Jeremy Lin: The Race Card Debate

The following debate pertains to this article: The Jeremy Lin Debate No One Wants to Have

My Friend’s Response to This Article:

<sigh>

1. Why must people be so quick to pull the trigger on the race card? If this guy had made the same comment about a black player would everyone suddenly think he hates blacks? Say anything bad about Jeremy Lin and you get an avalanche of anti-Asian accusations.

2. Why can’t people just be inspired by those who are good? Why do people have to wait for someone who looks like them to be their role model? Are we that racist that we can’t think beyond racial definitions?

My Rebuttal to His Response:

<ahem>

1. I wouldn’t be quick to label Melo’s comment as racist, so in that regard, I don’t agree with the writer’s assumption. I think Anthony’s comment is from a place of insecurity, which could’ve been directed at anyone stealing his thunder.

That being said, I also find that people fire back on this so-called “race card” so often that it feels like a glib, non-committal way of rejecting someone else’s human experience rather than coming to terms with the fact that race does exist – and permeates – our social lives. Race may not be a biological fact, but it is an anthropological reality. Does that mean every guy who pulls the trigger is truly a victim of racism? No. But it means that it’s worth considering A) Why he might think he’s a victim, and B) Why you don’t want to hear about it.

Assuming you are both well-intentioned, I’m still willing to bet that neither of you are completely in the right. How can you be, when you’ve only accepted your own version of reality? So, the question isn’t, “Why are people so quick to play the race card?” That’s incomplete, and assumes that your perspective is objective and universal. The fair question is, “Why are people so quick to play the race card, and why am I so quick to believe it’s a race card and not a genuine expression of pain?” You see, everyone has something to learn.

2. Ideally, yes. We’d look at any impressive human being – cis-man, cis-woman, trans-man, trans-woman, gay, pansexual, straight, Black, Latino, Asian, White – and be moved only by the sheer power of her accomplishment. But you know what that means? That means we’d already be living in a world where your success (or lack thereof) won’t be determined by any of these factors. It means that your path to the life you want to have will not be in any way bolstered or hindered by your race, gender, orientation, class, etc.

Okay, you might concede. We do not live in that kind of world. But why can’t we change the way we think about it? Well, speaking for myself, the way being an Asian American woman benefits and limits me are a very real part of my human experience. I don’t know why there aren’t more Asian American athletes, actors, artists, business executives, politicians, authors, entrepreneurs. I don’t know why there aren’t less Asian American doctors, engineers, lawyers, financial analysts. If you chose any of the latter careers out of deep-seated passion, keep walking. This is not about, or against, you. But if you “chose” in any way that was more about your fears and inhibitions rather than your joys and freedoms, then take a moment. Consider why this is your reality. Consider why seeing someone like Jeremy Lin feels like a true awakening, like a secret trap door opening. Don’t be alarmed by your visceral emotion. What you’re witnessing isn’t just an impressive human being. You’re witnessing the first Asian American player impressive enough to be the first, quite despite his racial identity and all the trappings that come with it.

Call it racism. I disagree, but call it that if you must. I will not apologize for being moved by Jeremy Lin in ways that a white (or black) man in the NBA cannot inspire.

P.S. Just want to add that, while I have not addressed it here, I am well aware that these struggles exist for other racial (and not just racial) groups as well, often in ways more explicit, painful, and lethal. That doesn’t make my reality less of a reality, but it does allow me to consider my experience in the context of many other experiences.

His Reply:

1. “Genuine expression of pain”? Okay sure, but why go out of your way to bring race/ethnicity into it? The original comment didn’t carry any hint of racism; that’s an unsolicited extrapolation by the author. The way some people play the race card reminds me of that obnoxious black woman from MadTV who was quick to snap “what, is it cuz I’m BLACK?” to the slightest perceived offense.

2. If you’re Asian and you want to be a basketball player, just freakin be one. You don’t have to wait for another Asian to do it before you do. Yeah yeah there are racial barriers and history and all that. But what I’m asking of everyone is to find the inner strength to do whatever it is they want to do, and fuck history – make history yourself.

