The success of Jeremy Lin, a Taiwanese-American NBA player, sparked a media sensation, called “Linsanity”. The media coverage of Lin is evidence of racial America, and it is better understood by looking at the historical context of race relations, constructions of racial stereotypes and systemic racism.
At Harvard, Lin demonstrated his basketball skills and set Ivy League records, yet he went undrafted. Eventually he went from the Golden State Warriors to the New York Knicks bench, and then finally landed a seat at the bench on the Los Angeles Lakers. Lin was invisible because of racial stereotypes portrayed on Asian-American men as weak and lacking athletic skill. You can see these apparent stereotypes when you consider common media-portrayals of Asian American men such as the model minority, perpetual foreigner, and the small-bodied and feminine male. These stereotypes wrongly characterize Asian American males as nerdy, shy, compliant, short, and weak with small penises. Most stereotypes of Asian American men don’t project an image of masculinity. Regardless of their inaccuracies, these stereotypes cloud others’ perceptions about Asian American men.
These stereotypes derived from America’s history of when white elites masculinized Black women in order to justify their hard labor during slavery (Holder). The idea that Black men were sexually vicious and hyper-sexual was used by Whites to terrorize Black men into continued subservience (Holder). Asians, on the other hand, were feminized after the completion of the transcontinental railroad. After completing the transcontinental railroad, the Chinese immigrants found niches in feminized occupations in the mostly-lady-free American West. They became cooks, tailors, and launderers, and domestic servants (Holder). The gendered nature of their work contributed to their feminization. On the other hand, whites remain the norm by which others are judged. Representations of racial “others” are based on the ideologies that were created to justify historical conditions and “reflect contemporary debates over racial identity, racial locations, nationalism, and citizenship” (Holder). Below is a perfect contemporary example by Floyd Mayweather of how history plays a role in the portrayal of Asian American men.
Given the history of systemic racism where Asian American men have been characterized as intellectually superior yet de-masculinized while African American men have been characterized as hyper-masculine yet intellectually inferior, Floyd Mayweather’s reaction is not surprising. Racial stereotypes and expectations of masculinity reinforce prejudice and discrimination against Asian American men.
Many sport broadcasters criticize Jeremy Lin on how he is “too humble” and “too nice” and that he should not display this kind of attitude on the court because it will reflect negatively in the play. The media only focuses on how he is humble, which reinforces the model minority myth. It is interesting to see that they don’t focus on his actual record-breaking skills. On the other hand, when Kevin Durant, an African American NBA player on the Oklahoma City Thunder team, is humble he is praised and was even awarded MVP in 2014.
Now lets talk about ESPN’s infamous incident. An on-air ESPN commentator used the phrase to refer to Lin asking, “If there is a chink in the armor, where can Lin improve his game?” The commentator apologized saying, “my wife is Asian, and I would never intentionally say anything to disrespect her and that community” as if having an Asian wife justifies any racial comments. While the phrase “chink in the armor” is not inherently racist, the usage of the word “chink” towards an Asian person is offensive, regardless of context.
The problem lies not in the images but in the social relations that underlie, inform, and exist in society which contribute to the subjugation and degradation of certain races and ethnicities. As we see from looking at historical and contemporary practices, racial representations have been used to privilege, protect, and illustrate the power of whiteness, particularly for white men. Recognizing this will help us as a community move towards a post-racial America. If society is exposed to more Asian Americans who don’t meet the stereotypical Asian “norms”, then people won’t be as surprised when encountering intersectional Asian Americans identities. As an Asian American community, we cannot keep letting society put us in a mold; we must unite to take a stand against the deep-seated hegemonic structure of our society. Jeremy Lin’s story is just merely one step in this goal; we still have a lot to go in order to achieve full equality.
Jeremy Lin’s rise to NBA super-stardom has highlighted the lingering racial stereotypes and racism. While garnering widespread support, the media and public reaction to Lin has also been plagued by continual racial references and racist comments. Jeremy Lin fascinates the American public because his story embodies the racial narratives that have dominated such as the model minority myth and the American Dream ideology, yet it also stands to challenge racialized and gendered stereotypes.
Holder, Charles Frederick. “Chinese Slavery in America.” The North American Review 165.490 (1897): 288-94. JSTOR. Web. 11 May 2015.