US Olympic Skaters: American Doesn't Mean White, Or Does It?

3 years ago

When I first showed my mother in law a picture of my family she said, "So your father's American and your mother's Filipino."

"Well, both my parents are American citizens but yes, my father's Polish-American and my mother's Filipino-American."

In the Spanish language, the place where you're born dictates where you're from.  Based on this criterion, my father is American and my mother is Filipino. However what my mother-in-law was referring to was not just place of birth, but race. Unfortunately, to much of the world the word American is synonymous with White. Being a multi-cultural American, I do my best to debunk this myth. As much as I don't agree with this definition, I recognize that it's an image we as a country promote actively and passively.


L- Mirai Nagasu, Credit Image: Yutaka/AFLO/; R- Ashley Wagner, Credit Image: Yusuke Nakanishi/AFLO/


Recently, U.S. Figure Skating made the decision to endorse Ashley Wagner, a German-born blond hair blue eyed figure skater over Mirai Nagasu, an American-born Asian-American, to represent the U.S at the Olympics in Russia. Despite giving a better performance at the US free skate Championship, the USFS claims Nagasu has not been performed well as consistently as Wagner and awarded Wagner the Olympic spot. Perhaps this is true. Personally, I don't know enough about figure skating to argue otherwise. What's more, I tend to be weary of those who are quick to play the race card because it's rarely ever that simple.

However, after reading Jeff Yang's article "Mirai Nagasu, Ashley Wagner and the Myth of the Golden Girl" in the Wall Street Journal's Speakeasy, it's apparent that this is not the first time the USFS has raised suspicions about their practices. For every Kwan and Yamaguchi, it's uncertain how many more Asian-Americans there are who have been disenfranchised. As a person who's proud of America's melting pot heritage, it breaks my heart to know that such obstacles still exist for my generation. And really, how can I dispute associating White and American when my own country is not only responsible for it, it perpetuates it?

Not only do we Americans promote this image through the media abroad, but at home via wordplay. This Christmas, several well-known publications received criticism for describing the film Best Man Holiday as "Black", or to be more "politically correct" African-American. While I wouldn't choose to describe this movie as "Black", part of me understands why someone might. Political correctness is fluid and thus constantly evolving. What's acceptable today may be unacceptable tomorrow. Like any other trend, these word fashions take time to reach the masses and some they may never reach at all. After all, the Midwest is still calling soda 'pop' ;-) Joking aside, during this lag in language one thing is certain, we will unknowingly and unintentionally offend people. So at the risk of inviting trolls and hate mail, may I propose, perhaps these writers didn't know any better?

Although the response has been negative, it's important to see the positive. Critical discourse is a good thing. It makes us question why we think as we do and if we should continue doing so. Regardless of whether we acknowledge it, these trends shape our language and in turn our thinking. Admittedly, it's much easier to admit this when you're not the person being criticized. Even if the writers don't learn or grow from this experience, I hope that others have.

Just as it's no longer acceptable to call someone Oriental, maybe it's time we stop using these adjectives to unnecessarily describe people or things. We don't affix the words White or Jewish to other films, so why would we do it for "Black" to these films? From my point of view, Best Man Holiday was a great holiday film, period.

Of course, this becomes problematic because it raises the question-when, if ever, is it appropriate to use these words as adjectives? Further complicating this issue, these ideas are not universal. In fact, much of what's considered politically correct is cultural. The first time my boss told me he liked "Black music," I nearly fell out of my chair. Whereas saying Black music could get you beat up in some parts of the U.S, in England they wouldn't bat an eye. To be sure, there is no easy answer and wherever you stand on the issue there will always be someone standing on the other side ready to debate. So there you go. Bring it.

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