A blog about race: is J-League accepted, and why is an all-white league not acceptable?

A blog about race: is J-League accepted, and why is an all-white league not acceptable?

Posted on Tuesday, April 5, 2011

This weekend, a friend invited Quang and me to a basketball game he was coaching. The league is called J-League, and it’s a national league that only allows participants who are at least 1/8th Asian. The players in this tournament were 8th grade girls, and they were fierce. They were so fast, energetic, confident, hitting 3s, driving layups… It made me feel an inexplicable pride to watch these girls who were Chinese, Vietnamese, Philipino, Samoan, Japanese, Korean... playing their hearts out. And I say inexplicable because I can’t really explain it. It’s just… not something you see every day. It’s hard enough to find an Asian basketball player, let alone teams of them, duking it out. And girls!

Which brought me to a discussion about how “right” it was that there was even such thing as a J-League. The J-League is a private organization, so they can pretty much do whatever they want. But in the larger discussion of race in America, if a white person were to create a league for only white people, it would more likely be construed as racist. In fact, exactly that happened.

So why is it more “okay” for orgs like J-League to exist and be celebrated?

Some people say it’s not okay. That’s it’s just as racist to have a league that excludes whites or any race for that matter, as it is for a white organization to exclude race. There are people who also argue that Asians are no longer a minority, and so don’t enjoy the same “right to complain” as say Hispanics or blacks (though the last time I checked, whites still make up almost 80% of the population in America, while Asians are barely at 5%). That whites “don’t do that anymore,” when examples of past discrimination and segregation are brought up. I find it hard to argue against this, even though in my gut I know this reasoning is not sound.

So I start at the beginning: why is it okay for J-League to exist, but the white guy who tried to start an all-white basketball league gets slammed? Why is the reaction to this all-white team so putrid amongst whites that cities have even decried this man for such a racist attitude, while my boyfriend and I sit in the stands of the girls’ J-League game cheering our lungs out and feeling pride and solidarity?

We can take a look at history, and see that there is a history of white oppressors in America to almost any race – white people taking advantage of their position to humiliate, discriminate against, and put at a disadvantage people who, for no reason other than their color, have no choice but to take lower positions. And I believe that for some, these historic positions of disadvantage are cause for the disadvantage we see today in underrepresented minorities.

And it is true that today, white people look back on their historic racism with horror, now that (most) of them “know better,” and proceed to take certain action to show that they are no longer like that. Even tiptoeing around racist issues, and claiming colorblindness in an effort to move forward from the spectre of that past.

So is it this history, then, that makes it so taboo to form white-only groups? While the “rest of us nonwhites” are free to celebrate our race in exclusive groups? Is it why when we call a white person racist, they take deep offense; yet when a black person or Indian person is called racist, they can laugh it off like you’re not being serious. Is it like what Chris Rock said: how a fat person can make fun of a skinny person, but when a skinny person makes fun of a fat person, it’s just mean?

I intend to ask more questions than answer them, since I am exploring this topic myself. But to look at this topic in another light, we can look at culture and assimilation. It’s true that we are “all immigrants,” but if you look at the path that every different race took to get here, you can say that though we are “all immigrants,” we didn’t immigrate here in the same way, nor has our originating culture been preserved to the same extent. When we think “American,” some of us think of a melting pot – a mixture of races. But when people say “Americanized,” what does that really mean? Why would an “American,” born and raised, need to be “Americanized,” which implies a transformation of some sort.

Americanized usually refers to someone of a race whose cultural identification has moved away from their culture of origin, and closer to, well, an American’s. And I’m not saying that whites can’t be Americanized – European or South African (ie., Mean Girl?) whites as an example, living in America and adapting to American culture can be said to be Americanized. And I’m not saying that nonwhites are all Americanized – many African Americans who identify their originating culture to be rooted in America may not call themselves Americanized. I know many Asians that would call themselves “Americanized,” even if they were 4th or 5th generation American.

So then what is it to be “Americanized”? Does it mean to enter into a culture that is a happy land of many races, and a culture all its own that transcends color? But that would be a Utopia. Look no further than the dominant language: English, and it becomes clear that Americanized, to some extent, means to participate in a culture that is mainly influenced by American white culture.

In many non-American cultures, to become “Americanized,” is to lose touch with one’s roots. This is another argument that it’s okay for a J-League to exist. For those of us who are not white, who have distinctly non-white cultures in our background, we are in more jeopardy of losing touch with our roots because we are living in a country whose main cultural influences are predominantly white.

To embrace being American is not a bad thing, after all many of us were born here and love it here, and find much of our identity here. But it is a bad thing to not have an opportunity to know and celebrate one’s roots. In my case, to look Chinese and know only a fraction of what I feel I should know about Chinese culture. I personally think that everyone in America who feels robbed of their roots, who have been made, unwittingly, stranger to their own heritage because of a lack of emphasis on cultural enrichment in this Americanized society, has been done a disservice. By whom, I don’t know. Perhaps by mainstream America, those who talk of a melting pot society but refuse to acknowledge the individuals that comprise it and respect where everyone came from. Perhaps by parents who are so focused on making their child successful, an education on heritage is less important than learning English without an accent.

I guess in the end, my own personal story comes with a bit of a void. I don’t know that I have enough of a grasp on my own roots to satisfy my own sense of belonging in Chinese culture; I know that I recognize my Americanization yet I feel that doesn’t mean I’m more or less Chinese.

Maybe that's why I encourage orgs like J-League, and see them as a noble attempt to preserve cultural continuity. It's difficult to argue for or against what it is we're protecting or preserving with exclusive groups like these, since it seems like such an intangible aspect of our identities and identities by themselves are complicated topics enough. But when I see cultural minorities coming together in celebration of a shared cultural history in the face of their Americanization, I can’t help but think that there’s still a chance for me to reconnect with my cultural heritage, even in America.

I probably seemed like I spoke for people other than myself, so feel free to clarify/agree/disagree.