Friday, February 14, 2014

Dreaming Of A Non-White Winter Olympics

Things Unsaid....

I came across an interesting article in the Washington Post about the lack of diversity at the Sochi Olympics. Bemoaning the lack of African-American and Hispanic athletes, the piece highlights the almost absolute "whiteness" of the games....
Don’t listen to your friends back home saying the Winter Olympics are just for white people who like the cold and vacation in Aspen. This is the most inclusive Winter Games ever. Why, there are Caucasians here from almost 88 different nations......this place is whiter than an episode of “Downton Abbey.”
Fair enough, black and Hispanic underrepresentation in winter sports is something to ponder, but not, in my opinion any more or less worth pondering than the general underrepresentation of Asians in sport - more on that later. Whilst the dearth of black and Hispanic athletes in winter sports is certainly something that requires attention, the fact that Asians have traditionally not been associated with sports and, thus, generally not considered as "sporty" - which may be reflected in the relative dearth of Asians in sport - is something that I think also warrants some degree of inquiry.

So, surely, Asians who do make it in sport is a subject worthy of its own investigation and story - after all, Asians are a racial minority affected by racism and stereotypes (particularly, perhaps in sport) that seeks to limit their prosperity? Well, maybe not........
Look, I don’t care about the color of the competitors. And I don’t think the paucity of black or Hispanic athletes should cheapen any gold medal, as if somehow this were a cold-war Olympics that didn’t include some of the greatest sporting nations......The fact is, despite Vonetta Flowers becoming the first black person to become a Winter Olympic gold medalist as a bobsledder in 2002, despite Davis becoming the first male African American to win individual gold in 2006, there hasn’t been a whole lot of carryover.
Yes, more minorities, more colour, more diversity........yes?
Aside from the large contingent of Asian athletes and a smattering of Jamaican bobsledders and Tongans, the Opening Ceremonies’ Parade of Nations is as white as a von Trapp family reunion.! That's right, apart from the large contingent of non-white Asians and a few blacks and Pacific İslanders, there is just no diversity at the games. Why the writer of the article apparently feels as though a large contingent of Asians is somehow a lesser quality of diversity isn't specified. Given stereotypes about Asian physical weaknesses and inaptitude for sports, surely the fact that there is a "large contingent" of Asians participating in a sporting event at the highest level warrants a more enthusiastic commentary. Instead, I can't help  but feel as though the writer is suggesting that the Asian contingent is a kind of disappointing diversity that is only worth the effort of inclusion in the discussion only to further highlight that, well, there are few blacks at the games.

To me, the fact that Asians are present in numbers at Sochi is, in fact, a huge victory against the racialized thinking that stereotypes Asians as nerdy, unsporty, weaklings and is something that deserves to be celebrated - particularly in light of the fact that several of those Asian athletes are Americans. A more interesting question may be, perhaps, why Asians are present in numbers at winter sports and what that may tell us about the complexities of American attitudes towards race and stereotypes.

It could well be that - for the Asian-American athletes at least - the very lack of black dominance in winter sports has offered breathing space for the consideration of Asians for inclusion. What I mean by this is that stereotypes about the sporting prowess of black athletes coupled with opposite stereotypes about Asians may conspire to leave little room in sporting programs for Asians to be included, no-one expects to find  good Asian athletes, so no-one is looking. Since winter sports don't seem to be looking for a "Michael Jordan", there is room for Asians to taste the waters of athletic competition and compete at the highest level since they are also not competing against stereotypes of superior black sporting aptitude.

The point is that the typical stereotypical modes of thinking that have discouraged the idea that Asians have the physical capabilities to compete at the highest athletic levels are almost certainly being overcome and belied by the very presence of Asians at the highest level of competition at Sochi. This is a cause for celebration, it is certainly worthy of far more than a single disappointed throwaway line that diminishes the value of the Asian component of diversity.

But perhaps the biggest point of concern - and disappointment - is the implication that Asian athletes participating in lieu of white ones is somehow cheating America (and possibly blacks and the whole world) out of true diversity, which really should mean black and Hispanic athletes competing in lieu of white (and possibly Asian) ones. There are some disturbing echoes here of the debate over college admissions in which Asians have become something of a bogeyman and stumbling block for the liberal narrative of diversity and its recent addendum that too much success amongst Asians is a threat to black empowerment.

In summary, the piece illustrates that Asian-Americans are the blindspot of America's race dialogue - our "successes" are not the kind of race-dialogue that America welcomes, even when it is a clear illustration of overcoming racialized adversity. The fact is that it is in the field of sports that black and Hispanic integration has been quite pronounced, such that these groups dominate or are on an equal footing in mainstream American sports. Ironically, it is aspiring Asians who need encouragement to participate in sports and whose presence is underrepresented - so why is a large contingent of Asian athletes only worth mentioning in the context of how few black and Hispanics there are?

True investment in diversity should lead us to ask balanced questions and think, well, in more diverse ways. In the interests of genuine diversity in sports it is fair and balanced to ask; how do we expand the involvement of Asians in sports so that they are more equally represented in sports outside of winter competition? But that would mean that America would have to start thinking about the Asian experience of race, racism, and racialization - something it presently generally prefers to dismiss.


