Commentary

(M)athlete

Rowing, something that I consider to be a fundamental part of my identity, is a predominantly white sport in which few Asians participate. Over the summer, I attended multiple rowing camps. When I arrived at the airport and sought out the camp representatives before each of these camps, they did not readily identify me as a rower. While every other adolescent who approached the camp van was met with enthusiastic welcomes, I received puzzled looks and doubtful questions. Asians face the flip side of the prejudice discussed in the article “Black, Athletic, Articulate” published in the February 28 issue of The Phillipian. Jumaane Ford ’16, Benny Ogando ’15 and Kailash Sundaram ’15 examined the pressure for African-American males to “leap high, dunk down and tackle hard.” The common expectation is that African-American males value athletics over academics. They are assumed to be athletes, not intellectuals, and are pushed to fit these labels. The stereotypical Asian, on the contrary, is viewed as weak, awkward and athletically inept, and in many Asian cultures, academic performance is favored over athletic ability. This narrow-minded perception means that Asian athletes are frequently overlooked, misjudged and dismissed, and often must work harder to prove themselves in their athletic pursuits. This is a common experience even for professional Asian athletes. Jeremy Lin, for example, a Chinese-American basketball star, is known for his quick rise to fame in 2012 as the New York Knicks’ point guard. What resulted was a “Linsanity” craze, as fans were amazed by Lin’s talent, highlighting the fact that a successful Asian athlete is considered unusual or unfamiliar. The more common image of Asians as “skinny nerds,” rather than as athletes, leads to the belief that all Asians are exclusively focused on academics and, more specifically, on math or science. For many, the label of “mathlete” comes to mind immediately. I, and many other Asians, do not fit these offensive and misguided stereotypes. Assumptions about Asians and athleticism, however, do not come exclusively from non-Asians. I attended several math camps where the majority of students were Asian. Because I am an athlete, these students underestimated my intelligence. Many of them viewed athletics as a distraction and believed that only those who lacked intelligence played sports. In their minds, I could not be both an athlete and a “mathlete.” Strong performance in academics and athletics are not mutually exclusive. Moreover, the automatic categorization of people is erroneous and harmful. Automatically applying prejudiced, stereotypical labels creates disadvantages. Individuals should not have their interests defined by their race; people are more complex than we often give them credit for. Particularly in a community as diverse as Andover, we must be wary of cultural stereotyping. Telling individuals that they must be good or bad at something simply because of their race or ethnicity is likely to have an immensely negative impact on that individual’s performance in all areas. We must also actively prevent ourselves from assuming that a stereotype is an accurate depiction of an individual’s character, even if such assumptions are unintentional.