Family Ties: On Jeremy Lin, “Tiger Moms,” And Tiger Woods | Racialicious – the intersection of race and pop culture

Family Ties: On Jeremy Lin, “Tiger Moms,” And Tiger Woods

By Guest Contributor Dr. David J. Leonard

In a world that imagines basketball as the purview of African Americans, the emergence of Jeremy Lin has sent many commentators to speculate and theorize about Lin’s success. Focusing on religion, Eastern philosophy, his educational background, his intelligence, his parents, and his heritage, the dominant narrative has defined Lin’s success through the accepted “model minority” myth.

In other words, while celebrating Lin’s success as a challenge to dominant stereotypes regarding Asian Americans, the media has consistently invoked stereotypical representations of Asianness to explain his athletic success, as if his hard work, athleticism, and talents are not sufficient enough explanations.

Intentional or not, the story of Lin is both an effort to chronicle his own success in comforting and accepted terms and, in doing so, offer a commentary on blackness.

“Discussions about the NBA are always unique because the NBA is one of the few spaces in American society where blackness, and specifically black masculinity, is always at the center of the conversation, even when it’s not. Power is often defined by that which is assumed, as opposed to that which is stated,” notes Todd Boyd.

“Because black masculinity is the norm in the NBA, it goes without saying. Concurrently any conversation about race in the NBA inevitably refers back to this norm. In other words, people seldom describe someone as a ‘black basketball player’ because the race of the player is assumed in this construction. So any current discussion about Jeremy Lin is taking place within the context of a league and its history where the dominant players have long been black men. Lin is ‘the other’, as it were, but here the standard is black, not white, as would normally be the case in most other environments.”

Not only does the constructed Lin narrative exist in opposition to the normative blackness of the NBA, but also the specific rhetorical utterances often play upon the dominant assumptions of today’s black ballers.

Central to the efforts to explain Lin’s success, a process that renders him as exceptional, has a focus on his parents. In the New York Daily News, Jeff Yang argues that, “the secret to Lin’s success seems to have been a combination of high expectations and unconditional support–a kind of tiger-panda hybrid, if you will.” Emphasizing his Dad’s role as basketball tutor and coach extraordinaire who exposed Lin to the “signature moves from the likes of Dr. J, Moses Malone, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, and, most of all, Michael Jordan,” the media consistently depicts his father in the tradition of (white) American fathers who nurtured and encouraged athletic performance. His mom, on the other hand, is depicted as a “tiger mom” of sorts, as someone who balanced out the father by maintaining an emphasis on education. Requiring that Lin and his brothers complete their homework prior to basketball, the narrative describes Lin’s athletic prowess as being the result of the perfect marriage of “Asian values” and “American” cultural norms.

While the media often links black athletic success to “God’s gifts” or to physical “prowess,” the efforts to chronicle Lin’s rise as reflecting his cultural background reinforces dominant conceptions of both blackness and Asianness.

Continue reading @ Family Ties: On Jeremy Lin, “Tiger Moms,” And Tiger Woods | Racialicious – the intersection of race and pop culture.

NewBlackMan: #LinSanity and the Blackness of Basketball

#LinSanity and the Blackness of Basketball

by David J. Leonard | NewBlackman

Over the last week, there has been significant discussion about how race is playing out within the media and fan reception of Jeremy Lin. Focusing on anti-Asian slurs, prejudice, and stereotypes, the media narrative has not surprisingly provided a simplistic yet pleasurable narrative. Imagining racism as simply bias that can be reduced through exposure and education, the media discourse has erased the powerful ways that sports teaches race and embodies racism. As Harry Edwards argues, sports recapitulates society, whether it be ideology or institutional organization.

