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Jeremy Lin and ESPN’s ‘Accidental’ Racism: Edge of Sports

February 21, 2012

By Dave Zirin

The spectacular New York Knicks point guard Jeremy Lin just made more headlines by leading his team to victory over the defending champion Dallas Mavericks, with twenty-eight points and a career-high fourteen assists. But that’s not the only reason Lin is in the news. Outrage erupted when ESPN’s website posted a headline about the NBA’s first American player of Chinese origin that read, “Chink in the Armor.” Seriously. An ESPN anchor previously used the same phrase in an interview with Knicks Hall of Fame guard Walt Frazier and it had also been uttered on ESPN radio. But the webpage was captured and the frozen image went viral…

There are only two conclusions one can draw from all of this. Either ESPN has a group of stone racists sitting at the SportsCenter Desk, hosting their radio shows and writing headlines (doubtful), or they have no anti-racist mental apparatus for how to talk about an Asian-American player. As a result we see again that people of Asian descent are subject to a casual racism that other ethnic groups don’t have to suffer quite as starkly.

No one at ESPN would talk or write about a lesbian athlete and unconsciously put forth that the woman in question would have a “finger in the dike.” If an African-American player was thought of as stingy, it’s doubtful that anyone at the World Wide Leader would describe that person as “niggardly.” They would never brand a member of a football team as a “Redskin” (wait, scratch that last one.)

They wouldn’t do it because a mental synapse would spark to life and signal their brain that in 2012, unless you’re speaking at CPAC, that’s just not OK. This collective synapse was forged by mass movements for black and LGBT liberation in this country that have forced a lot of people, particularly white straight men, to have a clue. There simply hasn’t been a similar national struggle built by people of Asian descent. I spoke about this with William Wong, longtime journalist born and raised in Oakland’s Chinatown, and he said, “We haven’t had a national mass Asian-American civil rights movement because our numbers have been small and diffuse thanks to various exclusionary and discriminatory laws…

If one good thing comes out of this, maybe sportswriters can stop saying that they don’t think the issues of race and ethnicity have anything to do with Lin’s emergent celebrity. Of course it does. That’s why the hate is so ugly and supporters are so fiercely protective of his seat at the NBA table. The very kind of casual racism Lin has faced—the anti-Asian Twitter jokes, the Yellow Mamba signs, the mock Chinese talk, the catcalls from people attending the games—is something every single Asian-American has experienced at one time or another. That it happens at all is a sad fact; that ESPN is now in a position of having to apologize for something which never should have happened shows just how far we have to go.

The full article via Edge of Sports.

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