linSanity: jeremy lin, pride & the darker side
Disclaimer: I am Asian; Chinese in fact. Or rather Chinese American – born and raise in New York, NY then Nashville TN. And I am totally taken by the story of Jeremy Lin. Honestly, I was very skeptical at first that it would last, but 5 games in I have become a believer. To quote Eddie Huang:
“…Jeremy mother fuckin’ Lin. For 29 years, I’ve been waiting to see a Chinaman on television that speaks English with some cot damn bass. He’s not some uncoordinated, slow footed, giant in the style of Yao, Wang, or Mengke Bateer, who I swear must be Mongolian. Watching him drop 28 and 8, you can’t believe it’s happening. His teammates are stuck between cheering and laughing. He’s not leaping over cars like Blake Griffin or wetting people from the volleyball line like Ray Allen, he’s playing under the rim, 18 ft and in, just like every one else at the YMCA.”
Yes, I feel a bit of pride when I watch Jeremy Lin, because for the first time there is someone in the NBA that looks a little like me, sounds more like me and plays basketball the way I’d like to. I loved Yao too, but he was big and actually foreign. He was a gentle giant who played center with finesse, not power. While Lin may be humble off the court, he’s a guard attacking the basket. There is nothing soft about the way he plays the position. And so I watch (and re-watch) the highlights and analysis of the 23 year old Asian kid from Palo Alto making a dent in the NBA.
With all the love he’s received, it was only a matter of time before the haters came out. First off, thank you Jason Whitlock of FOX Sports for pointing out that Asian men have small penises. That is both very original and classy. Next, it’s nice to see that Floyd Mayweather can still provide racist comments as he heads off to prison. You’d think one racist rant against an Asian would be enough for one lifetime, but Floyd proves he has more in the tank. What’s funny, is that I don’t disagree with his comment. For a lot of people (me included) the hype around Lin is because he’s Asian American. Sure, there are other factors - everyone loves an underdog, he’s from Harvard, everyone overlooked him etc. etc. But because he’s Taiwanese American who can finish around the basket, he’s got a built in fan base.
In a way, Floyd’s comment doesn’t sting as much as how we got here. Lin’s story exemplifies the hidden world of racism that faces the yellow man. The racism that we face is not overt hatred or anger, but something more subtle – something between ignorance and denial (though I fear China’s ascendance may bring more of the former). More than a few articles have been written about how the analysts could have missed Jeremy Lin until now. It’s simple – fucking racism. People just couldn’t believe that a chink from Palo Alto could be as good as John Wall. If all these people thought he had the stuff, why didn’t they listen to themselves? There is really only one answer.
To his credit, Lin held his chin up and kept trying. He made the best of every stint in the D-League like a proper model minority should. But may be that’s the problem. If he had been louder would he have been noticed sooner? Watching the stereotypical Asian passivity can be infuriating (for me in particular). During Top Chef, I find myself wanting to scream at Chef Beverly Kim to fight back as her fellow cheftestant pile up on her. Equally infuriating is the subtle bigotry from other chefs on the show. When they quip that she “only cooks Asian” as if that is a valid critique, I think: you mean how the other cheftestants only cook “Western food”? FYI, half the world lives in Asia and eats only Asian food.
Most people would scoff that they are racist toward Asians (except Floyd Mayweather). “I have a lot of Asian friends,” they might say. But for the most part this sort of bigotry is subconscious. Just as the memory of Japanese American internment camps have all but disappeared from the American national consciousness, so have the conscious fears of Asians as the perpetual foreigner – but they are still there. No matter what Jeremy Lin does the rest of this season (or for his career), hopefully he has permanently broken a barrier. So when the next Asian kid who loves hoops comes around, the scouts won’t ignore their instinct and just go with the kid.