  1. Sounds like white people just get weird when something can be called "white" or a "white sport". Do people really care about many of these Winter Olympic sports and events? I suspect that countries that don't get snow and are less able to afford the large costs involved in Winter Olympic events don't really care about the Winter Olympics and that's fine. If they really want to do something then figure out how to lower costs and change weather patterns. It's not like with Asian Americans being underrepresented from massively popular sports like basketball and football which Asians do care about so it becomes a problem. Winter Olympic events just aren't big enough for some people to go out of their ways for. South and South East Asians aren't that visible either but no one seems to care.

    You might as well link bigWOWO's article on liberals being bad for Asian men for the other issue. We just don't fit the narrative and don't count for diversity. It's bizarre that Asians succeeding at Olympic events despite being "weak" in the West doesn't garner any praise from the diversity minded, and bizarre that Asians doing well at either Olympics doesn't overturn the stereotype for the racists. It's as though non-whites doing well is a zero-sum game where Asians aren't allowed to be strong as long as they succeed financially, and Blacks are allowed to dominate sports as long as they make less than whites while whites get to be both.

    1. Yes, it's strange how sometimes, Asians are so foreign that we don't even register as part of America. Yet at other times, we're so familiar that we don't even count as diversity when we're present.

      But as for the perception of the lack of Asian athleticism, I think it's more nuanced than that. Asian countries such as China, Korea, and Japan have been doing well in the Olympics and Winter Olympics long enough that they're a familiar presence in the top 10 medal tables. For example, Korea absolutely killed it in London. And the U.S. is frequently fretting over the day when China will regularly top them in both gold AND total medals.

      By now, I think the stereotype is that while Asians are athletic, they're not genetically suited for the most physically demanding of sports: sprinting, rugby, heavyweight fighting, etc. That's why America was so shocked by the rise of Jeremy Lin. Had he been an excellent gymnast or tennis player, they wouldn't have blinked an eye. But an Asian guy who can drive, slash, and cross people over? What in the world?!

      Asians doing well in the Winter Olympics wouldn't surprise too many, unless there was an Asian men's hockey team that could outhit the Canadians and outskate the Russians.

    2. Anonymous

      "It's bizarre that Asians succeeding at Olympic events despite being "weak" in the West doesn't garner any praise from the diversity minded, and bizarre that Asians doing well at either Olympics doesn't overturn the stereotype for the racists."

      Exactly. The real story here is that there is an apparent "large contingent" of Asian athletes - that should truly be the race angle on these Olympics and this particular story. What is it about these particular sports that enables Asians to be so well represented?

      Like I said it could be the dearth of black interest that is creating the space for Asian athletes, and your suggestion that the winter sports are just no "sexy" could be another reason.

      Either way, it speaks volumes that diversity when Asians are concerned is not a cause for celebration in its own right.

    3. Baakus

      Agree that Asian competitors have almost certainly done enough to cause a change in perceptions about Asian athletic capabilities - the fact that these stereotypes still exist is probably due to the fact that when Asian athletes do well (particularly Chinese athletes these days) allegations and insinuations of cheating often ensue.

      But even in heavy fighting, Asians have not done too badly - there are Asian judo and tae kwon do champions, karate champions, and I think that in the not too distant future, either China or Japan will begin producing top level sprinters.

      I think that exposure is a big factor as well, no-one in the west wants to write about Asian athletic successes - Lin and probably Manny are exceptions, but in general, Asian athletes (possibly because of diminished product sales appeal) are less likely to get celebrated in the same way a white or black athlete would.

      For instance when Chrşstophe Lemaitre became the first white guy to break the 10 second barrier for the 100 meters, it seemed that he always received a special mention from commentators - at least here in Europe - even though he often ran in races where half the field had also broken the same barrier.

      So there are probably also economic considerations for why it is convenient that negative stereotypes about Asians continue to exist.

  2. Yeah, that is apparently the white outlook. They don't consider Asians (or some POC) to be people. Thus they only celebrate white "achievements", such as Leland Stanford's railroad, nevermind who actually built it. Or they celebrate Quentin Tarantino for bringing Asian movies to the US rather than the Asians who produced, starred, or directed the movies themselves.

    There are two ways to go about this I think, either force America (and the West) to acknowledge and accept Asians as real people with all the rights, privileges etc, or go and do our own thing and forget the lot of them. Thus we would build our own entertainment, news, popular culture etc. and truth to tell, that isn't looking too bad to me. Lord knows the other option isn't happening anytime soon.

    1. Apollyon

      I think we should (and are slowly beginning to) do our own thing as a matter of course - simply because that makes the most sense. We have so much creativity and talent within the community but it is stifled and smothered by mainstream sensibilities or prejudices.

  3. Better plan. Unite East Asia politically and militarily in mutually beneficial East Asian Union and drive off the western imperialist Americans when they try to stage WWIII and attack China and try to use SOuth Korea and Japan as cannon fodder. In fact, South Korean intelligence now says that USA is #1 enemy after tongil with North Korea. Especially with the shit that goes on in Itaewon and they even opened up a bar/restaurant that banned East Asian men and only allowed East Asian women. The bar/restaurant got torn down by a group of angry korean guys and gangstsers. But shit like this still happens there:

    You can see it in their TV/dramas as well, with NK being portrayed sympathetically much of the time, and the real big bad enemy being greedy/manipulative/colonial imperialist white supremacist USA. Don't ask me where I go this info from cause that is classified.

  4. The bar in Itaewon was for white men and Asian women and foreign men and NO ASIAN MEN were allowed. That is the same shit as "No Dogs No CHinese" as back in the day with western imperialist shit on East Asian soil. Death to the west.