The Alarming Rise of Jeremy Lin's Black Antagonists The Alarming Rise of Jeremy Lin's Black Antagonists
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The Alarming Rise of Jeremy Lin's Black Antagonists

by Cord Jefferson

February 18, 2012

When some of Lee's Twitter followers admonished him for resorting to kung fu flicks to find Lin a nickname, Lee blasted back, saying that stereotyping is "not the spirit in which [he] works."

Get it? "Asian men have small penises" is the joke, apparently. Whitlock apologized for his tweet after a day or so of haranguing, but one wonders how a well-respected—or at least very public—media professional could ever think that mocking Asian men's penises in front of millions of people was the right thing to do. Sadder still is that Whitlock, like Lee, claims to be a big fan of Lin's. If this is what fans are doing, imagine what Lin's detractors think of him.

One of those detractors is the boxer Floyd Mayweather, Jr., who on Monday tweeted, "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." Keep in mind that Lin, once a bench-warmer, has now led his team to six straight victories. Keep in mind that he's now helped dismantle the perennial powerhouse that is the L.A. Lakers. Keep in mind that the Laker defeat involved Lin putting up 38 points. The fact is that a black player in that exact same situation would indeed be getting the same kind of hype as Lin—not because of his race, but because people love Cinderella stories. Does Lin's ethnicity add a fascinating layer to that story? Absolutely. But saying that the only reason for the "Linsanity" is because Lin looks different from other players is downright inaccurate.

Flash back to 2003, and you might remember Rush Limbaugh talking during an ESPN Sunday pregame show about Eagles quarterback Donovan McNabb. In essence, he was complaining about an NFL version of affirmative action: "The media has been very desirous that a black quarterback do well," Limbaugh said. "They're interested in black coaches and black quarterbacks doing well ... McNabb got a lot of the credit for the performance of the team that he really didn't deserve." People were outraged, obviously, and Limbaugh summarily lost his commentating gig. But looking back today, it's difficult to see much difference between Limbaugh's and Mayweather's words. The difference is that Mayweather, a black athlete himself, might not be so willing to agree that black athletes in traditionally white pockets of sports get too much of a pass from the liberal white media.

It generally feels pretty gimmicky to say, "What if so and so said this?" in discussions of race, because the context gets warped. In this case, though, because we're talking about an Asian man who has time and again encountered racism in his career (Lin used to be called a "chink" when he played college ball), it seems more apt than usual. What if an Asian sportscaster heralded the arrival of a new black basketball star by writing about how all the women were going to love his big penis? What if an Asian director introduced Spike Lee at the Golden Globes as "Spike 'Superfly' Lee"? What if an Asian anchor, famous for his antagonistic racism, went on ESPN to say that the only reason Tiger Woods is popular is because he's black? We already know what would happen with that last one: The anchor would be fired and written off as a bigot—Limbaugh was. I'll be shocked if Mayweather faces any similar repercussions.

As a champion of the underdog, I've found watching Lin's rise to fame fun and, at times, thrilling—and this is from someone who doesn't even like sports. But as a person of color, watching Lin become famous has also been a sad reminder of the intolerance found within the black community, and how often that intolerance goes unchecked because of society's racial conventions. I'm not asking anyone to look at Jeremy Lin and see Jackie Robinson, who famously broke professional baseball's color barrier. But I'd estimate that Lin is a lot closer to Jackie Robinson than Floyd Mayweather, Jr., will ever be.

Photo via (cc) Flickr user SportsAngle.com

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The Alarming Rise of Jeremy Lin's Black Antagonists