According to Marc Lamont Hill, professor of education at Columbia, “blackness is at the center” of the media’s Linsanity. Seeing basketball as a space of blackness, “the whole undertone is irony, bewilderment and surprise.” Harry Edwards, Sociology Professor emeritus at UC Berkeley, highlights the predicable narrative, which reflects the fact that “we live in a niche society.” This encourages people to “retreat into traditional storylines.” Irrespective of facts or specifics, the deployed media narrative has retreated to a place that depicts the NBA as a black-league defined by athleticism and hip-hop that is changing before our eyes. The arrival of Jeremy Lin, who the media continues to cast in the role of the “model minority” whose intellect, personality, and overall difference is providing the league with something otherwise unavailable, is constructed through a narrative black-Asian conflict.

Replicating stereotypes, the undercurrent of the Lin narrative, the media inducted fantasy, has been his juxtaposition to the league’s black players. “Discussions about the NBA are always unique because the NBA is one of the few spaces in American society where blackness, and specifically black masculinity, is always at the center of the conversation, even when it’s not. Power is often defined by that which is assumed, as opposed to that which is stated,” noted Todd Boyd, Professor of Critical Studies at USC, in an email to me. “Because black masculinity is the norm in the NBA, it goes without saying. Concurrently any conversation about race in the NBA inevitably refers back to this norm. In other words, people seldom describe someone as a ‘black basketball player’ because the race of the player is assumed in this construction.

So any current discussion about Jeremy Lin is taking place within the context of a league and its history where the dominant players have long been black men. Lin is ‘the other’ as it were, but here the standard is black, not white, as would normally be the case in most other environments.” From the constant references to his being “humble” and “team-oriented,” to his widely circulated idea that he came out of no where and that his career is one of low expectations and being overlooked, the media narrative has imagined him as the anti-black baller. The stereotypes of both Asian Americans and blacks guide the media narrative.

According to Oliver Wang, “Some in the Asian American community are following “Linsanity” with caution, especially as commentators praise Lin for being “hard working,” “intelligent” and “humble,” words associated with long-standing stereotypes of Asian Americans. Chuck Leung, writing for, expressed the fear that “beneath this Linsanity is an invitation for others to preserve these safe archetypes.” Whereas black ballers are defined/demonized with references to selfishness and ego, a sense of entitlement that comes from societal fawning, Lin purportedly provides something else. Compared to black players, who are defined through physical prowess and athleticism, Lin, who is 6’3”, extremely physical and athletic, the media has consistently presented him as a “cerebral player” whose success comes from guile, intestinal fortitude, and determination, seemingly discounting his physical gifts and his talents on the floor. Marc Lamont Hill noted a report that described Lin as a “genius on the pick n’ roll.” Continuously noting his Harvard education, his high school GPA, his college GPA, and his economics major all advance the narrative of his exceptionalism and his presumed difference from the league’s other (black) players.

On Weekends with Alex Witt, Sports Illustrated columnist and Lin friend Pablo Torre celebrated Lin as a “student of the game,” and as an anomaly. Torre noted that Lin watches game footage at halftime, a practice he says isn’t seen within the NBA. While David West of the Indiana Pacers told me that watching footage is standard practice with the NBA, its usage here is just another example as how Lin is being positioned as NBA model minority and the desired body outside the sports arena.

Reflecting on the nature of this discourse, Hiram Perez in an essay about Tiger Woods, describes “model minority rhetoric” as both homogenizing the Asian American experience through professed stereotypes and celebration of Asian American accomplishments, but “disciplin[ing] the unruly black bodies threatening national stability during the post-civil rights era” (Perez, 2005, p. 226). The caricatured and stereotyped media story with Lin illustrates this dual process, one that reifies stereotypes concerning Asian Americans while at the same demonizing blackness. Historically, the model minority discourse has work to juxtapose homogenized identities, cultures, and experiences associated with Asian Americans and African Americans.

Continue reading @ NewBlackMan: #LinSanity and the Blackness of Basketball.

