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First and foremost, apologies to anyone who was expecting a newsletter last week. Lulu was in the process of moving and needed extra time to make sure this newsletter was in a place to share. As this is a pro bono project and most of the team of contributors have full-time commitments, the newsletter may occasionally be released off schedule. We will try as hard as possible to maintain the biweekly schedule going forward.

We'd also like to mention that this is the last letter covering Olympics-related topics and we recognize that they have been particularly heavy on Japanese content. The last two were intended to address the postponed Summer Olympics taking place in Tokyo. The next ones will discuss a wider range of cultures and topics. Thank you for reading!

August 19, 2020 · Curated by Lulu Yao Gioiello, edited by Ariana King

Already a household name at 22 years old, Naomi Osaka is not only the first Asian player to reach the top of the charts in tennis, she is also currently the top paid tennis player in the world, passing Serena Williams in endorsements and other sports-related money-making contracts. Osaka's youth and humble personality have been celebrated and her mixed heritage has become a topic of discussion beyond the sports world. Both Japanese and Americans have scrambled to claim her successes for themselves. Yet, the conversation around Osaka has also unearthed racism and bias in the countries she calls home. Japanese noodle company Nissin came under fire for essentially erasing her Haitian heritage in an animated commercial, depicting her with lighter skin and straighter hair. The ad was eventually pulled after criticism, and an apology was publicly made.

Japan was not the only nation to whitewash depictions of Osaka. Directly after the breakthrough win against Serena Williams, Australia's Herald Sun released this controversial cartoon depicting Williams' frustration with the umpire during her match against Osaka. Viewers were divided on whether or not the offensive depiction of Williams crossed the line into racist territory, but were less ambiguous about the whitewashing of Osaka, who is illustrated with straight blonde hair and light skin. Despite the backlash, neither the Herald Sun nor the cartoonist, Mark Knight apologized. Instead, the paper published a cover essentially criticizing the public for being too sensitive.

In a Medium post, Victoria Voloumanos wrote, "Ironically, when reporters do recognize Osaka is Japanese, they tend to erase her Haitian identity. In an interview following her quarterfinal win at the 2018 US Open, Osaka was asked by a reporter to 'talk about [her] relationship with Japanese culture and U.S. culture,' and was asked, 'How did both cultures make you who you are?'”

Osaka made sure to acknowledge her mixed race identity, answering,

“My dad’s Haitian, so I grew up in a Haitian household in New York. I lived with my grandma. And my mom’s Japanese, and I grew up with the Japanese culture, too. And if you’re saying American, I guess because I lived in America, I also have that, too.”

The complication lies in others not being able to understand or accept her. Whether it’s preconceived notions or blatant policing, this inability or the ignorance of other people are what complicate Osaka’s identity. In fact, identity crises of a mixed-race person generally stem from external sources. It’s constantly being rejected and told you are not enough or you just are not that causes insecurity and complications."

Most mixed-race and diasporic individuals across the globe can relate to the struggle of having one foot in each door, of constantly feeling the need to validate oneself through language, taste or life decisions in order to validate one's identity. In sports, where success and loss is literally recorded, celebrated and publicized, it is incredibly clear how fluid that identity can be, as fans readily claim or reject a mixed-race individual.

Nationalities and Sports

In sports that have national teams, nationality is a sticky subject. Many of the top players in European and American teams are immigrants or dual citizens. Some of these players would face serious discrimination if not for (and even in spite of) their athletic abilities, and many of the countries whose teams are filled with immigrant players have strict immigration policies in place. As we discussed in our last newsletter, Olympic podium athletes have historically returned to prejudiced hometowns and have often faced dismal work opportunities because of their race.

While many governments across the globe allow individuals who hold multiple citizenships to retain them at their discretion, the Japanese government (loosely) enforces a law requiring Japanese citizens to renounce additional nationalities by their 22nd birthday — individuals can only be Japanese and Japanese alone or must give up their claim to citizenship. Last year Osaka chose to forgo her U.S. citizenship in part, to attend the now-postponed summer Olympics as a representative under the Japanese flag. Born in Japan but brought up in the U.S. to a Haitian father and Japanese mother, Osaka's decision came as a surprise for many. Some have even questioned her "Japanese-ness," criticizing her for not speaking fluent Japanese or preferring to answer interviews in English.

According to a Newsweek article on her decision, other athletes have also swapped nationalities to represent a part of their heritage. Jazmine Fenlator-Victorian competed in the 2014 Olympics in Sochi as a member of the U.S. bobsled team. In the following year, Fenlator-Victorian switched her allegiance to Jamaica in the hopes of attracting more females in the country to bobsledding.

It's critical that "little girls and little boys see someone that looks like them, talks like them, has the same culture as them, has crazy, curly hair and wears a natural, has brown skin, included in different things in this world," Fenlator-Victorian said at the 2018 Winter Olympics press conference." In response to the Newsweek article, a commenter wrote, "It's obvious [Naomi Osaka] has no loyalty to America. Traitor, any of them are if they decide to represent a country they do not live in. Should be considered enemies of the our country, it may be games this time around but when it comes to war.... then where do their loyalties lie???" In this comment lies a criticism that many mixed race athletes (and other successful public figures) have faced throughout the years. 

