honour of a player, but because of its common usage.
Quite simply, it has become as much a part of the game as "silly point" or "fine leg" or "googly". And while many supported Wu in strongly questioning the term's suitability, many others defended it.
Why use a racial slur to describe a bowler's action when "left arm wrist spinner" is more descriptive anyway? We should stamp it out. https://t.co/QcTgFMMuJh— Aaron Hill (@aaron_hill) 26 de março de 2017
There's a little footnote to all this in Australian rules football. Those familiar with the Carlton Blues official AFL song We Are The Navy Blues may or may not be aware of that particular tune's unsavoury origins.
The tune was taken from a song called "Lily of Laguna", a favourite of a genre called "coon music", which parodied black people in the age of blackface. There are no calls to change that song and, for now, no real impetus to phase out the word 'chinaman' in cricket.
Which is not to deny Andrew Wu's genuine offense.
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