In this blog, I will explore questions on how historical stereotypes are carried into modern sport contents, how a construction of whiteness are theorized and intersecting with heroism and lastly on how privileges of being white is portrayed in the context of sports through overt or inferential racism towards other athletes.
Have you heard phrases like these in the media?
- Every Chinese is fluent in Kung Fu or martial arts
- Chinese are good at math
- Chinese women are subordinate to men
- Chinese moms are tiger moms
- Chinese are nerds and geeks and they are stellar students
- Asians depicted as perpetual foreigners
- Why do Chinese people have slanted eyes?
- Hey chink!!
Stereotypes like these are rampant in mass media, and they are not limited to film and television (Shim, 1988). All of these phrases are stereotypes that are associated with Chinese Americans, but why are these stereotypical phrases and ideas constantly being articulated, worked, and transformed and elaborated? The answer is the media.
“The media is a powerful source of ideas about race (Hall, 1997)”
On February 17, 2012, the morning after the New York Knicks lost to the New Orleans Hornets, ESPN aired a headline on its mobile site which read “Chink in Armor” (Fry, 2012). This idiom is used in reference to a weakness or an area of vulnerability of one’s armor (or team in this case). The phrase itself had been used by ESPN over 3,000 times in the past, but received backlash for the first time when used as a double entendre against Jeremy Lin, an Asian American basketball player. The headline was taken down 35 minutes after having been posted due to the social media outcry. Journalists in the media declared that it was a bad choice of words, that it was passively racist and that it dug at the worst, however, using Hall’s and Tompkin’s theories, the argument will be contested as it is not passive; rather, it is overt racism. Comments relating to Hockey, Tennis, and Football players often are constructed around white supremacy and racist ideologies (Hylton and Lawrence, 2015). This example shows that even in modern society, some reporters find it acceptable to use racial slurs to garner attention. It is rare that basketball players of Asian backgrounds are recruited in the NBA, and even harder to name Asian players other than Yao Ming and Jeremy Lin.
The problem lies behind the views of Asian men in the media. Asian men are often depicted as geeky rather than as jocks. This may be the reason that race is often linked to mental, social and physical abilities (Poniatowski and Whiteside, 2012). As a result, we often see that Asian American men are viewed through these stereotypical lenses and not treated equally (Kabbani, 1986). It is highly unlikely that racist headlines will be made regarding white people due to the fact that white basketball players are considered the norm in the NBA. This example portrays power relations because minorities are often seen as lacking power, therefore, often, dominant ideological frameworks are seen as the credible source (Dijk, 1989). In short, regardless of the growing presence in the U.S, Asian Americans are under-represented, marginalized and misrepresented.
Jerermy Lin falls during a game between the New York Knicks and the New Orleans Hornets in New York on Friday.
What is overt racism?
Overt racism is when open and favorable coverage is given to arguments, positions, and spokespersons that are in the business of espousing an openly racist view (Dines & Humez, 2011).
What is inferential racism?
Inferential racism is defined as naturalized representations of events and situations relating to race, whether factual or fictional, which have racists premises and propositions inscribed in them as a set of unquestioned assumptions (Hall, 1997)
“Media constructs and defines what race is, what meaning the imagery of race carries, and what the problem is (Hall, 1997).”
In the United States today, approximately 54% of Chinese immigrants are naturalized U.S citizens and 47% are foreign born (Migration Policy, 2015). Even though statistics show that there are large amounts of Asian Americans residing in the U.S today, there are very few Chinese American professional athletes. Hence, when there are Asian American athletes on professional teams or in the media, it is important to use this opportunity to promote cultural representation, and let the public understand and learn how to combat the stereotype which suggests that all Chinese Americans or Asian Americans are the same, as this is not the case.
Sport broadcasting corporations have control over content and resources; and, accordingly, this means that those who have power also have the ability to control the minds of the people, either by persuasion or by manipulation through images in the media (Dijk, 1993). Often, the media will portray certain images in order to gain viewership or make jokes that are familiar to the crowd; however, the contents portrayed are often problematic and reinforce stereotypes that are associated with a certain race or ethnicity. For instance, hegemony in the media still exists today, like when they reinforce stereotypes that state that slanted eyes are a feature associated with Chinese people.
