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 Slate.com, 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.

Tongue-Tied: Jeremy Lin and Media Dialogue on Race Matters | Urban Cusp

Tongue-Tied:

Jeremy Lin and Media Dialogue on Race Matters

David J. Leonard

I spent much of the last two weeks watching New York Knicks games, a painful reality given my unwavering loyalty to the Los Angeles Lakers, to participate in the phenomena that has come to be known as Linsanity. When not watching games, my days have been spent listening to interviews, reading commentaries, and debating and discussing Jeremy Lin’s meteoric rise. Among the many things I have noticed is how we as a society lack a level of media literacy, seemingly accepting the narrative disseminated by the national media. With little reservation or questions, there is little room to think critically about how Lin is being positioned within most media circles.

For example, we have been told that Lin “came out of no where.” Simultaneously erasing his experiences and the hard work that led him to become the starting PG with the Knicks and his past successes (at Harvard, including dominating performance against UCONN; during the NBA summer leagues), the “out of no where” idea reflects the “American Idolization” or the “The Apprentization” of American life. Discounting hard work, talent, and a myriad of factors, we increasingly live in a society that imagines the American Dream as simply around the corner, available with a little bit of luck and opportunity.

The appeal of Lin as “coming out of no where” does not reflect the power of stereotypes but a sense of pleasure that comes with our collective belief that our dreams can come true. Irrespective of the profession, we all believe or think we can “come out of no where” to garner success and appreciation. Such belief in meritocracy and in the American Dream reflects a certain level of Lin’s appeal, a fact that should elicit self-reflection and critical analysis.

Likewise, the belief that Lin is undermining, if not eliminating, stereotypes about Asian Americans, is optimistic to say the least. Timothy Yu’s “Will Jeremy Lin’s Success End stereotypes?” embodies this hope: “American culture tells us, in short, that Lin shouldn’t exist. Every time he drives to the basket, he upends stereotypes of Asians as short, weak and nerdy. Every time he talks to the media, he dispels the idea that all Asian-Americans are like foreigners speaking broken English.”

Jay Caspian Kang pushes this conversation further arguing that it isn’t simply Lin’s presence on the court that undermines longstanding stereotypes but the style that he plays with. “I’m sure we’d all like to peg the humble Asian kid as unselfish. But Lin can be a bit of a black hole [with the ball]. Some of his most exciting baskets have come on drives that start around half court.” Yet, that isn’t the narrative in circulation. As noted by Picca and Feagin, stereotypes “act, like self-fulfilling prophecies tend to be reinforced when new information fits them, while information that negates a stereotype tends to be rejected.” The stereotype, in itself, impairs our ability to see the reality.

For example, in the aftermath of the Knicks loss the New Jersey Nets, which was Lin’s first game playing alongside Carmelo Anthony, the criticisms directed at Anthony focused on his selfishness and ball-hogging approach in the game despite the fact that Lin took 18 shots compared to Melo’s 11. Understanding the desire to see Lin as a “game changer,” as someone who is ushering in a new racial moment, the persistence of inequality and institutional racisms leaves me questioning the level of optimism, one that seemingly places stereotypes on the doorstep of those who have been confined within the prism of racial expectations.

One of the emergent narratives, especially in the wake of the tweets from Jason Whitlock and Floyd Mayweather, ESPN’s headline and the MSG “fortune cookie” image, has been the ways in which racism has been directed against Asian American communities. While illustrating the profound ways that racism guides both public discourse and material conditions impacting AAPI communities, the efforts to create a hierarchy whereupon anti-Asian prejudice (institutional racism is never figured) is tolerated whereas anti-black or anti-Latino racism is met with opposition and condemnation represents a significant failure.

continue reading @ Tongue-Tied: Jeremy Lin and Media Dialogue on Race Matters | Urban Cusp.

Linsanity! What Jeremy Lin Means to the NBA – Entertainment & Culture – EBONY

Linsanity! What Jeremy Lin Means to the NBA

The first Asian American player’s storied path triumphs against-and highlights-sports racism

By David Leonard Writer

 

Unless you have been stuck on Newt Gingrich’s moon colony, you probably have heard about Jeremy Lin – AKA “Linsanity”. Trending on Twitter, saturating the social media scene, and commanding ample attention from sports media outlets, Lin has entered the national cultural landscape with vengeance. While his rise most certainly reflects his recent success within American’s media market and the renewed hope from New York Knicks fans, who have increasingly embraced the cynicism usually reserved for the Cubs, the hoopla has larger implications. The power and popularity of Jeremy Lim rests with the appeal of the constructed narrative around him.