In a 2014 article in The New Republic article titled "Just How Good Would France Be if Every French-Born Arab Player Opted to Play for Les Bleus?" the author, , recalls a famous quote by the soccer player Karim Benzema, “If I score I’m French...if I don’t, I’m an Arab.” Alameddine goes on to write, "this is from a French-born son of French-born parents. What will it take for him to be fully French? Maybe if he scores two goals to win the Final."

The article also cites the 2010 World Cup, during which the French team boycotted games in support of their suspended French teammate of Martinique descent, Nicolas Anelka. Alameddine writes, "The newly appointed coach of the national team, Blanc, and the French Football Federation (FFF), decided that they should limit the number of African and Arab youngsters from entering the French soccer academies to only 30%. He was taped saying that those players did not share 'our culture, our history,' citing the world and European champion, Spain: 'The Spanish, they say, "We don't have a problem. We have no blacks."'"

Quote, Think, Read, Listen

Should Naomi Osaka Be A Japanese Or US Citizen?

While it should be said that only Naomi Osaka is entitled to make a decision about her citizenship, the YouTube series Asian Boss took to the streets of Tokyo to gauge public opinion about Osaka's nationality. In one particularly memorable response, an individual of Black and Japanese descent describes his experience of being a Japanese person with no access to a Japanese passport, thanks to a since-phased-out paternity law.

Watch the video here

If I score, I'm French. If I don't, I'm Arab. Why France Needs to Recognize It's Others

After winning the FIFA World Cup in 2018, some criticized the French government for taking credit for the win, as many of the team's players are Arab. The win came as anti-immigrant and right wing politicians are becoming an increasingly vocal faction in French politics. Author Zainab Bukhari wrote, "I feel sad when it comes to the people of France too, who do not hesitate to take to the streets when it comes to a football game, but do not feel inclined to do the same when it comes to protecting peace, social rights, public services, independence and freedom – which are all more important issues."

Read the article here

The Revolt of the Black Athlete

Sociologist and activist Harry Edwards invented a field of study, the sociology of sports, and provided the foundation for all its assertions; chief among them: that sports is a recapitulation of the power relationships in society and there can't exist a non-racist sports-industrial complex within the context of a racist society. In 1968, virtually alone, Edwards opposed the U.S. Olympic Committee, the political establishment, the mass media and was the chief organizer of The Olympic Project for Human Rights. He published the book The Revolt of The Black Athlete soon afterwards.

Read an interview from 1998 reflecting back on the 1968 protests

40 Million Slaves: The Rise, Fall, and Redemption of the Black Athlete

From Jackie Robinson to Muhammad Ali and Arthur Ashe, African American athletes have been at the center of modern culture, their on-the-field heroics admired and stratospheric earnings envied. But for all their money, fame, and achievement, says New York Times columnist William C. Rhoden, black athletes still find themselves on the periphery of true power in the multibillion-dollar industry their talent built. His book, Forty Million Dollar Slaves, addresses the history of slave athletes and their owners and how it has evolved and influenced Black athletes' relationship to power. 

Watch him speak about the book

  1. How do you identify with your heritage?
  2. What kind of assumptions do you make on others' heritage and their relationship to language?
  3. What kind of assumptions do you make about immigration laws in your country? Are you aware of the limitations and bans on specific groups of people throughout history?
  4. Do you give individuals living in Asia more slack for racist bias? Why? Is this valid?
  5. Do you think anime should be more diverse?

We are currently working to develop an online forum for discussion. In the meantime, we encourage you to share your responses to these questions, thoughts and feedback with We may request permission to post your response on social media.

A Little Joy – How An Algerian Couple Used Football To Help The Algerian Independence Movement

In 1958, Algerian couple Mohamed Maouche, a footballer and his fiancé Khadidja Maouche set off to Paris for a secret mission disguised as their honeymoon. Their mission was to persuade Algerian-born footballers to secretly abandon their top-flight French clubs to play for a team set up by FLN. Their impassioned recruit eventually led to an Algerian football team that toured the world winning not only games but awareness of the battle for Algerian independence against the French. The Algerian team is one of the first sports teams built out of anti-colonial protest.

Learn more about their story
Also Side Note – Naomi's IG is OG

In a recent interview with The New York Post, Naomi Osaka said, “There will always be trolls but I usually take their negativity with a grain of salt because people tend to act differently when they have the protection of a screen and keyboard versus when they’re in person,” Osaka says. “I usually respond with humor because you can’t take things personally. There will always be people who try to bring you down but you just have to keep your chin up and stay focused.”

On researching Osaka for this newsletter, I came to love her 1.1M strong Instagram account. Osaka is refreshingly humorous, unapologetic and not changing for anyone. 

Go do some good lighthearted Instagram stalking
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