Book explores portrayal of black migrant athletes, social perceptions in America

Munene Mwaniki has written “The Black Migrant Athlete: Media, Race and the Diaspora in Sports.”

A new book by Munene Mwaniki, an assistant professor of sociology at Western Carolina University, looks at perceptions and realities facing black international athletes in American sports.

“The Black Migrant Athlete: Media, Race and the Diaspora in Sports,” published by the University of Nebraska Press, presents a context of how views are shaped and changed by non-native-born sports stars competing in a climate of predominately white-owned and dominated media organizations. Drawing from analysis and cultural studies, Mwaniki looks into various power relations regarding race, gender, sexuality, class and nationality. Starting with profiles of 10 black African-born athletes, he examines social and cultural reflections of society, sports and media coverage.

MadStone Cafe & Catching Light Books, the combination eatery and bookstore located in WCU’s Noble Hall, will host an author event beginning at 5 p.m. Thursday, Nov. 30.

“Much of my interest came from growing up and not seeing too many people who looked like me in the community,” said Mwaniki. “Then in my youth, I began seeing these African-born athletes on TV, when, as a second-generation Kenyan, it would strike me as to how they were represented as compared to other black athletes. Watching Hakeem Olajuwon playing for the Houston Rockets, for example, and him representing that team and that city and wondering what sort of Nigerian community was there.

“Eventually, with my background in sociology, those thoughts developed and resulted in this book, which is essentially about race in a white-dominated society.”

The book is hitting bookshelves at a time when the media spotlight and national discourse is often on how sports figures ―  especially black athletes ― draw attention to societal issues, peacefully protest and make their voices heard.

“I think one of the more interesting things I discovered in researching this book was to see a pattern through media and popular perceptions how native-born black athletes versus the black migrant athletes were seen by the populace as a whole,” Mwaniki said. “So, it can be a way to marginalize or stereotype African-American men and women, with ‘why can’t they behave more like that’ attitude when contrasted to foreign-born men and women. And that can be true of other countries as well, which are dominated by soccer, and how there’s this attempt to keep ‘blackness’ foreign.”

In “The Black Migrant Athlete,” Mwaniki finds that sport and its narratives often reinforce stereotypes and social boundaries, even as athletes challenge racial norms and perceptions.

For more information, contact him at 828-227-3879 or mfmwaniki@wcu.edu.