Tuesday, April 12, 2016

Polynesian Masculinity and Stereotyping: Athletics and Academics

Fui Vakapuna - Brigham Young University  2006
In a 2015 a movie called, “In Football We Trust” the lives of four Polynesian football players are documented as each pursue their gridiron dreams beyond high school and into the professional league. For young Fihi Kaufusi, football is the key to a college education. For the Bloomfield brothers, football is a family legacy but also a way to keep away from the heritage of the gang lifestyle. Finally, for Harvey Langi, football is a way to stay out of poverty and achieve his parent’s lifelong aspirations for him to fulfill the American, their dream as immigrants from the islands.

No matter where you go in the U.S. this story can be seen repeated amongst the Polynesian population of about 300,000 Tongans and Samoans stretching from the cities of Inglewood, California; Glendale, Utah; and in the streets of Honolulu and the back roads of the North Shore. For many, making it to the big leagues is the only legitimate way out of poverty. It is the only way to truly achieve the dreams sought after by the first generations of Polynesian immigrants who came to this country seeking a better life. However, these aspirations and dreams of football glory, and the million dollar paycheck can pressure these young men into focusing most of if not all of their attentions to perfecting their football abilities. They marginalize their schooling and their social lives here in the West and cling so tightly to a façade of “Polynesian” culture and biology that seems to be “naturally” and “culturally” inclined to the physical requirements of football. The societal pressure to do what is “Polynesian” and play football downgrades the option of schooling and education, while emphasizing sport and marginalizing at times other Polynesian men who can’t succeed athletically. The young Polynesian men in high school and college football believe that this is all their suited for, but when they don’t make it to the NFL, where do they go then? What do they do?

For many football is the ticket out of poverty and away from gang lifestyles. It is also a better alternative than manual labor low paying, low skilled jobs. But society's high emphasis on athletic success pushes these young men to believe that that is all they're capable of doing. When many finally realize they can't go past high school football or college football, they may start to wish they had spent more time in the books. De-emphasizing academics amongst Polynesian men limits their possibilities of achieving and adding to other professional fields. Yet, it becomes harder to convince these men and boys that being book smart is just as culturally founded as wielding the war club. 

Fihi Kaufusi - Highland High School - "In Football We Trust"
Like other ethnic and racial groups Polynesian men are susceptible to being stereotyped and placed into nice compartmentalized categories of who they ought to be, what they ought to do, and how they ought to act. When they don’t “act their part” they can be seen as rebellious and may be punished for not fulfilling their role. Unfortunately, there are a lot more studies done on these stereotyping affects and results towards Black men and to a lesser extent the Hispanic men. Nonetheless, Polynesian men still feel the same sting of being portrayed as “warrior” peoples capable of only physical and athletic pursuits. They can still be pressured by the stares and gawking looks of their neighbors and peers when they enroll in college not on a sports scholarship or when they reveal they are actually working as a data analyst and not a member of the construction crew. In all honesty this is unfair to the countless other Polynesian men who feel their world and their futures being limited to sport. Even within the Polynesian society, parents and “historians” and “purveyors” of culture emphasize emphatically the warrior heritage running through each young Polynesian man’s veins and that to conquer on the field is fulfilling their family tradition and island heritage. But what of the orator? The fishermen? The ocean navigator? Where are their stories and portrayals of ultimate manliness?

In a recent study conducted I attempted to find out just what it is that Polynesian men know about themselves and what they perceive society thinks about them. Essentially I’m trying to find out through a survey of differing Polynesian males from all backgrounds, age groups, and states in the Union whether they have been influenced in one way or another by society’s stereotypical Polynesian perception to play sports. I asked questions about what they deem as Polynesian masculine traits and how they believe the world sees them. I had asked rather straightforward if they felt pressure to conform to the athletic model and also tried to find out whether they can pinpoint the specific occupations suited for Polynesian men. I was trying to find out whether they would identify sport as the primary goal. 

Maori warriors of Aotearoa (New Zealand)
We don’t find results blatantly showing that Polynesian males are being influenced by a societal stereotype to pursue athletics only and de-emphasize academics. What I did find is that there is a clear understanding that the way in which Polynesians are viewed by society contrasts greatly with how Polynesians view themselves. The results show that Polynesians males know they are stereotyped and portrayed as athletes, manual laborers, and gang bangers but these stereotypes and portrayals essentially mean nothing or at least should have no bearing in a Polynesian male’s decision making on what interests and occupations to pursue or how he should live his life. They are well aware that they are capable of accomplishing their own goals and aspirations regardless of some warrior stereotype.

Those who responded seem to be more focused on family and the importance of religion. They define real manhood (masculinity) as being able to take care of one’s family. The characteristics and traits appropriated by the “world” (as per the responses given) associated Polynesian masculinity with physical traits with some variations as to being funny or tough. The respondents identified more emotional characteristics of what a Polynesian man should have. Their responses were very sentimental and emotional and were at times focused on their religious associations. Many responses identified Jesus Christ or ecclesiastical leaders as the “manliest man” they know. The survey responses were lacking in a sufficient amount of opinions given from actual athletes (professionals or prospective professionals) and more academics and professionals responded. The study then is very one sided but from the responses attained we get the views as explained previously. Further study to include more Polynesian athletes and also a more in depth look into their religious and cultural understandings concerning family are necessary to truly understand the deepest desires and beliefs of the Polynesian male.

Leva & Vita Bloomfield - Leva's high school graduation - "In Football We Trust" 

Polynesian males are well aware of the stereotypes and masculine characteristics attributed to them by society. The importance of physicality and athleticism are obvious parts of the Polynesian male life and those surveyed provided insight into the reality that these attributes are not the only thing they are capable of basing their livelihoods off of. They cite the emotional sensitivity necessary in Polynesian masculinity and that real men emphasize at all times the caring for of their family. The respondents recognize that there are pressures to pursue athletics over academics however these should not determine their choices. It is obvious to see that this generation of Polynesian males in the United States are well aware of their capabilities and refuse to allow society to direct their life course, career choices, or their natural characteristics. If this is what the current generation believes, then there is hope for the Polynesian male's future not only as household names for tackles and touchdowns scored but as accomplished doctors, educators, and politicians. 

No comments:

Post a Comment