As you are no doubt aware, the Wei-Chung Wang Wednesdays meme has flirted with internet fame since its launch two weeks ago. The first installment with Wang and his bullpen mates busting various moves in the locker room was charming enough as far as DIY smartphone videos go. Last week’s follow-up in St. Louis extended the joke by adding a hint of choreography.
As of this writing, there has not been a third installment of Wei-Chung Wang Wednesdays, but it’s easy to understand the appeal of the two videos – they’re a lighthearted window into how big leaguers amuse themselves in their downtime. Seeing professional athletes goof off makes them more relatable to us regular folks, who routinely engage in much sillier behavior with our coworkers. The videos also capture a happy confluence of cultures, with the Taiwanese non-English-speaking Wang sharing a reverie with his Caucasian colleagues (I didn’t see K-Rod in either video). Wei-Chung Wang Wednesdays depict MLB diversity at its most heartwarming.
Or do they?
When I saw the first Wei-Chung Wang Wednesday video, I was reminded of the recent semi-controversy some busybody tried to stir up over a Colbert Report tweet that wasn’t-but-was racially insensitive to Asians. In our increasingly progressive world, it’s certainly not a bad thing for people to be as sensitive and inclusive as possible. But the Colbert incident (if you could even call it that) was a reminder that there are some folks out there who get a moral superiority buzz by finding racism wherever they happen to look for it.
A quick Google search indicates no one has made accusations of racism over Wei-Chung Wang Wednesdays. Well, like everyone else who blogs I’ve always wanted to be on the cutting edge. Although I don’t really think there’s anything racially insensitive about the Wei-Chung Wang Wednesday videos…I wonder how easy it would be to argue that they are kinda sorta racist. Let’s find out!
If you watch the first locker room video with a critical eye, it’s actually not that hard to come away with the impression Wang wasn’t an enthusiastic participant. Does he look like he’s having fun? You’re telling me that’s not a forced smile? His fellow relief pitchers in the background are obviously enjoying themselves. Wang appears to get into a little bit as the video goes on, but that could just mean he’s trying to please his peers. It’s not like Wang would have come up with the idea. One or more of his bullpen mates might have subtly (or not so subtly) coerced him into this little stunt. As an inexperienced outsider and rookie who doesn’t pitch much, Wang is not in a position to say no if his senior colleagues apply the peer pressure.
In the St. Louis video, Wang looks like he’s having more fun. Still, the same power dynamics apply – he couldn’t refuse to participate if he felt uncomfortable. Once again, Wang is the center of attention, but it’s not at all clear that he embraces that role willingly. In fact, if you’re feeling uncharitable, you might detect a little frustration by Wang at the end of the clip. He’s the first to quit dancing, and you can almost pick up a slight “All right, are you guys happy now?” in his body language. There’s a thin line between laughing with and laughing at – how can we be sure what side of the line Wang thinks he’s on?
Of course, rookie hazing happens all the time, and I don’t even think this can be called hazing. But let’s imagine a hypothetical video with a little-used Latin American rookie dancing to a song that is also a pun on his ethnically-identifiable name. His mostly white teammates cavort in the background while he looks like he’d rather be somewhere else. In that case, the racial insensitivity would be fairly obvious. Why is it any less so in Wang’s case?
While Wei-Chung Wang Wednesdays doesn’t offend my sense of racial insensitivity, I could see how the issue is debatable. I’m fairly certain if some meddler started a Twitter campaign condemning Wei-Chung Wang Wednesdays, the Brewers would issue an apology. A lot of us would bristle and think an apology wasn’t warranted, but we’d acknowledge it was enough of a gray area that the Brewers had no choice. Let’s hope that doesn’t happen – it’s always a bummer when some nondescript wannabe pundit on the internet brings up racism over something so obviously harmless.
(Image: Marcus Hamel via Instagram)