No wonder Jeremy Lin is sick and tired of lazy stereotyping of Asians – it almost denied him a career

NBA star who blasted tired jokes at the Oscars this week had to fight against the assumption that ‘Asians aren’t athletic’ for years

PUBLISHED : Friday, 04 March, 2016, 2:15pm
UPDATED : Friday, 29 April, 2016, 10:56am

This week, I’m going to write about something of which I have no personal experience, little insight into and probably no right to address at all. No change there then, says the Sports Editor.

As a white male from a first-world Western country, the biggest challenge I face on a daily basis is deciding whether to go for the venti or the grande. If anyone’s going to judge me on the colour of my skin, it’s probably going to be in a positive way – certainly in Hong Kong.

Just this week I was patiently queueing up on the street for a lottery ticket, as lines for the bumper 40th anniversary jackpot stretched for miles. I’d barely taken my place when a helpful employee pulled me out of line, explaining that if I went to this counter over here, bought a cash voucher, then took it over here to this machine, I could avoid all that. I was in and out in minutes and much as I appreciated it, I wondered why she wasn’t telling anyone else in line.

Actually, the closest I’ve come to feeling singled out for my race has been in some of China’s backwaters – the mandatory “HAAALLOOO!!” shout at the passing laowai, or the amazement of locals that you can somehow eat their spicy food without immediately dying. Even those are well-meant (I think).

All this is a roundabout way of saying I probably have no business commenting on Jeremy Lin’s remarks about the Asian-American experience this week, and the lazy cultural stereotypes that still prevail. But here goes.

In case you missed it, Lin was far from amused by some of the jokes at the Oscars – host Chris Rock dragging some Asian kids on stage and pretending they were accountants and child labourers in phone factories, and Sacha Baron Cohen’s Ali G character highlighting those “hard-working little yellow people with tiny dongs ... ie Minions”.

“Seriously though, when is this going to change?!? Tired of it being ‘cool’ and ‘ok’ to bash Asians,” tweeted NBA star Lin, before expanding on the issue after practice the following day.

“I thought it was a chance for me to stand up for Asians,” he said. “ ... if we can start branching out a little bit or at least showing that we are different than what other people think we are, maybe we can start to break down some of those walls.”

The whole point of the Ali G character is that he’s a moron, so Cohen is perhaps excused a little, but you’d think Rock, one of the greatest stand-ups ever, might have strayed away from material so tired and ‘hack comic’ that it was like something I’d come out with.

No surprise Lin spoke so eloquently: he did go to Harvard. Oh but wait, that’s actually part of the problem: the only reason Lin ended up there was that he didn’t receive a single scholarship offer from a Division I school, despite being one of California’s best high school players. Same story in the NBA draft, when no-one wanted him despite his starring role in Cambridge.

“It’s the Asian thing,” former NBA player Rex Walters, who’s Japanese-American, told ESPN in 2012 as Linsanity hit its peak. “People who don’t think stereotypes exist are crazy. If he’s white, he’s either a good shooter or heady. If he’s Asian, he’s good at math. We’re not taking him.”

Lin’s had to deal with the stuff he saw at the Oscars his whole life. A Fox Sports journalist tweeted “some lucky lady in NYC is gonna feel a couple of inches of pain tonight” in 2012 as Lin destroyed the LA Lakers with 38 points. ESPN went with the hilariously clever headline ‘Chink in the armour’ after a bad game. Ben and Jerry’s thought a Linsanity ice cream with lychees and fortune cookies was a beezer idea. And don’t even mention the countless shouts of ‘sweet and sour pork’, ‘go back to the orchestra’, ‘chink’ and other witticisms from the bleachers – and even opposing players – during his high school and college days.

“No one’s ever said anything outright,” Lin told 60 Minutes in 2013 when reflecting on the reasons why he was overlooked in high school and college.

“I think what it was, everyone always says, ‘He was deceptively quick, he’s deceptively athletic.’ Deceptive this, deceptive that. What’s the deceptive part about it? Where did you get that part? I think that’s probably the most obvious sign of that.”

Thankfully, NBA reporters, fans and players seemed to have grown up and accepted Lin as a decent player, regardless of his skin. But no wonder he’s sick and tired of lazy stereotyping of Asians – he almost didn’t have a career because of it.