NewBlackMan: Silence, Innocence, and Whiteness: The Undemonization of Kevin Love

Silence, Innocence, and Whiteness:

The Undemonization of Kevin Love

by David J. Leonard | NewBlackMan

The Minnesota Timberwolves battled the Houston Rockets this past Saturday. Normally not on my radar, an incident involving Kevin Love and Luis Scola compelled inquiry even as the media remained silent. Purportedly frustrated over a non-call, Love not only fouled Scola, but as the Houston power forward lied on the ground Love proceeded to step on his face as he ran back to the offensive end of the court. “I fell down. He was kind of right there,” Love explained. “I got Size-19 feet. He just happened to be there. I had nowhere to go. I got tripped up. I had nowhere to step. It is just heat of the moment-type play.” The non-explanation aside, Love simultaneously identifies the incident as an accident and justifiable.

If an accident, why does he feel necessary to describe it as an unfortunate situation or to reference what happen between the two of them in game on Monday? “Love also referenced an unfortunate incident in Houston on Monday, when Scola attempted to throw a ball to deflect it off of Love out of bounds but the ball hit Love square in the groin.” Offering an explanation that seemingly justified his accidental behavior, Love was not alone in the exoneration process.

What followed the game, and the several days since there, has been silence – crickets in fact. Despite the fact that one of the league’s emerging stars stepped on an opponent’s face, the media has found little reason to write about the event. References to the event notwithstanding and a series of articles that have asked viewers to weigh in whether it was intentional or not, the overall media discourse has rendered Love’s stomping on an opponent’s face insignificant by its relative silence.

Even after the NBA announced a 2-game suspension for Love, the sports punditocracy has been muted in its criticism of Love, choosing rather to focus on his apology. Several headlines noted that in wake of the suspension, he has apologized yet again, having already apologized to Luis Scola following the game. In headline after headline, Love is constructed as apologetic, even though there is no specific apology provided by any of the news outlets (example #1, example #2). Instead they reference his statement issued on the team’s website:

“We got to talking about it, and as long as Luis and the Rockets are OK, then I’m OK with it,” Love said. “I feel like it was a learning experience, and it won’t happen again. There were no ill-intentions. I was trying to get him on a foul on the way up. I wasn’t trying to stomp him or anything like that. Just moving forward, and hopefully we win these next few games.

His post practice comments are further illustrative of a lack of contrition and a desire to give explanation rather than apology:

I don’t want to be known for that. I want to be known as a stand-up guy who happened to make a mistake with a size 19 shoe and just move on. So everybody knows there were no ill intentions there. It’s been a chippy year. It’s not only us. It’s not only the Pacers, the Rockets or anything like that. It’s a lot of games. The guys are tired. Games are being drawn out and guys are worn down.

Denying any “ill-intentions,” while describing it as a learning experience, doesn’t constitute an apology. The lack of criticism, the efforts to explain Love’s actions as resulting from his emotions, out-of-the-ordinary behavior, and otherwise not indicative of Love’s character reflect an overall effort to downplay the importance of his stomping on an opponent’s face.

Compare this response to the recent media criticism directed at Andrew Bynum. Following Game 4 of the 2011 NBA playoffs, which saw Bynum knock JJ Berea to the floor with a very hard foul, he was lambasted in the media. Called a thug, as player who was ejected for “dirty hits,” and as a player who exhibited, “stupidity, cowardice and unprofessionalism”;

Continue reading @ NewBlackMan: Silence, Innocence, and Whiteness: The Undemonization of Kevin Love.

Baller Blues: 49ers’ Kyle Williams Under Attack from Racist Fans – Entertainment & Culture – EBONY

Baller Blues: 49ers’ Kyle Williams Under Attack from Racist Fans

By David Leonard Writer

The New York Giants secured their spot in Super Bowl XLVI by defeating the San Francisco 49ers in an overtime thriller. Unfortunately, the game is not being remembered for its amazing defense, offensive struggles, and punting genius, but for the miscues of Kyle Williams, the 49ers 2nd year wide receiver. In two separate occasions, Williams was unable to secure the ball while receiving a punt, resulting in two Giant scores, the last one ending the game. In describing the reaction to Williams, Sean Jensen notes how he is “a goat, not a hero. And he’s vilified, not celebrated.” Football fans took to social media sites like Twitter to blame, vilify, demonize, and call for violence against Williams and his family: “@KyleWilliams_10. I hope you, youre wife, kids and family die, you deserve it” “Jim Harbaugh, please give @KyleWilliams_10 the game ball. And make sure it explodes when he gets in his car” (see here for more examples)

