Thursday, August 27, 2015

Stanley I. Thangaraj's "Desi Hoop Dreams"

Stanley I. Thangaraj is Assistant Professor of Anthropology at City College of New York.

He applied the “Page 99 Test” to his new book, Desi Hoop Dreams: Pickup Basketball and the Making of Asian American Masculinity, and reported the following:
Sanjeet’s tattoo of the three swords with a shield engulfed in fire and Krush’s hyper-muscular tattoo of Hanuman become a few of the ways in which South Asian American men claim cultural citizenship while playing into “basketball cool.” We see Sanjeet and some other Sikh North American players with tattoos foregrounding Sikh masculinity in opposition to Hindu, Muslim, and Other masculinities. [Page 99, inset below left; click to enlarge.] Through tattoos, the young men engage in the mainstream U.S. politics of (basketball) cool that involves inking one’s body, but doing it in a way in which South Asian sensibilities and histories are realized. Similarly, the creation of team names plays both into their pride for their cities and underlining their ethnic histories. While South Asian Americans men might identify as same, this example of the tattoo and team names demonstrates how difference operates identity formation rather than equivalence. Furthermore, we see how the sporting court is always a site of difference where teams and individuals distinguish each other through wins and losses.

One of the dominant threads connecting all of the chapters and sections in the book is this idea of difference. Instead of stressing an artificial uniformity and singularity to South Asian America, Desi Hoop Dreams examines how various South Asian American communities differentially claim American-ness and national belonging. In fact, we see how the negotiation of American “belonging” involves always producing problematic politics of inclusion and exclusion. As these desi basketball players challenge mainstream racializations of them as either “terrorists” or “nerds,” they ironically invoke similar conservative categories of race, masculinity, sexuality, and class to perform renditions of athletic masculinity that can be read as “man enough.”

Although these young men are inverting the problematic gendered racialization of themselves, desi basketball players fit into the language of basketball ability and basketball cool by excluding various communities. By excluding or marginalizing black athletes, queer masculinity, lower-class desis, and women from the basketball court, they give substance to the very category of masculinity that is also middle-class, respectable, heterosexual, male-able-bodied, and homophobic. Thus, to emphasize the power of masculinity, one must exclude those very communities that are seen as oppositional and foundational to masculinity. We see how pleasures of sport are policed, regulated, and yet there are spaces to challenge these same racial, gendered, classed, and sexualized hierarchies. In the process, we have a basketball window into how the nation and diaspora are contentious, political, and policed spaces.
Learn more about Desi Hoop Dreams at the NYU Press website.

--Marshal Zeringue