Friday, October 08, 2010

"Mommy, Are All Asians Good at Karate?"

Meltingpot Readers,

Help me out here. My older son takes karate. I thought he might be good at it because he's super flexible and has a head for memorizing routines. I also thought it might make him a little bit more disciplined with his self-control. So far he loves it. In a few weeks he'll be testing for his yellow belt. He takes karate at the local YMCA and his sensei is an older African-American woman who is like a 6th degree black belt. She rocks. She is the perfect blend of kick-ass and kind.

So, there's a young kid in the class who is mixed. His mom is Asian and his dad is White. This little boy just turned seven, has been taking karate for less than a year and is about to test for his green belt (that's two up from white) and will be competing in a major competition this weekend. And did I mention the child is just seven. He seriously measures only up to my knee cap yet he is by far the best -- and only Asian child -- in the class. Watching him do karate is truly amazing.

So I casually commented to the sensei, "wow, he's amazing isn't he," and her response. "He was born to do this." I didn't question her, nor condemn her for making what I thought was a kind of tasteless comment. I mean, what, because his mother is Asian he's got some natural gift for martial arts? Coming from a Black girl who can neither sing nor dance, I happen to know that this natural talent based on ethnic origin is a myth. Right?

So last night during karate class, I met the little boy's White father so I complimented him on his son's prowess. Not to mention this little boy is just too cute. I was asking the father how long his son had been studying karate, thinking perhaps he'd had previous training but he confirmed that his son had started the same time mine had. And then his dad said with no irony, "Hey, it's in his blood. He was born to do this." Really? Now the little guy's Asian mother was nearby and I was itching to ask her if she felt that she had passed on this genetic predisposition to be the next karate kid, but I felt that would have been just a little bit too deep for casual YMCA conversation.

Needless to say, my kids heard part of this conversation and they honestly want to know. Are all Asian people good at karate? Obviously not, but what if the kid's own parents are saying this.

And here's my true confession. Even though I'm a horrible dancer, I will admit, that when I hear the beat of African drums, I swear on my grandma's cold dead body that there is a spirit force that moves within me. I cannot be still when I hear them. I cannot stop my body from moving in ways I've never been taught. I feel something that feels like instinct. It feels natural.

What do you think dear readers? Without stirring up a pot of racist rhetoric, can we discuss the possibility that certain ethnic groups are predisposed to excel or even just catch on to certain things due to their heritage? This is a slippery slope that dips into dangerous territory, but when we're talking karate and disco dancing, can we just talk?

Is there something you're good at that you attribute to your heritage? You can be honest and anonymous here, so let's talk.

I'm so totally listening.



Teresa said...

Hmmm. I "heard" this differently than you did. When someone appears to be naturally good at something the "it's in his/her blood" or "born to do this" comment is almost a cliche'. I don't take it literally (I'm not thinking DNA...I'm thinking "really talented"). I didn't assume "because he's Asian"--particularly not when it's his own (white) father speaking. (And hey, do we know? Maybe the dad is a black belt himself.) Perhaps I need to think harder when I hear these types of statements.

Anonymous said...

I also heard this differently. I often say that Venus and Serena were "born to play tennis," but that refers not to their ethnicity or race but to the particular combination of athleticism, drive and psychological mettle with which they were blessed.

Andromeda Jazmon said...

LOL when I hear African drums I need to move too and I am lily white. I think that little boy just has athletic genes and a whole lot of environmental/social support leaning toward karate. Maybe his dad is a black belt?

FWIW I happen to know plenty of Asians that are not good at karate, and some are not too smart either. It takes all kinds.

Professor Tharps said...

Maybe you need to 'think harder' or maybe I do? Thanks for the other option.

See above. Point def. well taken

LOL with you my sister!!!

ieishah said...

I agree with Teresa and Anonymous that perhaps they meant he was born to do this, bot that he was born to do it because he's Asian and ALL Asians are born to do it. However, that was my SECOND thought. When confronted by these things I always think, *maybe* ther's another way to take this....

On another note (no pun), YOU CAN'T SING?? :-p

Bernadette said...

Thanks for this post, Lori. As the mother of an African American boy who is a great dancer, I think about this a lot. I sometimes want him to tone it down and not be the one brown kid in the room who is breaking it down.

I think his skill is hereditary (ahem, I have some dancing skills), but I know there are black people who can't dance.

It's so much more complex than our cultural heritage - it's our environment growing up, our parents abilities, our body types.