Why is Jeremy Lin’s Race so Important?

COMMENTARY | I’m not going to claim that I never notice what race or ethnicity someone is. I notice it all the time, just like I notice their other physical characteristics, like height, weight, and eye color. It is an easy descriptive device that helps us to set one person apart form another. So yes, I notice if someone is Asian, Black, White, Canadian — but we won’t talk “aboot” that one.

But when Jeremy Lin comes off the bench to help his team, the New York Knicks, struggle up to the 50/50 mark on wins/losses, why is his race such a huge factor in what gets reported? As of this writing, the Knicks have won eight of the last nine games they’ve played, largely due to Lin.

Now it may just be me, but I don’t recall so much being made of the race or background of any other NBA player in recent times. Dirk Nowitzki does catch a lot of press for being the big German superstar. He gets a lot of well deserved attention in Germany, and worldwide. And sure, Dirk still has a very heavy accent, after many years in Texas.

But we haven’t seen any ESPN announcers cracking wise and imprudent with racial slurs or WWII wartime enemy labels against Dirk, right? They don’t call Dirk the Big Kraut. It sounds ridiculous to even suppose that any such talk would take place, in 2012. It’s not so crazy, though, when you consider that an ESPN employee was just fired, and an anchor suspended, for similar comments about Lin.

ESPN actually used the phrase, “Chink in The Armor”, as a website headline, an obvious double entendre referring to Lin’s Asian heritage, and the fact that the Knicks had lost their first game since “Linsanity” had put them in the win column. ESPN anchor Max Bretos was also suspended for 30 days for using that same phrase on air, in reference to Lin’s weaknesses as a player.

It’s not as if “Chink” is a word commonly used to refer to people of Asian heritage in most of 2012 America. The term is so out of use that it even seems to me that whoever came up with the idea to use the phrase, at ESPN, either spent some time deliberately trying to concoct an offensive (they probably thought they were being cutesy), racy phrase; or the person who decided to use the phrase is steeped in habitual, deep-seated racist thought; or that person has Tourette Syndrome.

Either way, I’m disappointed in ESPN, twice over. Most of take little notice of a person’s race. I guess some of us have a lot of catching up to do.

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