(Conversely, if an Asian who’s not cut out for basketball all of a sudden thinks they can play just because Jeremy Lin made it, they’re deluding themselves.)

Mine:

1. He FELT that the comment came from a place of race, and that’s worth discussing. And it may not have been intended with racial undertones, but we live in world where it’s difficult to tell, harder still to define. It’s unlikely, even, to know our own intentions (and where they come from). In fact, while I don’t think Melo made any explicitly racist comment, I can’t be certain that he doesn’t consider Lin an outsider. Nor can I be certain that Lin isn’t considered an outsider because he’s not a brother. That, is the author’s true point: Racial dynamics course so deeply in our veins that we experience and impose most of them subconsciously. It’s worth considering.

And maybe he is throwing down the race card too fast and too loose. Or maybe he sincerely believes racial dynamics are at play. Either way, the race card exists because race is a lived reality. So instead of telling him, “Hey, quit playing that card!” I’m keeping myself open to a conversation that involves understanding his perspective, and having some humility about the limits of my own. There’s a good chance he and I won’t agree, but there’s beauty in the process of connecting with another individual. Of striving to understand why he feels pain, even when I can’t imagine from where that pain might arise. Especially when I can’t imagine. If you haven’t lived it, you probably don’t know. And if you don’t know, don’t assume.

2. Your unpacked privilege is showing and so I’m going to skip the niceties and call bullshit. You discredit yourself by putting “racial barriers” in the same sentence as “yeah yeah, and all that.” “Yeah yeah and all that” happen to fill more cities and streets, more cracks in the sidewalk and more human lives than all the words in every textbook you’ve ever read – nay, ever opened – combined. So your flippant hand-waving is bullshit, because you haven’t acknowledged anything. Your attempt at sagacity smells inauthentic.

And: “Just freakin’ be one”? As in, pull yourself up by your own bootstraps, son! We know how well that Horatio Alger bullshit has served minorities in this country.

You’re right, we can all be heroes. We can all make history. It’s true – but way more likely for some than for others. And when truth is relative, it ceases to be universally true. For a white man, making history is about building empires and defining the world for generations to come. For a black man, making history is graduating college. Womp womp. So I’m not going to flog a Chicano teen who doesn’t think his life is going places. Statistics prove him right. And when he looks up, hoping to find some reason to believe he can make it, you know what he’s going to look for? The heroes that came before him. You think Cesar Chavez was a fluke? That MLK Jr. led a country on sheer will and talent alone? Their courage didn’t emerge from random spontaneity. These men were positive deviants, whose lives – while entrenched in adversity – were enriched by role models and positive subcultures to inspire and sustain their ideological ascension. They were lucky, in ways that history tries to make you forget.

I think you’ve been very lucky, in ways that you have yet to unpack or fully recognize. I have been, too. Something – maybe many things – in your life has allowed you to believe that talent and will alone make history. That’s simply not true. Courage comes from somewhere – it is cultivated in you, given to you in a myriad of ways that emerge in our daily lives. It is a parent pushing you to succeed. It is a teacher believing you can. It is a peer seizing your hand and urging you to take the plunge together. It is a hero, shining from 30,000 feet above, who looks like you or shares some emblem of adversity with you that makes you think, “Maybe, maybe.” But the funny thing is, when these ducks line up, we forget that they’re there. These are invisible privileges, you see. The luckier you are, the less you have to think about just how lucky you have been. We are eager to forget how deeply our privileges form who we are, and create our possibilities. But rest assured that if you are brave, if you’ve been brave, someone out there made you think you could be. And maybe that someone wasn’t an Asian American baller. But how arrogant would it be were you to discount Lin’s inspirational value as an Asian American just because he isn’t your personal hero? He isn’t really mine either, but I get it. Because my hero is Tina Fey. And guess what? It IS because she’s a woman. And because of so much more than that – talent, wit, perceptiveness, etc. But we all start somewhere.

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5 thoughts on “Jeremy Lin: The Race Card Debate

  1. Pingback: The Asian American Dilemma: Life in a Vacuum | What Shih Said

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