When Jeremy Lin led the Knicks to victory against the Lakers last Friday, I was at home, spending time with the family. My dad, a math professor who has never watched a sports game in his life, my sister, who was supposed to be prototyping a design for her engineering senior design project, and I, technically studying for an upcoming calc exam, were huddled at the kitchen table, frozen in anticipation.
Jeremy Lin was tall, scoring big, and Asian-American.
Here’s a little background for those who might be uninterested in basketball like me: Lin had been sitting on the bench for the New York Knicks, unsigned and unnoticed. February 4th, due to injuries to the team’s key players, Lin was thrown into the game where he surprised everyone by scoring 25 points. Since then, he’s maintained an average of 27.8 points per game, all six of which led to victories for the Knicks. Lin’s Asian-American face now graces the cover of Sports Illustrated, and fans’ enthusiastic purchases have made Lin’s jersey the top-selling NBA jersey. In response to this “Linsanity,” Floyd Mayweather, a professional boxer, said,
“Jeremy Lin is a good player but all the hype is because he’s Asian.”
What Mayweather seems to imply is that Jeremy Lin’s rise to fame is based on subtle racism by people who don’t expect Asians to outperform their contenders, that is, outside of volleyball and math competitions. I don’t completely disagree—Lin’s slanted eyes and three-letter last name are the first to exist in the NBA since over a decade ago. He’s not black, and he’s not white. However, unlike Mayweather, I strongly advocate for the public to notice that he’s Asian American, because…he is.
I’m an eighteen-year old Asian-American and it’s rare for me to see people in the media who look like me and act like me. Sure, Hollywood occasionally calls for “hot asian male” or “cute asian female who studies hard,” but how often is it that the black-haired, yellow-skinned characters sing like divas, write like Toni Morrison, are insecure about their boobs, their pudgy knees, or are wishful for true love? How often is it that Asian-Americans are portrayed as real people, rather than their stereotypes?
In addition to a severe absence of normal, average Asian-American portrayals in the media, we lack slick Asian-American role models. My mom is an engineer; my dad is a professor; my parents’ friends’ careers range from researching with doctors to crunching numbers at a gigantic bank. Though I try my best not to take for granted the privilege I have to see faces like mine in well-respected, well-paying careers, I want to see more.
Seeing Jeremy Lin all over my TV, hearing his name from random corners of the dining hall, makes me feel proud and pretty darn cool to be an Asian-American; it prods me towards an un-stereotyped path. But Jeremy Lin’s effect amounts to more than just helping me overcome my teenage-crisis-fear of risk-taking and true happiness—by doing what he likes, he is breaking long long long-held cliché of timid, small, number-crunching Asian-Americans. Why shouldn’t his media fan base acknowledge this fact?
Hopefully one day, it’ll be normal for Asian-Americans to be playing basketball or football all over my television without the spazzy overreaction from the audience. For now, though, in this state of disproportionate Asian-American representation in sports, entrepreneurship, and business, I’m OK with the slightly bigoted intentions behind Jeremy Lin’s path to stardom. Only for now, though.
By: Michelle Lu
(Photo by DvYang under a Creative Commons license)