This was an ad published featuring Spanish Basketball men team posing at the Beijing Olympics making slit-eye gestures, and this pose was the so-called good luck advert. Just like the Jeremy Lin “Chink” example, journalists, broadcasters, and team managers will have to explain to the public that there was no obvious intention to upset the Olympic hosts or the Chinese people (The Guardian, 2008). Even when one of the Spanish basketball team players, Jose Manuel Calderon, was being questioned, and stated in his blog that, “the picture has been interpreted incorrectly,” and also stated, “From here, I would like to declare that we have a huge respect for the East and their people, therefore, anyone who would like to interpret this differently is absolutely confused” (Yang and Florcuz, 2008).
It is problematic that, in this age, the players and the team haven’t realized their mistakes, and why using such gestures is just not appropriate, especially when the Olympics are being hosted in Beijing. In order to understand where these stereotypes come from, it is important to examine the ruling block in society which is deeply rooted in American history (Shim, 1998). Also, when talking about Chinese Americans, it is crucial to know about model minority status, the term yellow peril, and orientalism.
History of Asian Americans
In the mid to late 1800s, many Asians arrived in the United States to fill the excessive need of manual laborers to work in mines and on the railroad (Shim, 1998). This led to a significant increase of Asian immigrants in America. Although the Chinese have contributed and worked hard on building the foundations of the U.S, they are often not acknowledged for their work; but, instead, they are discriminated against. An example from Shim (1998) was the photographs in commemoration of the railroad which did not have any Chinese men in the picture in memory of their contributions, nor were they even invited to the ceremonies. Also, many of those Chinese workers were living in poor dwellings with minimal pay (Chan, 1991). To illustrate, rather than appreciating the work of the Chinese workers, instead the Whites were discriminating towards the Chinese and labelling them alien heathens (Shim, 1998). Many of the Chinese workers are willing to work hard in order to survive in the U.S and stay there; therefore, many Chinese Asian Americans opened local produce markets and laundry shops which are seen as threat to the white farmers.There was hatred and there was labelling for Asians for being hard workers and being seen as members who steal other peoples’ jobs. As a result, the Whites were starting to see Chinese as enemies because the Chinese were associated with large businesses and starting to have some success. Both the Chinese and the Japanese were seen as a threat due to the fact that they were believed to have brought diseases to the United States. They were also seen as economic competitors, and lastly they were seen as scapegoats (Shim, 1998).
The term Yellow Peril was used to describe East Asians, which referred to their cultural threat in the economy, politics and even in the military towards White people (Kawai, 2005). During this time frame, due to the amount of racism, labelling, and the distortion of Asian imageries, many stereotypes were given and associated with Chinese Americans in the United States; and, as a result, there were many media outlets that also targeted Asians. For instance, the New York Times, which is a large newspaper outlet, had racist content that included racist language. An example cited from the New York Times stated “we have four million of the degraded negroes in the south…. And if there were to be a flood tide of Chinese population, which is a population befouled with social vices, with no knowledge of appreciation of free institution or constitutional liberty, heathenish souls and heathenish propensities, we should be prepared to bid farewell to republicanism” (Takaki, 1989). Identically, even cartoons portrayed Asians negatively and as crazy beings. Furthermore, political parties also discriminated against Asians. As stated by Shim (1998), there were laws not only restricting Chinese Asian Americans, but also pushing them out of the U.S. An example is the Asian Exclusion League (AEL), which was formed in 1905 to prohibit further immigration of Asian into United States (Takaki 1989). Given these points, during the mid-1800 to 1900’s, many Asian immigrants experienced hostility and discrimination.
Asians were also seen as “the other”, which is a term coined by Edward Said and often associate Asians with negative connotations (Said, 1978). It is important to recognize that Orientalism was created by Europeans, which are the West’s perspective about the East. For this reason, Orientalism can shed light on how stereotypes are formed and the relationship among the West and the East. As Rizvi and Lingard (2006) indicated, “Orientalism can be seen as a system of representation, a discourse framed by political forces through which the West sought to understand and controlled its colonized populations.” Under the concept of orientalism, Asians are also seen as exotic and not belonging to the dominant group, which is Western culture, and the East is seen as inferior, which is displayed in many media like news, televisions, and movies.
