Racial Issue in the U.S Open Tennis

Updated December 28, 2021

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Racial Issue in the U.S Open Tennis essay

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It has been almost a century and a half since the end of slavery in America. Yet, our media still politically inflict racism and stereotypes into sports. African American athletes are still placed into stereotype categories as a matter of villain and victim, good and bad, or black and white. Naomi Osaka, our most recent champion in the U.S Open tennis has been framed by our society in a way that strips Osaka of her identity and of totality of her humanity.

Osaka’s unique mixed heritage raises the issue of racial identity and challenges the public’s attitudes about identity in a homogeneous and heterogeneous culture. Winning the U.S Open Tennis and becoming a champion should have been a moment of triumph for this young athlete, instead the public focused on her race rather than her accomplishments. To understand the underlying issues, let’s first look at Osaka’s historic journey to the U.S Open, to better understand how she identifies herself in a society that is still impulsively trying to “white-wash” African American athletes. Naomi Osaka was born in Osaka Japan in 1997.

Her father Leonard Francois is Haitian and her mother, Tamaki Osaka is Japanese. It wouldn’t be until she turned 3 that her family would move to the U.S for better opportunity. Even though Naomi was raised in America, she has mentioned in interviews that her upbringing was influenced by both Japanese and Haitian culture (Washington post, 2018). Her father who played little tennis in his days and would be the coach that shapes Osaka into the tennis star she is today. Leonard Francois emulated Richard William’s Coaching style after watching the William sisters perform in 1999 (Burke, 2018).

Francois’ training plan include strict training and instructional learning through books and DVDs. He even had his girls hit over a thousand balls for practice each day. Osaka’s victory in the 2018 U.S Open made her Japan’s first Grand Slam champion and she is also believed to the the first Grand Slam champion of Haitian descent. The headlines that frames Osaka as the first Japanese woman to win the championship made some fans feel like her black identity was being erased. What is interesting is social media only focuses on her Japanese heritage but makes no comments about her Haitian blood. So how does this young mixed athlete identify herself in a society that cares so much about race?

Osaka’s victory in the U.S Open raises concern of what it means to be Japanese. Japan praises Osaka in her victory and introduced Osaka as a “brand ambassador” for Nissan which is a Japanese car maker. Much like past tennis star Ora Washington who also was framed by race, Naomi has been adamant about embracing both her Asian and black hertitages, noting that while she represents Japan in sporting events, she doesn’t identifiy soley as Japanese but proudly represents her Haitian side as well (Shimbun, 2018).

Generally speaking, Japanese are still defined as those who are born from both a Japanese father and mother, who speak perfect Japanese and act like Japanese. By this definition, Naomi falls a bit short of being “Japanese” because on one hand her father is not of Japanese descent and the other hand Osaka has stated she can understand the language but does not speak any of it. Osaka does not see herself as three separate mixes (Japanese, Haitian and American), instead refers to herself as just who she is, “this is just me” essentially.

However, under Japanese law, Naomi who’s 20, will have to decide on her nationality before she turns 22 (associated press, 2018), because she cannot legally hold two passports. Japan’s strict one-passport rule could risk leading to brain drain of great intellectuals and talents out of Japan. Naomi’s case of racial identify can provide Japanese with narrow conception of ‘Japanese-ness’ with an opportunity to rethink what it means to be Japanese.

Racial Issue in the U.S Open Tennis essay

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Racial Issue in the U.S Open Tennis. (2021, Dec 28). Retrieved from https://samploon.com/racial-issue-in-the-u-s-open-tennis/


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