Changing Hawaii

By Diane Yukihiro Chang

Friday, May 2, 1997

Minorities aren’t
out of the Woods yet

WHILE in Missouri on a journalism fellowship program several years ago, I met some of the locals at an outdoor barbecue beneath the magnolia trees. One woman, apparently trying to break the ice with friendly chit-chat about the professional tennis circuit, remarked, "I heard your Michael Chang played very well today."

"My Michael Chang?" I repeated dumbly, until the obvious implication made me blush in embarrassment, more on her behalf than mine.

That lady probably meant no harm in assuming that 1) since we shared the same surname, Mike and I were both Chinese and possibly related, and 2) because he was Asian, I must have been his number one fan.

In both cases, she was wrong.

Why is it that I would never say to any Southern Caucasian, "I understand your Mickey Mantle is in the Baseball Hall of Fame." Why haven't I told every black person I meet, "Goodness, your Dennis Rodman is totally off the wall."

Because when you are a non-white in the U.S., you have a whole different perspective of sports, politics, business, entertainment and just about everything else there is in comparison to the white majority.

For example, take all this excitement over Tiger Woods winning the Masters at the Augusta National last month. It certainly is a big deal, but not because of what everybody is fawning over — namely, that he is a minority.

Woods deserves the adulation and awe because, at 21, he is the youngest competitor ever to win the coveted green jacket. He kicked the okole of more experienced golfers with decades of experience. All the while, he is incredibly humble, congenial and spends countless hours inspiring youngsters to become interested in the game.

But that certainly isn't what sports commentators and media mavens are harping on in their coverage.

Instead, they always take great pains to point out that Woods is the first "minority" to win a major, which he wasn't. Lee Trevino was.

By doing so, these mostly white male sports announcers and pundits seem to be patting the heads of all minorities, women included, who are striving for recognition in their respective fields of endeavor.

Here's the sentiment being conveyed: Wow, Tiger Woods dominated a tournament usually won by a white guy. What an unbelievable achievement. This proves once and for all that this is a great land of opportunity for every ethnicity. God bless America.

The overreaction is telling. Don't humor us.

IT'S the same mindset demonstrated by Fuzzy "The Jokester" Zoeller, awestruck by the furor generated after he publicly admonished Woods not to serve fried chicken, collard greens or whatever the hell "those people" eat at next year's shindig. "I was just kidding," was his response.

It's why the editors of the National Review don't think it's racist to depict Bill, Hillary and Al on the publication's cover with slanted eyes, buck teeth and coolie hats to make a point about Asian money and the White House. "Only Democrats have a problem with it," they argue.

It's why what we call the "haole" in Hawaii never differentiate themselves as Irish Americans or German Americans when introducing themselves, because they are simply Americans, period. Well, so am I and everyone else who was born and raised in this country — including Michael Chang.

Diane Yukihiro Chang's column runs Monday and Friday.
She can be reached by phone at 525-8607, via e-mail at, or by fax at 523-7863.

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