Trouble on the Tennis Court

Trouble on the Tennis Court

Can The Subaltern Speak More Quietly Please?


Photo by Kristina Flour on Unsplash

A couple of old white guys were playing tennis in Cambridge, Mass. the other day when the following unpleasantness ensued.

In the court next to them were two millennials, one an Indian (South Asian) male and the other a white female. They had been talking non-stop for about half an hour in very loud voices. You have to speak in loud voices, of course, so that the person on the other side of the court can hear your scintillating conversation. However, some old guys think Millennials talk too loudly anyhow.

As you get older you become more annoyed by noise, it is true.

And the particular noises made by the millennials of the species are particularly annoying to the old guys. The conversation of millennials is almost entirely, of course, self-promotion. Their speaking is like their social media page — an endless procession of announcements crafting an image of themselves as somehow proficient in the art of living. I mean, a generation who thinks it’s a good idea to take a photo of your food so you can share it with the world is, one can imagine, quite annoying in person as well.

But these old guys have complained many times before to their neighbors on the public tennis courts, whether they be millennial, gen z, gen x, baby boomer, white, brown, whatever. They are trying to enjoy their last years on earth and when their tennis is ruined for them by loud conversation on a neighboring court, it really gets them down, poor old guys.

Some have complained back to the old guys, claiming that these are rec courts and if they want that quiet rule they should join a tennis club.

“Really,” say the old guys, pointing over to the public golf course in the same park. “That’s a public golf course, but if you talk on someone’s back swing you would probably get a driver thrown at you. The same rules of court etiquette should apply on private as well as public courts.”

That was a pretty good argument eh? Well, not actually. It hasn’t helped at all. People like to talk loudly during tennis, you know, catch up, fill each other in on what’s been going on.

“Do that in the cafe afterwards,” the old guys have pleaded.

No. Young people don’t care about what old people think, no matter how coherent seeming their arguments, everybody knows that.

But anyhow, getting back to our story, these old guys did their usual complaining, about half an hour into the loud conversation of the Indian and the white millennial female.

“Come on guys, tennis,” one of the old guys said. And he thought he said it in a jocular, enthusiastic way. Like, isn’t tennis awesome. Tennis!

It didn’t come off that way.

The first reaction of the couple was outrage. “This is a rec court,” said the white woman, pursuing the aforementioned line of spurious public /private reasoning.

But the Indian man was more outraged.

“I could beat either of you at tennis with my left hand,” he said, trying to insult the old guys.

“It’s not about us being great tennis players,” the old guys tried to explain. “We know we suck.”

“You do suck,” shouted some other millennials a few courts over. “You are the worst players out here. And they have a right to have a conversation if they want. You should join a private club…” Et cetera.

The old guys looked at each other sadly. They felt so misunderstood.

But then the Indian played the race card.

“It’s because you see the brown boy and you think you can say whatever you want,” he claimed. “I’ve seen this my whole life. I’m sick of it. Racists.”

The old guys were dumbstruck at this playing of the race card. But the Indian man proceeded to berate them for a full half an hour.

“Look at you,” he said to the one old guy. “Trump voter. Better go home and vote for Trump so you can get rid of the brown people.”

Well, the old guys knew there was no point in engaging this fella any further. He obviously knew they weren’t Trump supporters — otherwise he wouldn’t have bothered saying that, would he? He knew that was the worst thing you could possibly call someone in Cambridge F-ing Massachusetts, after all.

It was all a bit disingenuine, this temper tantrum he was having, thought the old guys. I mean, playing the race card and claiming discrimination because someone asks you to keep your voice down?

On the other hand, that is the whole point of discrimination, after all, now that I think about it. I mean, another great Indian from Cambridge, Mr. Homi Bhabha, in his “Can the Sub Altern Speak,” brought up that very salient point. The history of orientalism is a history of westerners speaking for Asians, making up all kinds of myths about their identity. Now, of course, is the time for Asians to speak for themselves.

But if you are a minority and your speaking is annoying a white person, and they ask you to keep it down, is that really racism?

I mean, it seems that playing the race card in that case is rather insulting to victims of real racism.

For instance, in El Paso.

There undoubtedly is real racism in the world, these old guys knew that.

But as it happens, these old guys happened to be the least racist guys in the entire world. The one old guy has a statue of him in Harlem where he started a program to help people of color become doctors.

The other old guy spent sixteen years in Zimbabwe for the peace corps installing clean water systems for poor rural villages.

There is a statue of him, too, well just a bust, in Zimbabwe International Airport.

But this Indian millennial was quite sure he had been victimized by some Trump-supporting white supremacists.

It’s called the culture of victimhood, say some academics. We have moved past a culture of honor, or a culture of dignity, where it was common for people to brush insults off.

Now if you feel insulted, you know you are lucky in a way. Faux victimhood is kind of currency — counterfeit, but very effective.

You can vent your outrage.

You can foment your anger at your victimhood.

Even if you have invented the victimhood yourself.

Then the Indian guy started claiming that it was because he was playing with a white woman, and the Indian guy used the word “lynching.”

The old guys had had enough. They packed up their rackets, they walked off the court with their heads hung low, and they went home.

They knew they weren’t racists. They had lived the exemplary liberal life of Cambridge social workers. They got in the car together and they started driving home, in silence.

“I understand the Indian man’s rage,” one said “It’s probably true that people say things to him sometimes that they wouldn’t say to him if he were white.”

“There’s no doubt about it,” agreed the other. “It’s a sad reality, but I think it is one that is improving.”

Of course, events like this weekend’s shooting of Mexicans because they are Mexican makes one wonder if it’s getting better or worse.

What did the millennial Indian guy think on his way home? Was he proud of himself, for standing up for his right to speak loudly and annoy people? That doesn’t seem like a very great cause, anything to be too proud of. Especially to those kind white social workers.

Probably, he hadn’t thought about it at all. He had just gone about his business, unaware of the damage he had done to two old men’s souls. Unaware, and uncaring.

Who knows. But one thing we do know. He almost certainly took a picture of his avocado egg toast sandwich at the café afterward and posted it on Snap.

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