The norm of the NBA consists of White and African American players, therefore, when Chinese Americans emerge in the media, it is considered a huge media spectacle. To illustrate, by applying racial labels to “non-white” groups and stigmatizing and exploiting the “other”, that is a way to preserve the value of whiteness, and this form of racial labelling is displayed throughout sports broadcasting among players from minorities (Lipsitz, 1998). Now, the question is what is “whiteness”?
Whiteness is directly linked to the social position of power that affords, those perceived as white, with invisible privileges unavailable to other bodies (Hylton and Lawrence, 2015). Even though race and ethnicity are socially constructed by society, in many forms of media, from sitcoms to movies to cartoons and even sports’ media, they all reinforce the ideology of the power of whiteness. In addition, the power of whiteness depends not only on white hegemony over separate racialized groups, but it also manipulates racial outsiders to fight against one another to compete for white approval at the expense of other racialized populations (Lipsitz, 1998). In short, privileges of whiteness emerged through how individuals or groups are depicted in the media and negative depictions can cause harm.
Sports Media and Whiteness
“Normative visions of sports celebrities underpin White hegemony, thus making them ideal media texts for exploring the construction of Whiteness”—(McDoanld, 2010)
In sports media, whiteness is best understood as a set of unconscious rules that guide how we understand and view the body. Media narratives often associate white athletes with white masculinity, which is reproduced through sports media and the ideology of sport heroes. For instance, in hockey, white players are often depicted as big, physically, and constantly making comments about how they play despite their injuries, how they are intellectually and morally superior; they also give them the good guy teammate labels, and, lastly, they describe them as good family men.
In contrast, African American players are valued for their bodies rather than their minds (Poniatowski and Whiteside, 2012). In addition, commentators often mention the fathers of many of the players, suggesting a sort of hockey lineage. Examples are players, who were born into hockey families, where their fathers were once NHL, or Olympic players, for example, Gordie Howe and his sons, Mark and Marty Howe. As a result, anyone without this lineage, in this case, the non-white players which become and are seen as an intruder into the sport, never fully assimilate (Poniatowski and Whiteside, 2012). As can be seen, white athletes are heroes and all others must live up to these standards. Thus, this further marginalizes minorities in sports. Additionally, when players do live up to the standards, they will also be seen as a threat, which results in minority players constantly struggling for an identity.
“Concept and memories of experiences that are special to individuals help dictate how dominant ideas of the world come into being,” (Hall, 1997).
Given these points, stereotypes and stereotypical themes in the media have real consequences, and most media producers create storylines/ headlines that require subjective knowledge and they also portray it in ways that the dominant culture understands, which in this case are the Whites or the West. It is important that the audience does not passively observe what media images are suggesting, and journalists, broadcasters and editors should be critical and sensitive rather than being insensitive when writing or posting content related to certain ethnicities. There are severe consequences to stereotyping about race.
- Firstly, racializing Asian Americans limits diversity
- Secondly, using stereotypical language in the media enhances racism.
- Lastly, stereotypical traits should be limited and not associated with certain races nor should reproduction be allowed
The media’s image construction is symbolic and representative throughout society (Hall et al., 1996). In other words, the media exerts influence over the audiences’ understanding of the world, especially regarding unfamiliar topics. In that case, diversity is important when it comes to the construction of media images. Chimamanda Ngozi Adiche once spoke about the dangers of a single story, which in this case do not address diversity, what the audience is seeing is a single story that is being produced by the dominant culture of other races or ethnicities.
- Race and ethnicity are socially constructed concepts and are, therefore, fluid; accordingly, minority athletes should not be judged based on White standards.
- The problem of a single story in mainstream media is that the narrative of the White are superior, which result in constantly constructing images to reproduce White supremacy over others.
- Sports media’s use of language and media’s image construction should limit stereotypes and have a more realistic portrayal of other ethnic groups.
- Body and characteristic traits should not be central signifier of race
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