Why Jeremy Lin’s Race Matters
by The Milton Measure on Friday, February 24th, 2012
The famed boxer Floyd Mayweather caused a stir on Twitter last Monday when he dismissed rising basketball star Jeremy Lin as the product of racial favoritism.
“Jeremy Lin is a good player but all the hype is because he’s Asian,” declared Mayweather, who is African American. “Black players do what he does every night and don’t get the same praise.”
In actuality, very few players in the history of the game have done what Lin has been doing since he took over as the point guard for the New York Knicks earlier this month. His 109 points in his first four starts this past week surpassed Allen Iverson’s record to become the most by any player since the NBA-ABA merger in 1976.
In fact, Lin’s race might have helped ignite his instant popularity – but in a different way. Despite leading his high school team to the state basketball championship and winning the San Francisco Chronicle’s player of the year award, Lin did not receive any scholarship offers from colleges. “If [Lin] was African-American or Caucasian, it might have been a different deal,” his high school coach Peter Diepenbrock told the Los Angeles Times.
Again, in 2010, no team in the NBA drafted Lin, though he set numerous records at Harvard and was unanimously selected for the All-Ivy First Team twice. Lamar Reddicks, who recruited Lin as Harvard’s assistant coach and is now Milton’s athletic director, said in an interview with the Milton Measure that “Jeremy [Lin] was talented and modest – perhaps one of the best [basketball] players” Mr. Reddicks had ever seen.
“Players playing that well don’t usually come out of nowhere. It seems like they come out of nowhere, but if you can go back and take a look, his skill level was probably there from the beginning. It probably just went unnoticed,” said Kobe Bryant on February 10, after Lin’s 38 points helped the Knicks beat Bryant’s Lakers. What has also gone unnoticed is the increasing anti-Asian sentiment in this country.
In addition to racial slurs from ESPN and FOX Sports editors targeted at Jeremy Lin, more serious attacks have occurred off the court. Last Thursday, a U.S. Marine sergeant was found not guilty of hazing Lance Cpl. Harry Lew, who committed suicide last April in Afghanistan. A Marine Corps report revealed that Lew’s superiors had beaten him and poured sand in his mouth for falling asleep while on duty. Lew’s case, along with that of Pvt. Danny Chen, who was found dead in October from an apparent suicide, have spurred Asian-American members of Congress to demand hearings on hazing in the military.
Chen, the only Chinese American soldier in his unit in Afghanistan, was called “gook,” “chink,” and “dragon lady,” forced to crawl on gravel while fellow troops threw rocks at him, and made to shout instructions in Chinese to fellow troops. (No one else in his unit spoke Chinese).
China’s surging economic might has also stoked xenophobia in wider American society, especially among politicians.
In January, a group of Ron Paul supporters released a campaign ad slamming then-candidate Jon Huntsman, the former ambassador to China. The “China Jon” ad showed Huntsman speaking Chinese and questioned his adoption of girls from China. “Jon Huntsman: American Values?” the ad asks, calling him “The Manchurian candidate”.
Then, on Superbowl Sunday, Michigan Senatorial candidate Pete Hoekstra aired an ad showing an Asian woman riding a bike through a rice paddy field, suggesting that Hoekstra’s opponent, Senator Debbie Stabenow, spends too much government money. “Your economy get very weak. Ours get very good. We take your jobs,” says the native Californian actress in a mock Chinese accent as the character “Debbie Spend-It-Now.”
Given the numerous racially-charged comments about Asian-Americans made recently in the media, Jeremy Lin’s success is not a strange object of fixation. His hard work and resilience do a great deal to shatter Asian stereotypes and exemplify the American dream, regardless of racial boundaries.
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