Since Lin emerged on the national scene during his playing days at Harvard, the media discourse has focused on his experiences as an immigrant. Lin’s parents emigrated from Taiwan to the U.S. in the 1970s. According to an ESPN article, his Dad dreamed of coming to the U.S. to earn a Ph.D. and “watch the NBA.”

The narrative is one right from the playbook of the American Exceptionalism and American Dream crowd: Gie-Ming (his Dad) dedicated himself to fostering their academic success (they would only get to play basketball after finishing their homework), along of their basketball prowess. Having studied the great players of the NBA, he passed this knowledge onto his children. According to Dana O’Neil, Lin’s story is one of the “immigrant dream”:

All those years Gie-Ming Lin spent rewinding his tapes so he could teach himself how to play a game he never even saw until he was an adult? All those hours spent in the local Y with his boys, schooling them in fundamentals over and over, building muscle memory without even knowing what the term meant? That silly dream, the one in which his children would fall in love with basketball as much as he had?

The underdog, bootstraps, and sticktoitness narrative that ultimately depicts Lin as “overlooked.” According to Howard Beck, the recent ascendance reflects a “continuing a long pattern of low expectations and surprising results.” Noting his success in high school and at Harvard and the lack of attention from coaches, scouts and teams, Beck further argues: “At draft time, in June 2010, Lin was again overlooked. NBA teams…They were the kind of concerns scouts have every year about dozens of prospects, from all sorts of programs and all sorts of backgrounds. Yet there was no escaping Lin’s unusual pedigree and the subtle sense that he did not fit a profile.” His success is attributed to his intelligence, dedication, and his fundamentals. It is attributed to his hard work. Thanks to our culture’s attachment to stereotypes, stories focusing on talent and athleticism are rare.

Part of the narrative of Lin exceptionalism has focused on how he has overcome racism and bigotry during his meteoric rise. His Harvard-to-riches story, his struggle to garner acceptance and an opportunity, reflects anti-Asian prejudice that led teams and fellow competitors to underestimate him. According to Pablo Tore, “the Kansases and Kentuckys, however, didn’t exactly knock down … Only four schools responded. Out of the Pac-10, Lin recalls, UCLA ‘wasn’t interested,’ Stanford was ‘fake interested,’ and during a visit to Cal a staffer ‘called me ‘Ron.’” Lin specifically has cited racial stereotypes as an impediment to his recruitment: “I think in America, basketball is predominantly for, you know, black and white people. And so, I think it is just, yeah, I mean, I guess people aren’t used to it and people don’t expect it,” he noted during an NPR interview, “In general Asian-Americans are seen or looked down upon on the basketball court.”

Through his career, he has experienced prejudice from fans, who have yelled “wonton soup,” “sweet and sour pork,” “to play the orchestra,” “beef and broccoli” and “sweet and sour chicken” in his direction. He has been called a “Chinese import” while others have demanded that he “Go back to China.” The narrative of Lin exceptionalism, one that cites racism and prejudice, as yet another obstacle overcome is emblematic of the power of the constructed narrative surrounding LinThe Jeremy Lin story (coming to theater near you) is evident in the ways in which media narratives are used to convey racial and national meaning, the ways in which he has been ideologically marked, and the ways in which they have been used by the NBA and sport media to attract Asian and Asian American fans throughout the Diaspora. “In the era of globalization, the Phantom of race is articulated not through the body of the NBA’s black majority, but in the event of the minority athlete, who is not white but Asian,” writes Grant Farred in his thoughtful discussion of Yao Ming, race, and the globalization of the NBA. “‘Asian-ness’ has often located Asian Americans outside of African-American Blackness, which is to say, ‘above” African Americans

Continue reading @ Linsanity! What Jeremy Lin Means to the NBA – Entertainment & Culture – EBONY.