While Kyle Williams is not the first player to receive ample criticism for an on-the-field mistake (although the criticism of Billy Cundiff has not taken a similar tone), the racial subtext, evident ion the language and the calls for violence, has been particularly disturbing. The criticisms from many sports writers and fans alike have not simply been that he made a mistake or that he erred on the field, but rather that the game reflects his failures as a player and a person

“My take on this is that KW is not the ideal ‘team’ player. KW was so intent on making the ‘big’ play for himself than adhering to rules that all return men hold as gospel.

“Both fumbles on Williams, both for not thinking smart.”

“This Bonehead was carrying the football like he just stole a loaf of bread from the corner store. The Bonehead had no business being on the field in the first place.”

“I want this LOSER cut from the team immediately. Him and his hideous tattoos ruined a great season. He single handedly prevented the 49ers from winning this game twice! Fire this LOSER.”

Evident in these comments and others is the ways that race infuses meaning into the discussion, whereupon the conversation goes from the play to his character, his intelligence, his personality, his demeanor, and his body. While some have renounced the assaults on Williams, and sought to “blame” other circumstances for the loss, it is important to reflect on the hatred and violence directed at the wide receiver.

The efforts to explain use racialized language, to play on stereotypes, and otherwise demonize Williams has a larger context that reflects the varied ways that the sports world, from commentators to fans, talk about athletes through racially distinct language. Citing a 1996 study that “examined NFL telecasts,” Andrew Billings notes that, “sportscasters had entirely different focal points for commentary about athletes of different ethnicities.” He further argues “If the player was White, sportscasters placed an increased focus on the cerebral aspects of the player (e.g., cognitive qualities) but, if the player was Black, sportscasters placed their focus on describing the body size, type, and strength of the athletes (e.g., physical qualities).” With Williams, we see similarities, with emphasis on his “intelligence,” “decision-making” and “understanding of the game.”

Continue reading @ Baller Blues: 49ers’ Kyle Williams Under Attack from Racist Fans – Entertainment & Culture – EBONY.

The Layup Line » Zero Tolerance or Zero Conscience: Is High School Football Being Over-Policed?

Zero Tolerance or Zero Conscience: Is High School Football Being Over-Policed?

by djwsu on December 8, 2011

With 6 minutes remaining in the MIAA 4A Super Bowl (Boston), Matthew Owens faked an inside hand off, breaking free to the outside as he raced toward the endzone. Obviously overcome by emotion, understandable given that he was about to score the potential game- winning touchdown, which would send his school to the state championship, Owens began to “celebrate.” As he crossed the 20-yard line, he briefly raised his arm in celebration, prompting the referee to throw a flag, nullifying the touchdown. In the end, his Cathedral High School squad would fall short of their goal, losing 16-14 to Blue Hills. What Owens had imagined to be the perfect birthday present (he turned 18 on game day) and described, as the “play of his life,” has no happy ending. There would be no Hoosiers or Miracle ending, not surprising given the ways in which race, class and sports operate in contemporary America.

While clearly not a violation of the spirit of the rule (and even its written language), my interest here is not to debate the call or even the rule (you can go here for a longer discussion). What is revealing about the ensuing debate regarding the penalty assessed to Owens is how many people have used this moment to demonize Owens, and rouse the circulation of dominant stereotypes about blackness and the inner-city.

For example, in an article describing Boston Mayor Thomas Menino’s reactions to the penalty, commenters used this incident as evidence of the pathology and dysfunctional values of inner-city communities

Occumom: “It has now become a “diversity culture” issue. Mumbles will excuse the typical bad behavior

OccupyBoston: “Bottom line here is that the thug knew the rules, the ref spoke to the players before the game. And the thug broke the rules for whatever reason, immaturity, bad breeding, bad parenting, bad something. In life there are ramifications for bad conduct. Just because he’s black doesn’t mean he should get a free pass.”

