Sunday, February 12, 2012

Jeremy Lin and the Black game

[T]o understand Jeremy Lin, we must look to Jin, the diminutive Chinese emcee from Jackson Heights who, for seven weeks, dominated the Battle Stage on BET’s 106th and Park. ...

As is true with Jeremy Lin, it mattered that Jin was American born, it mattered that he was competing in front of a mostly Black crowd on BET and it mattered that he was doing it with lines like, “If you make one joke about rice or karate/NYPD be in Chinatown searching for your body.” ...

Yes, he probably inspired a few Asian kids to see a rap career as a real possibility, but Jin represented more than another against-all-odds Asian success story. He wasn’t Connie Chung or Gary Locke or Jerry Yang, who, regardless of their intentions, confirm the country’s racial math. Jin went Black. In doing so, for those of us who were heeled on the mantra of assimilation, who have grown weary of the race towards whiteness, who have lived our lives in the strange space of identifying with hip-hop’s stories of racial oppression, but who have never really felt that our own stories could live up to the comparison, Jin’s bravado and skill offered an alternative interpretation of what it meant to be an Asian-American.

Try to understand, most of us, at some point in the race, have wanted to turn around and start running the other way. ...

It’s mostly about the dunks. The attention surrounding Lin has exploded this year, not because he’s playing any better than he did last year or because anyone cares about Harvard basketball, but because of the clips that have started circulating around youtube and sports websites that show Jeremy Lin dunking all over Georgetown, Boston College and UConn. ...

With its giants in skimpy uniforms, basketball allows us to see, clearly and plainly, the differences between us, the fans, and the athletes on the floor. Our perception of those bodies is driven by antiquated, but overwhelmingly accepted ideas of race. Dwight Howard is described as the winner of a “genetic lottery.” Lebron is either “otherworldly” or “superhuman,” whereas Steve Nash’s success comes from his ability to “overcome his athletic limitations.” When confronted with the task of placing their man on either side of the divide, Jeremy Lin’s fans, who have spread their research out across message boards and sports blogs, point out his breakaway speed, his vertical leap, his deceptive height. What they do not discuss is his jump shot, his free-throw percentage or his ability to throw a crisp bounce pass. Somewhere in the endless comparisons, odd personal anecdotes about meeting the man, and obsessive odes to Lin’s musculature, these fans have placed an implicit caveat onto his story: if he makes it to the league and plays a White game, this will all be for nothing.

Unfair, yes. But those of us trapped within the metanarrative have been conditioned our entire lives to imagine White. Like Jin before him, what Jeremy Lin represents is a re-conception of our bodies, a visible measure of how the emasculated Asian-American body might measure up to the mythic legion of Big Black supermen.

Within that singularly American calculus, it’s not about basketball at all. It’s about our fucked up anthropology.
--Jay Caspian Kang, FreeDarko.com, January 14, 2010, on why it matters that Jeremy Lin isn't just an outside jump shooter