The God Squad: Tim Tebow, Jeremy Lin, And Religiosity Of Sports | Racialicious – the intersection of race and pop culture

The God Squad:

Tim Tebow, Jeremy Lin, And Religiosity Of Sports

By Dr. David J. Leonard

Among the virtual saturation of Jeremy Lin online has been a poster of him with the words “We are all witnesses.” At Monday’s New York Knicks game, fans donned “black T-shirts that read “The Jeremy Lin Show” on the front” and “We Believe” painted on the back.

Encapsulating the hoopla and hype, while referencing the similar promise that LeBron James brought to Cleveland and the NBA (how’d that work out?), not to mention the spectacle of his meteoric rise, “the witness” iteration illustrates the religious overtones playing through the media coverage.

Since Lin emerged on the national scene while at Harvard, he has made his faith and religious identity quite clear. While refusing to abandon the “underdog” story, Cork Gaines focuses readers attention on his religious beliefs: “But there is more to Jeremy Lin than just being an undrafted Asian-American point guard out of Harvard. He is also a devout Christian that has previously declared that he plays for the glory of God and someday hopes to be a pastor.” Noting how post-game interviews often begin with Lin announcing his faith – “just very thankful to Jesus Christ, [his] Lord and savior” – Gaines uses this opportunity to deploy the often noted comparison that Jeremy Lin is the NBA’s Tim Tebow.

While making the comparison through the Cinderella/overlooked narrative, the media celebration of their faith and evangelical beliefs serves as the anchor for the Lin as Tebow trope. “Tebowmania? That was so 2011. It’s time for a new cult-hero phenomenon: Linsanity,” writes Ben Cohen in “Meet Jeremy Lin, the new Tim Tebow.”

Then there’s their shared religious values. ‘I’m just thankful to God for this opportunity,’ Lin said in an on-court interview Saturday before tweeting, “God is good during our ups and our downs!” His Twitter avatar is a Jesus cartoon. Tebow’s, for the record, is his autobiography’s cover.

Described as Taiwanese Tim Tebow, as resembling “Denver Broncos Quarterback Tim Tebow,” as filling the mold that Tebow “patented,” Lin’s identity (meaning/significance) is ascribed by his connection to Tebow. Tebow defines him.

In “From Unknown To Phenom In 3 Games: Harvard Grad Jeremy Lin Saves The New York Knicks,” Les Carpenter makes the comparison clear: “He is a Christian, vocal in his belief. And because of this and because he is a flawed player proving the experts wrong, people are comparing him to Tim Tebow.” According to Gaines, “Lin and Tebow are not the first athletes to make their faith a key component of their athletic persona. But if Lin, another unconventional player fighting an uphill battle against haters and doubters, continues his spectacular play in The World’s Most Famous Arena, the NBA may soon experience their own Tebowmania. And the fans are already calling it “Linsanity.”

While dismissing the links beyond the uber-hype afforded to Tebow (and now Lin), Bethlehem Shoals furthers the comparison: “Tim Tebow, whose religious views are no secret, probably considers luck the pay-off for faith; Lin is also an enthusiastic Christian. Whether you feel like pushing things in that direction is your business. The bottom line is that, thus far, Lin has been a welcome surprise, a Cinderella story that no one wants to see end.”

The comparison is instructive on multiple levels (see here to understand problems with comparison in a sporting context). Each exists in juxtaposition to blackness. The “underdog” narrative, the focus on hard work and intelligence, and the claims of being overlooked and discriminated against all elucidates the ways in which their bodies are rendered as different from the hegemonic black athletic body.

Religion, thus, becomes another marker of difference, as a means to celebrate and differentiate Lin and Tebow. Whereas black athletes are seen within the national imagination to be guided by hip-hop values rather than religious values, Lin and Tebow practice an evangelical ethic on and off the field/court. Tebow and Lin operate as “breath of fresh air.” Writing about Tiger Woods in Sports Stars: The Cultural Politics Of Sporting Celebrity, C.L. Cole and David L. Andrews argue that Woods’ emergence as a global icon reflected his power as a counter narrative. As “a breath of fresh of air,” his cultural power emanated from his juxtaposition to “African American professional basketball players who are routinely depicted in the popular media as selfish, insufferable, and morally reprehensible.”

Continue reading at The God Squad: Tim Tebow, Jeremy Lin, And Religiosity Of Sports | Racialicious – the intersection of race and pop culture.