By Guest Contributor Sonita Moss
Racism is a funny thing – by funny I mean haha funny, as in, it’s funny when you’re not on the other end of it. In my experience, folks sometimes try to use their understanding of race to build bonds. Unfortunately, what comes across is race as a representation of difference that creates a chasm to be bridged through the awkward offering of stereotypes. As if snapping their fingers and saying ‘oh no he di-int’ in my face will endear them to me. From that statement alone, I’m sure you can guess my race. Such is life for people of color in America, however we want to deny it behind idealistic dreams of ‘post racial America’, race still matters, even for the model minority.
Jeremy Lin, the Taiwanese-American Harvard alum who is taking the world by storm as the new point guard for the New York Knicks, has not been shielded from everyday experiences that POCs face. In a candid NPR interview he gave back in 2010 whilst playing for Harvard’s basketball team, he shared the racial slurs that fans would toss at him: Go back to China; Chinese import; Can you see the scoreboard?
Though it is unsurprising, it still stings a little to see that fans of Lin are invoking the same racist imagery to uplift him. “The Yellow Mamba” was written on a poster of the Knicks vs. Lakers game, the event that kicked off “Linsanity” to the nth degree because Lin took on Kobe Bryant – and won. Lin scored more points than the inimitable Kobe, the man who has led the Lakers to five world championships (not to mention remain a fan favorite even after facing sexual assault charges). Since then, everyone’s buzzing about this kid and generally loving him – but sometimes painfully so.
Some Americans, well-intentioned liberals, race apologists, and the privileged want to use Lin’s race as proof of how far we have come racially. See, he’s Asian and everyone loves him, race doesn’t matter anymore. But what makes Lin’s story so interestingly unique, the fact that he came out of nowhere, is how his race contributes to his path to fame. He was a star basketball player in high school and college, but was overlooked in both arenas because he is Asian, a little too light and a little too yellow for fans who see basketball as a largely black and white sport, even his high school basketball coach lamented it.
I’ve heard people say that they don’t really believe that he has the staying power, that his record-breaking start was a fluke, that a Harvard graduate with an Economics degree should head to Wall Street. Some question Lin’s love for the sport as if it is disingenuous, as if his appreciation for education [and 4.2 high school GPA] is indicative of not really belonging. Negative or positive, race is playing a major role in the portrayal of the rookie baller.
As a burgeoning Lin fan, I decided to check out some of the memes and unfortunately, the whole “closing the racial chasm” route is being used quite a bit. The chop-sticky font, references to Asian films, “asian parents”, and even hackneyed Asian driving jokes are actually being used to pay homage to Lin. Some may view it as turning racism on its head, a sort of vindication through taking something denigrating and making it empowering. However, the oppressed party is really the only one who can fairly decide if they are empowered by this “reverse racism.”
Call me a sociologist, but I just call it racist. We can celebrate Lin’s Asian roots, his Taiwanese descent, his Harvard education, and other overlooked facets without reducing him to a caricature.
Related: Click here for more Lin-related memes.