Through the Looking Glass: Beijing Olympics edition

By Guest Columnist Aug 01, 2008

by Joyce Li Let it suffice to say that this year’s Olympic Games in Beijing have been met with (rightful) heated protest, concerning China’s role in Darfur, and Tibetan sovereignty. For months, we have watched Beijing become a fortress, with its inhabitants increasingly subjected to prejudicial ejection from bars and clubs, as well as forthright discrimination by the police. There’s little happening in Beijing that can surprise me. Next month’s games will undoubtedly be the most politicized since Tommie Smith and John Carlos raised their fists in 1968. And while I’m all for using the media saturation of the games to incite some protest, I also think some reflexivity is needed. Taking the time to decry China’s rampant abuses doesn’t absolve the U.S. or others of their own imperial past and present (or parasitic bloggers who instigate anti-yellow and anti-black comment threads). In fact, I agree with sportswriter Dave Zirin, who writes:

None of this 2008 crop of athletes is daring to say that maybe protest begins at home. They are raising concerns about China’s policies in Tibet or Darfur, but not the U.S. wars in Iraq or Afghanistan. There are concerns about China’s labor standards, but not the way their own sponsors, like Nike, exploit those standards. Blaming China for the ills of the world ignores the stubborn fact that there is a reason the games are in Beijing. Western complicity in China’s crimes isn’t challenged by bashing China. It’s only covered up.

And the visibility of ethnic discrimination isn’t the only parallel we can draw to the 1968 games. Thirty years ago in Mexico City, the International Olympic Committee debuted the buccal-smear test as a gender verification tool on female athletes. In 1999, the IOC no longer required all female athletes to undergo the test (which involves scraping cells from the inside of the cheek and checking them for the right chromosomes). Many called the process invasive and faulty. Now the IOC has brought it back. And to little protest. Where did the audience go? Every new Xinhua item can become blog fodder, but I’m waiting for the outcry against this blatant act of transphobia. But perhaps I’m waiting for something that won’t come. Looking at China’s wrongs can be like looking into a mirror – until we turn the lens back onto ourselves, the cries for justice just don’t ring true.