“If you don’t understand why racism still infects the Lin story and why there is an urgent need to stand up against it, then you really don’t understand America.”

27 Feb

As a follow-up to Friday’s post on the apparent “chink” in the Lin-sanity, I wanted to share this commentary by Dave Zirin for The Nation: http://www.thenation.com/blog/166382/jeremy-lin-and-espns-accidental-racism.

I appreciate Zirin’s assessment of ESPN’s use of the slur “chink” and how not all slurs–and minorities–are equal:

There are only two conclusions one can draw from all of this. Either ESPN has a group of stone racists sitting at the SportsCenter Desk, hosting their radio shows and writing headlines (doubtful), or they have no anti-racist mental apparatus for how to talk about an Asian-American player.

Zirin dismisses the desperate denial of any racism in the use of “chink” by complicating the profile of a racist. No, the writers at ESPN aren’t “stone racists,” but they don’t have to be in order to perpetrate what Zirin refers to as “casual racism.” As for the defense that such acts are unthinking, well, I’d challenge that: nice people sometimes say racist things quite thinkingly (because the clever joke seems worth it).

Zirin continues:

As a result [of an Asian-American-shaped blindspot] we see again that people of Asian descent are subject to a casual racism that other ethnic groups don’t have to suffer quite as starkly.

No one at ESPN would talk or write about a lesbian athlete and unconsciously put forth that the woman in question would have a “finger in the dike.” If an African-American player was thought of as stingy, it’s doubtful that anyone at the World Wide Leader would describe that person as “niggardly.” They would never brand a member of a football team as a “Redskin” (wait, scratch that last one.)

They wouldn’t do it because a mental synapse would spark to life and signal their brain that in 2012, unless you’re speaking at CPAC [the Conservative Political Action Conference], that’s just not OK. This collective synapse was forged by mass movements for black and LGBT liberation in this country that have forced a lot of people, particularly white straight men, to have a clue. There simply hasn’t been a similar national struggle built by people of Asian descent. I spoke about this with William Wong, longtime journalist, born and raised in Oakland’s Chinatown, and he said, “We haven’t had a national mass Asian-American civil rights movement because our numbers have been small and diffuse thanks to various exclusionary and discriminatory laws. Our communities are also too diverse in terms of American history and intra-Asian cultural and political differences. But we should note that many Asian-Americans in the 1960s, 1970s, and 1980s were energized by the larger civil rights movement to organize an Asian-American movement in states like California, Washington and New York where we had the numbers to come together.” This is true. In places with concentrations of people willing to stand up, Asian-Americans have come together across differences of language and origin to demand respect and equal rights, often in the face of terrible violence.

 I would add that Asian-Americans’ “model minority” status has also shaped our civil rights history: as much as there is to gain from protest, I believe there’s been a fear of what we have to lose.

But hold on: let’s not blame the victim by pinning ESPN’s and NBA fans’ ignorance on Asian-Americans not mobilizing as effectively as other groups. Certainly, equity is also the responsibility of those who are already included, who already enjoy their civil and social rights.

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