The whole Jeremy Lin story seems to be bringing out a new kind of racism that we're not used to -- a kinder, gentler racism made up of bad puns and well-meaning patronizing compliments.
Stay classy, Madison Square Garden Network.
Racism and hate often get paired together in people's minds like Siam- like conjoined twins. We always picture racists as angry and hostile, sneering racial slurs at minorities and making fear-based appeals about how some race is out to rape their women or take their jobs or dominate Hollywood.
One of the most common defenses against accusations of racism is "I don't have anything against X race," implying that it isn't racism if you don't have an actual grudge of some kind against a certain race.
Some people are insistent that racism should be defined that way, which is fine. If that's you, every time you see the word "racism" in this article, substitute the phrase "racial perception problems" and we should be on the same page.
Anyway, here's some types of ... racial perception problems that don't necessarily involve hate or bad intentions, but are still annoying as fuck. (Note: I'm going to be mostly giving examples of anti-Asian racism because I don't want to speak for people of other races and put words in their mouths about how they feel, but these concepts are probably annoying to anybody they're used on.)
#4. Even "A Little Bit" of Fear Isn't Harmless
Public domain via Wikipedia
A lot of racism is fueled by fear, and this is by far the worst for the people being targeted by it. People who are afraid of the "natural violent tendencies" they imagine black people to have, or the insidious plan Hispanics supposedly have to secretly take over our country by outbreeding whites, can be driven to do terrible, drastic things to people of the feared race, far worse than just some tired MSG jokes.
Fear of Asians has had its day, some examples being the Yellow Peril era, where America's beloved author Jack London suggested the only way to be safe from the Chinese was to exterminate every last one, or World War II, when they locked Japanese-Americans away in case their genetic loyalty to Japan kicked in, creating a bizarre world where American icons George Takei and Pat Morita spent their childhoods behind barbed wire.
Seriously, we put Sulu and Mr. Miyagi in an internment camp.
Even back in the '80s, along with Michael Jackson and leg warmers, one big trend was the "blame Japan" thing, where Japan's antlike hive-mind efficiency was allegedly stealing away jobs from red-blooded American autoworkers. Harmless political pandering, blaming abstract foreigners that were conveniently across an ocean and safe from any backlash.
In 1982, two laid-off autoworkers took the message to heart and decided to make Japan pay for its crimes by beating to death a Chinese-American guy named Vincent Chin (because we all look alike). Sure, maybe it was an isolated incident, and you can't blame society as a whole for what two violent, stupid individuals do, but then you have the sympathetic state judge that gave them no jail time, and everyone who helped them get cleared of all federal charges, so maybe that attitude was a little more widespread than just two guys.
Thankfully we're all more enlightened these days, and nobody is stirring up any dangerous kind of fear regarding Asians. OK, maybe a few politicians here and there are taking advantage of people's fear of China stealing away their jobs and money, and maybe some of them are using Asian-American actors to personify the China threat.
She says, "Your economy get very weak" in the same tone of voice Jennifer Aniston would say it or something. It's really really weird.
Any place that has hosted this video has gotten a ton of protests that there's nothing wrong with it and that anyone upset about it is an oversensitive nitpicker hung up on political correctness and trying to distract from the main issue. There's no hate, they're just stating some facts about China in a colorful way, and they put in an Asian-American actress to give the ad a little story line and grab viewers. So what if she's Asian-American and they're making her act like she's a greedy representative of communist China and putting broken English sentences in her mouth? It's theater! Elijah Wood wasn't really a hobbit! Duh!
Sure, taken by itself, maybe an ad like that is just laughably insensitive and harmless. But for anyone who remembers Vincent Chin (which is apparently just Asians), it's the first step on a road we've been down before. Getting votes by stirring up some minor anti-Asian sentiment isn't a big deal for someone who can't remember things that happened 30 years ago, but for anyone else, it's not really cool.
#3. No Fear, But No Respect
Fortunately for now, most of America just sees Asian-Americans as cute little socially awkward entertainers or one possible exotic choice in sex partners. (The wise, inscrutable stereotype usually only goes to foreign-born Asians. It's hard to sound wise with a California accent.)
I say "fortunately" because I guess I'd rather be patronized than worry about getting beaten, in the same sense that I'd rather have my wallet stolen than get my kidneys stolen. But the existence of kidney thieves doesn't make pickpocketing OK, and it doesn't mean people being pickpocketed should shut up and stop whining and be grateful they still have all their organs.
As Jay Kang of Grantland points out, a lot of Asian teens, including Jeremy Lin at 15, try to adopt aspects of black culture, because even with as many negative stereotypes as black people are saddled with, at least one stereotype is that black culture is cool, hip-hop in particular -- and cool is one label Asian-Americans can never get to stick.
Looking 10 years younger than your given age doesn't really help with that.
White people can be cool in the form of partying frat boys, suave businessmen, badass soldiers or wisecracking slackers, among other things. Black people can be pigeonholed into a lot of roles that are often stereotypical and negative, but still come across as cool -- rapper, basketball player, gangster. The only time Asians can look cool is if they're doing martial arts or are very wise in some kind of Eastern philosophy, which pretty much requires them to be from Asia or very immersed in Asian culture.
If you start talking like you're from California or Wisconsin, then forget it. There is no cool about you. You're not the life of the party. You're not the class clown. You'll never be a rock star. If you rap, it's expected to be ironic. Whenever you try to be cool, it's cute, and you get a pat on the head for making people smile.
Nobody ever flung hateful slurs at me in high school, but a (white) classmate tried to convince me to say "original gangster" after he said "O.G.," because it's funny when a studious Asian girl tries to say something cool and urban like that! She doesn't even know what rap is! Ha ha! She thinks she's Ice-T, motherfuckers! More like Ice-Oolong-T!
That's why we are crazy about having a flashy basketball star in Jeremy Lin. When your guy dunks on people, nobody can say he's not cool. Nobody can pat him on the head. That's a move that gets chest bumps and manly shouts and nods of respect.
Like Kang says, we feel like we're not allowed to make a big deal of how annoying it is to be patronized because other races are suffering discrimination in even more damaging ways. For sure, more resources and attention should go to the more serious race problems, but if making life a little less aggravating for Asian-Americans is as simple as not saying a couple of stupid things, why not do that, too?