American Media’s Unapologetic Racialization of Jeremy Lin

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“C’mon Chinaman. Guard up!” I yelled at my middle school friend, while playing basketball at a neighborhood park. He heard me. The look of surprised hurt beamed in his eyes as he hurriedly ran to cover me on the baseline. I attempted to get around him with my patented lefty drive. Not this time. Afterwards, another one of my friends told me that I needed to apologize to him. For what, I thought, dismissing the racially insensitive comment that I hurled towards my Asian friend whom I would later call my twin as our relationship deepened during high school.

Jeremy Lin is an Asian-American point guard whose inspired play has led the New York Knicks to five consecutive wins. At Fort Knox the NBA offices, David Stern is contently smiling as the last of his big-market teams is finally playing well. And to think it did not take fixing the draft so that they could get a franchise player, which many conspiracy theorist agree argue occurred many years ago with Patrick Ewing. Just a week ago, Lin was buried at the end of the Knicks big-named roster. Now, after four impressive starts, Lin is at the center of the media in the nation’s media center, New York.

If you still do not know about Jeremy Lin, let me help you from under the rock with some quick stats:

New Jersey Nets- 25 points, 7 assists (off the bench)

Utah Jazz- 28 points, 8 assists (first start)

@ Washington Wizards- 23 points, 10 assists (sick cross over and dunk on soon to be elite point guard, John Wall)

Los Angeles Lakers- 38 points, 7 assists (in a nationally televised game against another big market team, he abused Derek Fisher so badly that the Lakers are reportedly evaluating out-of-work guard Gilbert Arenas because in a guard heavy league Derek Fisher can no longer defend against these young, quick guards, and out-dueled Kobe, answering Kobe’s question of “What has [Lin] done?”

@ Minnesota Timberwolves- 20 points, 8 assists (late free throw won the game)

Lin has scored more total points (109) in his first four starts than any other player’s first four starts in NBA history, surpassing scoring machine Allen Iverson.

With his strong play, aided by all the media attention, Lin has become an instant fan favorite, dominating signs at the Garden. In the wise words of Houston rapper, Paul Wall, Lin has the “internets going nuts.” Six days ago, Lin had roughly 3500 followers on twitter, now has over 208,000. At the same time, the pink race elephant in America is seemingly unrecognized. Let’s examine a few of these signs:

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This picture, while intended to be supportive of Lin and his ability to drive to the basket highlights the traditional Asian stereotype of bad driving.

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This picture, capturing Lin’s enthusiasm, becomes fodder for another racialized joke. The word, Haduken was a special move executed by Ryu, an Asian fighter, in the widely popular video game, Street Fighter. The only way to celebrate him seems to be through these stereotypical Asian lenses.

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Here, Lin is represented as the Mortal Kombat, another widely popular video game, character Liu Kang, while Derek Fisher has been imposed into the game’s screen. Once again, the intention is to support Lin and his dismantling of Derek Fisher, but pay attention to how it is being done.

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Here fans at the Garden support their rising hero with a poster, alluding to the popular 2000 martial arts film, yet substituting their Asian American point guard into its title.

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Lastly, here is a tweet from a black sports writer, Jason Whitlock, in which he assumes the stereotypically small size of Lin’s penis. He also assumes Lin’s sexual orientation. Unlike the other well-intentioned signs of support, Whitlock vehemently insults Lin by highlighting a stereotype about penis size, which can also be seen as an attack on his “manhood.”

From the examples, I notice that the only way America can seemingly understand the meteoric rise of Jeremy Lin is through the colored, Asian lens, which incorporate our socially taught and seemingly accepted racial stereotypes. I want Jeremy Lin to be great; I want him to represent for his community; more importantly, I want America to take this opportunity and look itself in the mirror of truth and ask itself, “Why can I only understand this basketball player through these lenses?” Similarly, one of the popular Lin nicknames is Super Lintendo, a poor play on Super Nintendo, the Asian video game console that revolutionized gaming. On the other hand, I prefer the nickname Linsanity, which acknowledges Lin’s skill and sudden rise, and more importantly does not poke fun, whether intentional or not, at his Asian American identity.

I apologized to my friend the following day for calling him out of his name, for disrespecting his Vietnamese ancestry and culture, and for following the lead of the neighborhood kids that did not know him and started to call him “Chinaman.” I, with the help of others, recognized my fault and held myself accountable.

Will others apology to Jeremy Lin and the millions of Asian American ballplayers who will undoubtedly be called Lin?

Follow me on twitter: @dashnkinght

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3 thoughts on “American Media’s Unapologetic Racialization of Jeremy Lin

  1. People who can’t relate to Lin from a basketball playing standpoint, or actually even some who can, are instead lead to identify with him through their preconceived notions of Asian Americans through pop culture and/or personal experiences. As you said, it’s well-intentioned, but they walk the commonly traversed delicate line between promoting the successes represented by one member of a community, and promoting obnoxious or even insulting stereotypes that don’t represent all who are a part of that group.

    Some might think that “if other Asian Americans are the ones promoting culturally based nicknames, it’s ok, right?” Wrong. Ask yourself if that principle really applies across the board with other groups (race, class, sexual identity, you name it). People need to check themselves before they wreck themselves.

    I’m with “Linsanity”, “Ball-Lin” and many other hype and basketball only related nicknames.

  2. Pingback: American Racism–That Train Is Never Later « Between The World and Me

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