IWuvAlienCahThieves: First he supports Liz Warren’s Occupiers, now he supports a thug behaving badly, in flagrant violation of rules that were explained to him very clearly before the game.

Is our Mayor becoming an anarchist in his advanced age? Or does he selectively enforce and judge people based on race or political affiliation? Yes that’s it. He is corrupt.

Alleging that Owens is a “thug” and his behavior results from “bad breeding” and “bad parenting,” and decrying that “because he’s black doesn’t mean he should get a free pass” makes the racial dimensions of these responses quite clear. Owens, and blackness in general, is rendered as both undesirable and suspect because of the cultural morals and values that “thugs” or inner-city youth supposedly bring into the arenas, fields and stadiums that saturate America’s cultural landscape. Given the danger and immorality practice by “thugs” these respondents celebrate the referee as providing the necessary punishment and discipline for those who otherwise are incapable of civilized behavior.

via The Layup Line » Zero Tolerance or Zero Conscience: Is High School Football Being Over-Policed?.

NewBlackMan: Permanent Markers: Race & The Cultural Politics of Tattoos


Permanent Markers: Race & The Cultural Politics of Tattoos

by Lisa Guerrero and David J. Leonard | NewBlackMan

We’re sports fans. We enjoy most sports, but basketball is really our true love. And typically during this time of year love is in the air. However, with the owners continuing to deny us our NBA (I want my, I want my NBA), we are forced to fill the void with something besides more football. Lucky for us, we’re also what’s known in the postmodern lexicon as “foodies,” so we have been distracting our lovelorn, NBA-deprived hearts with cooking shows. From the more competitive shows like Top Chef to the voyeuristic and instructional options on Food Network, we have found ourselves watching a lot more cooking shows than normal.

Besides becoming formidable cooks in our own right, our increased viewing of food television programming has brought to light interesting connections between the masters of the hard wood and the masters of the hard boil. Both are bound together by the shared creativity found in the kitchen and on the court, the competitive spirits, and the emphasis on spontaneity, but it is the prevalence of tattoos in both worlds that offers a particularly rich perspective on the popular discursive signs placed on racialized bodies, the continued absence of class in the framing of our understanding of pop culture, and the curiously linked, yet distinct place of the baller and the chef in the American consciousness of the 21st century.

In her 2010 story in LA Weekly: “Chefs with Tattoos: A colorful rebellion against kitchen rules,” Amy Scattergood says “Cooks turn to tattoos as a preferred expression of individualism, a form of rebellion against kitchen environments that demand conformity. For chefs, as for prisoners, soldiers, and NBA point guards, a tattoo is a mark that can be worn with the uniform.” And interesting list of tattoo aficionados, indeed; all in various ways are linked, albeit differentially, to notions of containment and discipline. Setting this differential aside for a moment, it is interesting to consider the sociocultural code of transgression mapped onto the very literal “markers” of tattoos. Focusing specifically on the popular trending of tattoo art in the late-20th century into the 21st century, the intersecting meanings of rebellion, creativity, and individualism are framed through selective lenses depending on who is “rebelling” or asserting their “individuality,” and against or for whom.

Chefs don’t typically invoke fear in the imagination of the public at large. Though the contemporary cliché surrounding the “chef narrative” is that they are the “new rock stars,” it is largely a romanticized version of professional chefs stoked by the ever-increasing fascination with commodified foodie culture, and is reified by a performative rebellion that isn’t linked to any substantive notions of danger (unless you count being afraid of a chef spitting in your food). Some trace this “bad boy” chef image to the emergence and popularity of Anthony Bourdain, whose own performative rebel persona, replete with foul mouth, cranky disposition, heavy drinking, and daredevil attitude toward food cultures, is actually elaborate window dressing for an articulate, thoughtful, passionate and skilled professional.

