A note at the top: there’s a lot of excellent Colorlines.com community conversation happening around Tavis Smiley’s interview of Viola Davis, and the choices that black working artists have to make in Hollywood. Dig in, on the site and on Facebook, and don’t miss the Reader Forum about The Help from two weeks ago.
Our topic this week, Jeremy Lin, faces some similar issues; racism both overt and subtle has limited his career and his opportunities. As Jamilah King wrote on Wednesday,
Lin is only one of a handful of Asian-American players in the NBA’s history, and the first in over a decade. Although 1950 is usually seen as the year when two black basketball players broke the color barrier, Japanese-American Wataru Misaka technically did it two seasons before in 1947-48, when he played for the New York Knicks.
Though Lin has consistently shown promise since his high school days–even leading his Palo Alto, Calif., high school team to a state championship his senior year–he was overlooked by both college coaches and NBA scouts. The first time he showed up to a summer league game in San Francisco’s celebrated Pro-Am tournament, someone at the gym told him: "Sorry, sir, there’s no volleyball here tonight. Just basketball."
It was a precursor to the thinly veiled prejudice that Lin and other Asian American male basketball players often face after decades of racist caricaturing that’s stereotyped them as nerdy and un-athletic, wholly incapable of excelling in a distinctly physical sport like basketball.
One major difference, however, between Lin-as-basketball-star versus Viola Davis-as-maid–or Lisa Chan-as-menacing-Asian–is that Lin’s success is so (relatively) uncomplicated; unlike Davis and Chan, he’s been given the opportunity to smash stereotypes and get paid at the same time. Granted, it’s odd to think of a Harvard grad as an underdog… but let’s enjoy our feel-good victories when we can, yes?
And by ‘enjoy,’ I of course mean ‘analyze the heck out of.’ Hey, we know how we like to party. (Bonus points for anyone who can work in the allegations of anti-Asian admissions discrimination by Ivy League schools with this animated gif!) Here’s what you had to say.
Racial perceptions of Asian Americans as foisted upon Asian and Asian American male atheletes abound. For example, Yao Ming is a trans-national Chinese superstar, not an Asian American superstar. He was already a basketball giant (no pun intended) in his homeland, the People’s Republic of China, coming to the U.S. as a global professional, who played not for the U.S. Olympic basketball team, but for China. Many in the U.S. regarded him as a freak, and Shaq displayed his ignorance by uttering terrible and disgusting ching-chong remarks toward Yao. Furthermore, Yao was always deemed "not tough enough" to play in the rough-and-tough street ball style of so many of NBA’s black players.
And enter Jeremy Lin. While playing college ball, fans jeered him with racial taunts. Did the much-vaunted Harvard team or Athletics Department condemn such fan behavior? Why did it take so long for coach D’Antoni to recognize Lin’s abilities, certainly not a fluke since he scored in the double figures for two consecutive games?
The dominant emasculated imagery of Asian men, from Hop Sing (Bonanza) to Fuji (McHale’s Navy) to today’s geeks and nerds (Harold and Kumar) is only interrupted by the great iconoclast and Asian American innovator, Bruce Lee. But Bruce Lee had to kick the white man’s ass to be regarded as masculine and manly. Today, Jeremy Lin will have to kick the asses of both white and black NBA stars, as well as the corporate butts of sports media and franchises, to "prove" his value and establish a legacy for which Asian Americans can take pride, and assert our self-worth in a racist society that continues to devalue and marginalize Asian American talent except as geekdom cogs in the science and engineering fields.
To be an Asian American "role model" Lin has to not only excel in his profession, which he already does, but like Bruce Lee, kick the ass of the corporate masters, tell off the racist media, and address Asian America as a ferocious Race Man.
"He’d previously averaged just over 2 points per game in his young career" —- If you’ve only recently heard of Jeremy Lin, then this might make it sound like the last two games came out of nowhere, like his basketball abilities just suddenly somehow got much better. But that’s not the case. The fact is that he wasn’t given a chance before the last two games. Before these games, he played in only about 30 games total, and was rarely given more than 10 minutes in any game, and most of these minutes were "garbage time" — minutes that didn’t matter because the game was already all but determined.
In the past year, Jeremy Lin has been dropped by the Warriors, picked up by the Rockets and then dropped again, and finally picked up by the Knicks, who then relegated Lin to the D-League, before putting him back on the roster after he got a triple double in a D-League game last month. But the Knicks have only decided to give him a chance because they’re in desperate need for a point guard, as their other point guards have been underperforming and/or injured.
