Asian American Olympians are often framed by a “strict” parenting narrative. Why is it harmful.
Members of the American team are in the spotlight at every Olympics, but when it comes to covering Asian American athletes, experts say the media is often insufficient, giving them little of size.
The researchers pointed out that Asian representation among Olympians has grown over the years, but stories and headlines about Asian American athletes have remained stagnant, continuing to revolve around the athletes’ “strict” parents, the sacrifice of immigrants and discipline. While these may be critical elements in the lives of Olympians, experts say the simultaneous erasure of other aspects, like passion and individuality, has led to a long and dangerous history of refusing to exemplify. Asian Americans as full human beings, even in the elite realm. sports.
“If you start digging under that language and looking at the larger history, the longer portrayal of Asian Americans, even in these positive iterations talking about Asian American Olympians, it still relies on that language. of yellow peril and model minority,” said Jennifer Ho, president of the Association for Asian American Studies. “It’s been repurposed and repackaged, but it still references Asian Americans as part of a wider community.”
The media has historically relied on many of the same narratives, experts say. More than 20 years ago, Michelle Kwan’s father, Danny Kwan, was often portrayed as the central character, requiring figure behind his success. decades laterVincent Zhou’The parents of s were framed in a similar way – those who made sacrifices so that their son could compete. In fact, the phrase “family sacrifice” has been attached to nearly every Asian American Olympian, including Alex and Maia Shibutani, mirai nagasu and snowboarder Chloe Kim. The Achievements of a Snowboarding Teammate Shaun Whitehowever, have long been attributed to his pure love of the sport.
Ho noted that the Olympians’ close relationships with parents and other characters in their lives should be taken “at face value,” but pointed out that the media constantly elevates these narratives over others for a reason. The focus on immigrant stories helps keep Asian Americans as still “new” to the United States, regardless of how long they’ve established communities, Ho said.
“With the constant storytelling, especially in Chloe Kim with her dad, which … I don’t want to take away the reality of that relationship either,” Ho said. scripts that already exist.”
Tina Chen, a history professor at the University of Manitoba and a member of Skate Canada, the country’s governing body for figure skating, also said the media often reinforces a distance between Asian Americans and the general public. American in general. Kwan’s former coach Frank Carroll was even quoted as saying, “Asian skaters learn discipline from day one.” This philosophy is “different from that of American children who are taught, ‘Oh, my God! You have the right to defend whatever you think! “, did he declare.
“There’s this idea that there’s something different and it’s not American enough that we want to attribute it to something different,” Chen said. “Ultimately what we’re saying is that we don’t recognize Asian Americans as full citizens. So we’re still looking for a point of difference between them and the so-called ordinary American.
Chen noted that these collective and uniform depictions also imagine Asian American bodies as sources of hard work, which are overly disciplined and no longer have their unique emotions. According to media reports, Asian Americans are “ready to always work hard, and people will always make them work hard,” Chen said.
“There’s a comfort in the idea that you can really discipline certain people, and they’ll do what you want them to do,” she explained.
Ho explained that the descriptions are particularly harmful when examined in the context of the model minority myth. Much of the coverage continues to elevate a “good immigrant” narrative with Olympic immigrant parents. The trope can potentially be used to put Asian Americans in contention with athletes from other marginalized groups, she said. And over time, mainstream society becomes comfortable with these narratives because, ultimately, it’s “the story of assimilation,” Chen said.
“It’s the Asians who follow the rules and try to be the best within the framework they’ve been given, and they should be grateful for that,” she explained.
The realities surrounding Olympians and the factors that contribute to their greatness often tell a different story than what is highlighted on our television screens. The tendency to choose the stories of “strict Asian parents” is particularly apparent when she is at the rink with Olympic athletes, Erica Rand, author of “Red nails, black skates: gender, money and fun on and off the ice,” noted.
“This ‘other’ culture, where parents work their kids especially hard and they train like robots or whatever – that description is unfair. There are ways we don’t necessarily see white skaters talking about it” , said Rand. “If you go to an ice rink and watch a practice, you could see the diversity of parents who are high or not, who are demanding or not, who emphasize the joy of their skaters in skating or not, who are mean or not. That covers a wide range of people, but you don’t see these parents being talked about in the same way.
Zhou himself had previously said that it “takes a whole village” to raise an Olympian, regardless of background. It would be remiss to ignore the personal love and passion he and other elite athletes have for their sport, he added. The trope ultimately takes the agency away from the athletes themselves, and he said, “We really don’t want to do it, we’re not going to do it.”
“While people might say, ‘This person’s parents made them do this,’ … when we’re on the ice, we’re the only people in control of our bodies and our minds,” Zhou said.
To ensure more humanizing coverage, experts say it is not enough to increase staff diversity in newsrooms. Lived experience, while essential to accounting for marginalized communities, is further enhanced by racial literacy, they said.
“There has been so much work and media coverage on anti-Asian racism,” Chen said. “But somehow that doesn’t inform us when we talk about sports. I think we have to ask ourselves, “Are we complicit in this? ‘How do we expect people to tell these stories?’