Claremont, Calif. (June 8, 2012) — Kathleen S. Yep grew up hoping to be the first female basketball player in the NBA. Although the Pitzer College Associate Professor of Asian American Studies stands only 5 feet 5 inches tall, she believed in the American ideal that anyone can succeed with enough effort and determination.
Yep’s recent article, “Peddling sport: liberal multiculturalism and the racial triangulation of blackness, Chineseness and Native American-ness in professional basketball,” examines the media’s depiction of professional basketball as a world where talented players, regardless of their race, can thrive if they work hard. Examining players ranging from professionals in the 1930s to New York Knicks guard Jeremy Lin today, Yep finds that the “media uses liberal multiculturalist discourse to manufacture the appearance of sport as post-racial and to strengthen white privilege.”
Published in a special issue of Ethnic and Racial Studies, a leading journal for the analysis of race, ethnicity and nationalism, the article combines Yep’s personal experience with her professional expertise. As a child, she shot hoops with her grandparents, who had played on segregated basketball teams in the 1930s in San Francisco’s Chinatown, and she went to the same high school as Lin, only the fourth Asian-American to play in the NBA. As a professor, she has researched social stratification, cultural politics and multiple issues surrounding race and gender.
“Race and gender are central organizing principles in our society that are often seen as by-products of other social processes such as capitalism,” said Yep, who is also the chair of the Intercollegiate Department of Asian American Studies at The Claremont Colleges. “Sports are an accessible and compelling way to mark how central racisms, heteronormativity and patriarchy are in society.”
Yep discusses how three players in the 2010 NBA summer league—NBA rookies John Wall and DeMarcus Cousins and the then-undrafted Lin—were depicted by the media.
“The constructions of athletes as hero, threat and novelty created a veneer of sport as post-racial while replicating racialized and gendered images that can be traced to the 1930s,” Yep concludes. “In this way, liberal multiculturalism and its use of racial triangulation encourage a collective remembering of meritocracy and social amnesia of white privilege.”
“Peddling sport: liberal multiculturalism and the racial triangulation of blackness, Chineseness and Native American-ness in professional basketball.” Ethnic and Racial Studies. Special Issue: Sport Matters: Politics, Identity and Culture