I guess what I’m saying is that Lin’s performance shouldn’t really be considered all that surprising or unlikely, in a way — he was good all along, he just wasn’t given any prime time opportunities to show it. For example, in a summer league game before last season, Lin outperformed the #1 draft pick John Wall, already showing that he did have the skills to play in the big leagues. (This also kind of sets up an interesting storyline for the Knicks’s game today against the Wizards, in which Lin will be matched up against Wall again.)
It’s really great and inspiring that Lin has been playing at such a high level now that he’s being given a chance (and in New York City, basketball’s biggest stage!), but I just wish that these opportunities could have been given to him earlier on…
As as die-hard let me tell you that the lionization of Lin goes far beyond any novelty. We have been starving for point guard play all year, and we were the only team in basketball who were playing shooting guards (Toney Douglass; Shumpert) at the point all season. Bibby is a fossil and Baron davis has been injured. Knick fans have been wanting Lin to get a chance since th beginning of the season, and the only real question is "What the hell took Mike D’Antoni so long!"… While few expected Lin to excel this much right out of the gate, there was simply no excuse to keep him on the bench when your starting PGs can’t even run a simple pick and roll.
All season long, D’Antoni’s coaching has been inexplicable, and the role of uncounscious subtle bigotry cannot be dismissed in the coach waiting 25 games to give Lin a chance. now that he is here, I can tell you after three games, that he is the real deal. His quick first step is not going to go away. His great ability to see the floor is not going to go away. And his ballhandling and willingness to find his teammates in transition will not go away. He will have to improve his jumper but that will come with time. Amare will absolutely love him when he returns. Pick and roll all night.
Linsanity is real for solely basketball reasons. Any stereotype-breaking is a whole wonderful aspect unto itself.
While Wataru Misaka was arguably the first person of color to break the "white only" barrier, Jeremy Lin and others have been struggling with breaking the perception of API men as physically inferior and not capable of excelling in american-loved-sports (i.e., football, basketball). […] it is critically disconcerting for me (as an API woman, as it should be for anyone interested in understanding racism) that API players haven’t gotten the recognition they deserve for being athletic or basketball players. all of the flyest boys i knew growing up were API and played basketball, IN OAKLAND. that API men have been playing basketball as a pastime all the time, in leagues, homes, schools, churches, etc., is completely overlooked. and it is outrageous that a racial stereotype could be so pervasive that it fundamentally shapes the perception of an entire segment of our population. API men are multi-faceted, talented, and really hot might i add. 😉
There is more to the story of Wat Misaka, and it is not pretty. He was drafted by the Knicks during the way. While he was with the team for a while, his playing time was brief but when he played endured horrible attacks from the team "fans." It was racist and terrifying, and what did his team do in response? They let him go!
The "subtle bigotry" to which you refer didn’t just make Lin the NBA’s "most surprising star," it kept him from becoming a star in the first place (at least until now). It’s called aversive racism (Gaertner & Dovidio, 1986), and it explains how racism could play a part in the non-hiring (or non-playing) of Jeremy Lin. It goes something like this: In employment situations where an employee’s (e.g., Jeremy Lin’s) qualifications are not clearly and obviously better than other employees (e.g., Shumpert, Bibby, etc.), aversive racism rears its ugly head because employers (e.g., NBA teams, coaches, etc.) can justify their often non-conscious racist attittudes by pointing to other factors in their decisions to not hire (or play) someone (e.g., Jeremy Lin doesn’t have a great outside shot. Jeremy Lin isn’t athletic enough), and they (employers) can even assign more importance to these negative reasons to support not hiring/playing him.
And, by the way, aversive racism also helps us understand why it was so easy for NBA teams to hire Yao Ming. Yao’s employment was an unambiguous situation, where aversive racism (and even explicit bias) is less likely to play a role. He was clearly taller and bigger than anyone else at 7’6", so one would have had to have been a blatant racist or complete idiot not to give him a shot…and nobody wants to look like a blatant racist or complete idiot.
Research in the field of psychology supports this. Just read John Dovidio’s and Samuel Gaertner’s research. I’ll include a reference to their work here b/c it seems like this webpage is attracting a slightly more academic audience. You can read Pearson, Dovidio, and Gaertner (2009) here. For the Cliff Notes version, read the first 2 paragraphs of p.5 and pp.6-8 (the section on "Selection decisions").
As an Asian American myself, it’s incredibly easy to be drawn to Jeremy Lin because he’s showing mainstream society that Asians are not perpetual immigrants to this country. I was recently on his Facebook page and he posted saying how the security guards at MSG would ask him as he entered, if he was one of the trainers. It’s no secret that these racial perceptions are wide-spread throughout our country and Jeremy Lin is just one small step in defeating those stereotypes, associations and mainstream beliefs.
Gotta love the "Lin-sanity"