• I'm more than just a basketball guy (iStockphoto)Source: iStockphoto
As a minority, I resented being reduced to a bubble of perceived interests.
By
Lorenzo Encomienda

4 Aug 2020 - 9:21 AM  UPDATED 4 Aug 2020 - 9:21 AM

To my friends I'm known as the "basketball guy". I can hardly blame them. I've travelled the world for the game. I've made zines on it and due to a quirky Instagram project, practically every photo on my phone relates to basketball. As a Filipino, you're culturally primed to love the game. There's a New York Times article on "Why the Philippines Is a Hoops Haven". Nat Geo devoted a series documenting the Philippines' fascination for the game based off a book unpacking it. Like many other Filipinos I fit into that stereotype, so why do I feel so anxious about it?

During my teens, a Filipino friend asked if I wanted to check out a Blink 182 gig with him. When I hesitated, he scoffed, imploring me "to expand beyond R&B". I already had tickets to see them. In my 30s, a Chilean work colleague asked if I watched cricket. Upon saying no, he immediately responded, "You're Filo, I should've expected". As a minority, I resented being reduced to a bubble of perceived interests. It seemed like whatever path one chose, there was a statement. If you weren't being "typical", you could be accused of betraying your roots.

It seemed like whatever path one chose, there was a statement. If you weren't being "typical", you could be accused of betraying your roots.

A decade ago, there was a popular blog-turned NY Times bestseller called 'Stuff White People Like'. It listed and deconstructed a whole bunch of interests ascribed to "white people". The stereotypes were scathing but ultimately benign. It included things like Public Radio, Banksy and "Being the only white person around". I was drawn to many of the same interests but resented the implication I was "trying to be white". Interestingly the idea for the book came about when author Christian Lander was spit-balling with his Filipino friend about the tendencies of their peers. Really, it was an examination of who they were— liberal, upper middle class.

As a wrestling fan, I'm sympathetic to the idea of a "gimmick change”. That is, reinvigorating your stale persona by injecting a new identity and carving a new direction. In our youth, it might've been shifting music genres. Today, it’s taking up CrossFit or becoming a part-time vegan. Without cultural expectations, there isn't a machine to rage against. As someone who enjoys seeking and exploring subcultures, I often found myself the only brown person in many settings.

But these days, I’m finding that's less of the case.

There are several factors behind this broadening appeal of things: exposure, curiosity and active inclusion. The internet has sprouted industries which can instantly parachute us into culture. "Influencers" can introduce us to a scene, an "explainer" can get us up to speed and starter kits of all kinds can land on our doorstep via a single click.

In describing the challenge of adapting 1995's music nerd cult classic High Fidelity for the streaming audience today, Slate music critic Carl Wilson described how "elite cultural consumers were sampling widely across categories and creating more bespoke taste profiles—somebody might be an equal aficionado, for instance, of Asian art films, graphic novels, and WWE wrestling".

Don't get me wrong, my basketball shtick has been good to me. I've been able to build instant rapport with acquaintances over a shared love of the game.

Don't get me wrong, my basketball shtick has been good to me. I've been able to build instant rapport with acquaintances over a shared love of the game. I've noticed that the same mutual connections arise whenever I add new friends on Instagram. My buddy observed, "You realise what the connection is? We're nerds. People with a passion for things find each other". Adding further, "I have more connection with a nerd basketball fan than jock basketball fans". This was an epiphany. Being known as the basketball guy was a broad mislabelling all along, it was merely an expression of my nerdiness.

What did "acting white" signify anyway? The power in having broad representation was the ability to occupy whatever potential one we wanted to explore. Not to be seen as a monolith or pandering to appease. Whilst gate-keeping dissolves and entry points ease, the value of culture ultimately remains the same. It's deepening our understanding of a shared story, adding to tradition whilst finding our place in community. The dissolution of cultural profiles hopefully means a minority’s exploration into new spaces won’t longer be seen as exercises in “free thought” or deemed an identity crisis.

In describing me to a friend, my partner explained that I was really into basketball. Her friend remarked, "Isn't that every guy with a connection to the 90's?". It was a reminder that so many things depend on your frame of reference. She was surrounded by different kinds of friends who loved the game, presumably they didn't all carry the same cultural baggage I had with it. What's universal is that we're all seeking to express our authentic voice. Something we'll have to navigate as taste - for better or worse - is gentrifying.

This article was edited by Candice Chung, and is part of a series by SBS Voices supporting the work of emerging young Asian-Australian writers. Want to be involved? Get in touch with Candice on Twitter @candicechung_

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