Apparently, Lin had to fight through some racial barriers to be taken seriously as a professional basketball player, on account of his ethnicity.
*Takes a pause and waits for the horde of defenders about it's true that Asians are not tall enough to be competitive in basketball*
Moving on, then....
It should come as no surprise to anyone that by drawing the spotlight to himself, through his excellent performance, he's also been subjected to several incidents that ranged from simple racial insensitivity to downright racist.
1. "Chink in the armor" from ESPN - so the offending party was fired, and he apologized, letting us know that he meant no harm (of course), since his wife is Asian (of course).
Here's a columnist writing for Slate, on this incident:
ESPN’s efforts are commendable, but these incidents suggest that it’s time to retire chink in the armor from the lexicon for good. Yes, I know that phrase has no racial connotations, but it uses the same exact word as the racial slur, for God’s sake. Having been called a chink a few times in my life—an Asian-American rite of passage that usually coincides with puberty—I don’t like hearing it, regardless of context, any more than a homosexual might like hearing the word for a bundle of kindling.
2. Jeremy Lin Fortune cookie!
Some of the fans made a poster celebrating their admiration for Jeremy Lin's contribution to Knicks by associating him with a fortune cookie. It must be reassuring to know that fans think of you as their good fortune, like the slip of paper that tells them that their efforts and hard work will pay off (and their lucky numbers are 3, 7, 28) after they finish a satisfying meal of sweet-and-sour chicken.
3. "What about his eyes?"
A TV anchor at the NY Fox 5 asked, while the sports reporter were listing the physical attributes of Lin that made him a good player, "What about his eyes?"
I think the anchor could have made his point better if he had just use his fingers to pinch the corner of his eyes to make them look like a slit while he said that, don't you?
I'm sure there are other incidents out there. If you come across them, feel free to add to this compilation.
Now, what I think of all this:
I think it's great that Jeremy Lin is performing well and is being treated as a valuable asset to his team. But some of the praise for his skills carries a faint odor. You know, the same odor when someone remarks "wow, he's so good at math, and he's black!"
That tone of surprise, of seeing something unexpected, is unmistakable.
What it also shows is how incapable some people are at not being racist, even when they nominally like the person they're heaping the racist comments on.
Oh, but of course, they're not racists, because they never intended their comments to be racist. That's right.
So let's work with the descriptor "racially insensitive," instead.
Another interesting aspect of this racial insensitivity is the active desire to deny that Lin had faced racism in his career. Many of the user comments in these places will say things like "but he's a big time NBA star now so it shows that his talent is what matters, so there's no racism here." That of course ignores the fact that Lin was overlooked for college basketball on account of his race (allegedly: the story seems likely, but I don't know enough about his qualification at the time to say that he was not considered for the major basketball programs because he's Chinese). You can also see the same attempts elsewhere, in comments where people argue that the fortune-cookie image is not racial. Really? How about if we start putting Lebron James' mug over a bucket of fried chicken and two slices of watermelon, next time?
I also think it'll be interesting if someone who's good at the race issues for Asian Americans and who has a deep knowledge of NBA do a comparison between the treatment of Yao Ming and Jeremy Lin. It almost seems to me that Lin got more racist responses, and he's an American (born in L.A. and grew up in the U.S. but maybe we need to demand to see his birth certificate?)! Odd, isn't it?