But the “bad boy” chef who is rude, rule-breaking, and crass, of which Bourdain is the originator, is a much hotter commodity than the staid notion of chefs as proper, regimented, and classy. And tattoos serve as a shorthand for this image. When you see a sleeve of tats peeking out from the crisp chef’s jacket the popular translation is that the food is somehow more adventurous, more desirable, more creative because there’s a dash of transgression in it. As Brendan Collins, chef-owner of Waterloo & City is quoted by Scattergood as saying: “We’re all degenerates at heart. If I hadn’t found cooking, I’d probably be in prison.” But of course, he’s not. He’s actually a classically-trained chef who, at 34, owns his own restaurant in Southern California. A real gangster.

This brings us back to the idea of the differential relationship to containment and discipline of various tattooed populations, and the two main reasons why the commodified image of the tattooed rebel chef is problematic. First, though it is true that many of today’s most popular and celebrated chefs have working class, hard-scrabble backgrounds, the elite training most (though not all) have, and the elite echelons they have reached professionally setting the palates of mainly monied classes, puts their tattooed markings in a very different light than those of prisoners, soldiers, and NBA point guards, just for example. For the chefs, it becomes a little like dress-up. Meanwhile, their rebel personas render invisible the class and labor realities of the line cooks, apprentices, and other kitchen staff who provide the central foundation for the success of the head chefs.

Continue reading @NewBlackMan: Permanent Markers: Race & The Cultural Politics of Tattoos.

NewBlackMan: Putting the “Run Away Slaves” Ahead of the Plantation: Parity, Race and the NBA Lockout


“Basketball and Chain” by Hank Willis Thomas


Putting the “Run Away Slaves” Ahead of the Plantation:

Parity, Race and the NBA Lockout

by David J. Leonard | NewBlackMan

In wake of LeBron James’ decision to take his talents, along with those of Chris Bosh, to South Beach to join forces with Dwayne Wade, the NBA punditry has been lamenting the demise of the NBA. This only became worse with the subsequent trades of Deron Williams and Carmelo Anthony to New Jersey and New York respectfully. Described as a league “out of control in terms of the normal sports business model” where player power “kills the local enthusiasm for the customer and fan base,” where superstars leave smaller markets with no hope of securing a championship, where manipulating players and agents have created a game dominated by “players whose egos are bigger than the game,” much has been made about player movement.

Commentators have lamented how players are yet again destroying the game from the inside, thinking of themselves ahead of its financial security and cultural importance. In “NBA no longer fan-tastic,” Rick Reilly laments the changing landscape facing the NBA. Unlike any other sport, the NBA is now a league where “very rich 20-somethings running the league from the backs of limos,” are “colluding so that the best players gang up on the worst. To hell with the Denvers, the Clevelands, the Torontos. If you aren’t a city with a direct flight to Paris, we’re leaving. Go rot.” In other words, this line of criticism have warned that “the inmates are running the asylum,” so much so that the league “is little more than a small cartel of powerful teams, driven by the insecurities and selfishness of the players who stack them.”

While such rhetoric erases history (of trades – players of the golden generation have certainly demanded trades; the same can be said for other sports as well) and works from a faulty premise that parity is good for the economics of the NBA (the very different television monies for the NBA and NFL proves the faultiness of this logic), the idea that the league needs more parity remains a prominent justification for the NBA lockout. “The owners believe that the league should be more competitive and that teams should have an opportunity to make a profit,” notes David Stern. Similarly, Adam Silver, deputy commissioner, argues, “Our view is that the current system is broken in that 30 teams are not in a position to compete for championships.”

Such rhetoric and Stern’s ubiquitous statements about the NBA needing a dramatic restructuring builds upon argument that the NBA’s future is tied to its ability to thwart players like LeBron James, Carmelo Anthony, Deron Williams, and potentially Dwight Howard, Chris Paul, and others from taking their talents anywhere.

Continue reading @ NewBlackMan: Putting the “Run Away Slaves” Ahead of the Plantation: Parity, Race and the NBA Lockout.