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February 18, 2012

L’affaire de Jeremey Lin shows that racism is well-ingrained into the American psyche. Why can’t we talk about about Lin without talking about his racial heritage?  (Lin, after all, is an American:  he was born in Los Angeles and grew up in Palo Alto.  He is not comparable to Yao Ming at all.)

Ugly racism is all over the way we talk about Lin.  Lin went to Harvard (a school that does not offer athletic scholarships) and he is smart – so in this narrow way, Lin fits a certain racial stereotype; which makes us all the more stunned when it turns out that he his a competent basketball player.  We have a different stereotype that we prefer for NBA players:  we expect our professional athletes to be big and not particularly articulate.

It gets worse and worse – after the loss to the Hornets, ESPN couldn’t stop racist punning about the “Chink in the Armor”:


How could anyone possibly think that this was funny?   Why are certain racial epithets “humorous” and others offensive?  Why can we not simply revel in the talents of a spectacular athlete?

2 Comments leave one →
  1. February 18, 2012 11:52 pm

    This weekend, my friends from Hong Kong are visiting and their name also is Lin. Or, rather, it’s Lam. Both names are written 林, of course. And literally the meaning of the name is forest of trees. I say they are from Hong Kong. Actually, the one is the father of the other (and he’s the Catonese speaker); the other is his son, an American (yes, Chinese American.) Two nights ago, I heard another Lin, one Swang Lin, a world-class violinist, giving a world-class performance, about which I posted on facebook; when a fb friend noticed the name, he wrote “Linsanity.” Fortunately, there were no ESPN announcer type racial epithets by any of my fb friends of any race! And I’m happy to report (as if this must be important) that the TCU Chorale and the Fort Worth Symphony Orchestra who performed were very diverse. My friends, both the Hong Kong father and his American son, were just proud to talk about people with their name 林 making contributions in American sports and musical fine arts.

  2. February 19, 2012 12:25 pm

    Yes, I should have been more precise: It is one thing when people take pride because a member of an ethnic group achieves success, e.g. in sports: Jackie Robinson or Satchel Paige or Willy Mays or Jesse Owens or Mark Spitz or Sandy Koufax or Ichiro Suzuki or Tiger Woods. It is another when people gawk and wonder: “how could that happen?”

    A clearer example of what I mean can be found in how the media treated (in the last presidential election) Clinton being a woman or Obama being an African-American or Mitt Romney being Mormon or Rick Santorum being Catholic or Newt Gingrich being nominally Catholic. That is gawking. (In the case of Obama, the reaction was so extreme that for years after his election, television commentators speculated on whether he was even born in America or not.)

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