By Dar-Wei Chen, Daily Opinion Columnist
Published February 21, 2012
Before I get to the main topic of this column, I should say that I realize how tricky writing an article about race can be. Some of my regular conservative readers might say I’ve already failed at writing about race in some of my previous columns where I insinuate that the modern Republican Party is somewhat racist. (I stand by my opinions, by the way.) In spite of these issues, I want to take this opportunity to discuss political correctness in the case of the New York Knicks point guard Jeremy Shu-How Lin.
If you’ve been living under a rock, Jeremy Lin is the NBA’s most recent revelation, taking the league by storm in the past couple of weeks with his scintillating performances. He has quickly risen to international stardom while famously living on his brother’s couch.
The first thing you might have noticed when you heard about Lin is his last name and the fact that he’s Asian American. I don’t blame you, because his race was the first thing I noticed too. In today’s politically correct world, this admission might not be very popular and could be construed as racist, especially by Asians. However, I’m not offended if someone tells me he or she notices Lin’s race first before anything else, especially because his race is a lot easier to notice than his other features that distinguish him from many NBA players: having a Harvard degree, being cut twice by NBA teams, etc.
Noticing Lin’s race first and foremost is merely a reflection of the fact that basketball is a sport where less than 0.5 percent of its men’s NCAA Division I players are Asian. It’s an exercise in pattern recognition and nothing to be offended about.
Even a widely-criticized observation by champion boxer Floyd Mayweather via Twitter — “Jeremy Lin is a good player, but all the hype is because he’s Asian. Black players do what he does every night and don’t get the same praise” — is not racist because it’s largely true. Of course, Lin’s meteoric rise doesn’t stem solely from race; playing in the glitzy New York market always helps, and the current lull in the sports calendar has enabled him to shine. Mayweather should also note that Lin was overlooked in the first place precisely because of race — Lin captained his high school team to a California state championship but amazingly received no Division I scholarship offers — which would explain the suddenness of his ascent to the upper echelon of NBA superstars.
Nevertheless, Mayweather is right. Would former Houston Rockets all-star center Yao Ming have been nearly as popular internationally if he wasn’t Chinese? Of course not. The league has had plenty of players who can average 20 points and 10 rebounds per game — Yao’s race undeniably boosted his profile because it’s unique in basketball and helped many fans identify with him. And such an observation isn't racist because, much like noticing Lin’s race as his most salient feature on the court, it doesn’t imply any inferiority of the Asian race in terms of athleticism. The only implication is that Asians tend not to pursue basketball as intently as others might and are therefore not expected to compete at the highest levels of the sport.
Don’t get me wrong, Lin’s rise has exposed some latent Asian racism in the U.S. For example, during his time at Harvard, Lin would hear taunts from opposing fans about how he should be at orchestra practice. Even the media — which should be more mature than drunk college students — has had its racist moments, such as an ESPN headline reading “Chink in the Armor” after the Knicks’ first Lin-era loss last weekend or a Fox Sports reporter tweeting, “Some lucky lady in NYC is gonna feel a couple of inches of pain tonight,” after Lin scored 38 points in a win against the Lakers on Feb. 10. These instances either degrade Asians in some way or use racial slurs.
But not every comment regarding race is worth being insulted by. Sometimes the U.S. is too politically correct and the mindset can detract from the country’s enjoyment of someone like Lin. Watching him size up a defender like Carmelo Anthony and probe the paint like Steve Nash is wonderful for basketball junkies like me. And Lin’s story is great too. Let’s relish what we have in Jeremy Lin now and save the politically correct indignation for later.
Dar-Wei Chen can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter at @DWChen_MDaily.