Dear America: Please Don't Ruin Jeremy Lin's Story

Dear America, I'm sending you a plea on behalf of all Asian Americans. I know you're caught up in Linsanity just like we are. But we really need this to continue, so it's very important that you let us help you learn how not to ruin it.
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Dear America,

I'm sending you a plea on behalf of all Asian Americans. I know you're caught up in Linsanity just like we are. It's a beautiful thing to watch you gaze with jaws dropped at the exploits of the first Asian American marquee player in NBA history. But we really need this to continue, so it's very important that you let us help you learn how not to ruin it.

Please note that this is a new phenomenon for us. We're not used to getting this much attention. Correct that. We're used to being the center of attention when politicians need a convenient scapegoat to distract attention from their failed policies and lack of real solutions. But we're not used to getting this much POSITIVE attention.

For the most part we've been good sports. We've joined in the fun of calling Jeremy things like "Linderella" and "Super Lintendo." Bear in mind, Asian Americans were ready to burn down Abercrombie and Fitch stores a decade ago over t-shirts with bad puns like "Wong Brothers Laundry Service: Two Wongs Make It White." But it's a lot more cool when it's Spike Lee tweeting puns on "Lin" to express mad love rather than the fifth-grade bully calling you names while stealing your lunch money.

And we know you've learned a lot already. The fact that you are using the term "Asian American" instead of "the Oriental guy" or "that Chinese dude" or "the latest import from Japan" is epic. Heck, the fact that you even acknowledge that there is an Asian American community in the United States is tremendous progress.

But the road to hell is paved with good intentions and right now they are combined with bad analogies being put forward by writers who've caught wind of Linsanity but don't realize how dangerous a little bit of partial knowledge can be. So please follow these simple steps to ensure that Linsanity doesn't jump the shark before its time.

1) Enough with the Tim Tebow comparisons.

We get that Jeremy's story is an underdog tale beyond Disney proportions. In fact, that's one reason not to compare him to someone who was a household name among college recruiters and won a Heisman playing for one of the biggest programs in the NCAA. Jeremy may be a devout Christian like Tim Tebow, but neither got snubbed by scouts for that reason.

Indeed, star athletes who thank God for their success are generally more common than those who don't. So please draw proper parallels by finding someone among the thousands of faith-driven athletes whose talents actually match up with Jeremy's.

And if you must link this great story to something providential, why not run with this one from the Athletes in Action website? "History will forever remember Jackie Robinson as the first African American in Major League Baseball. But Robinson's faith in God played a key role in his reaction to the racial taunts he faced when he began playing with the Brooklyn Dodgers in 1947."

2) Stop trying to turn Linsanity into a Black-Asian rivalry thing.

It's true that there have been some tragic conflicts between Asian American storeowners and African American customers. But if all you've ever heard about Black-Asian relations is that we're stuck in a "clash of irreconcilable cultures," you need to study a lot more history and sociology.

Folks who lived through the 1960s remember that there was a worldwide movement for "Afro-Asian solidarity" and its principle opponents were white imperialist powers who wanted to continue reaping the spoils of colonialism. Closer to home, you can look in any urban neighborhood and find many instances of Asian American merchants with great relationships with predominantly non-Asian customer bases and countless examples of Blacks and Asian Americans playing sports together with mutual respect.

So yes, there have been some unfortunate cases of folks hating on Jeremy -- people of all races, including Asians -- but it's been a pleasant surprise to see that: a) those have been greatly overshadowed by stories of how Linsanity has cut across multiple social boundaries; and b) Black folk rushed to get Jeremy's back -- not just superfan Spike Lee but many other commentators -- when Floyd Mayweather suggested he was just a yellow version of the "great white hype."

In fact, Al Sharpton, who once backed a boycott of a Korean American-owned grocery, has become one of Jeremy's biggest fans. Sharpton has even produced a "Lin Forward" ad for MSNBC in which he proclaims: "We've been waiting for a movement like this for decades. Americans have hope again, and there's real change in the air. It's got people from Wall Street to Main Street looking for their own diamond in the rough. It's about looking past the surface, beyond the stereotypes, and giving unlikely people a chance."

Try to keep this in context before you connect real and fabricated race-based criticism of Jeremy to every instance of racism in sports history you can find with a five-minute Google search. If you have to be corrected for calling Floyd Mayweather a "heavyweight champion," you're probably writing about race in sports at a level way above your weight class.

Getting beyond the "Blacks and Asians all hate each other" meme leads to the biggest piece of advice.

3) Please stop using a distorted version of Jeremy's story to justify your neo-conservative theories of bootstrap success.

Yes, Jeremy has exhibited diligence and determination in his uphill drive to success. However, EVERY elite athlete spends endless hours conditioning, honing his or her skills, and studying ways to improve. Look, we were all unbelievably impressed and moved to tears when Jeremy lit up the Lakers for 38 points and upstaged Kobe Bryant. But it didn't happen because Lin believes in "hard work" and Kobe is a "lazy" person who gets by on "natural" ability.

Here is one of many articles attributing Kobe's on-court prowess to the fact that "he trains harder and longer than anyone else in the NBA" -- relentlessly during the off-season plus four hours a day in-season. Kobe doesn't stop shooting jumpers until he has made 700 to 1,000 each day and will even continue practicing after the game is over.

We know that Jeremy went to Harvard, and that's a great part of this story -- one with an ironic twist because being a state champion in basketball was most assuredly the critical factor that earned him admission. He's proving that the so-called Asian "nerd" is multi-dimensional.

But before you start touting Jeremy as validation of the "Tiger Mother" theory of parenting that even author Amy Chua now admits was largely bogus or writing in the Washington Post that Jeremy embodies a "stereotype that should be celebrated,", please know that it's not a compliment to insinuate that that Asian Americans exhibit a dedication to education that you presume is lacking in other ethnic groups you wrongly believe are just skating by through affirmative action. And before you go overboard with the notion that Jeremy is a role model for "STEM-education," you need to at least watch the "How to get into Harvard" video (with YouTube comedy star Ryan Higa) you've cited as evidence .

(Note: This post originally failed to properly identify and link to the Washington Post piece that cited the "How to Get into Harvard" video and incorrectly stated that the link had been removed from a different article. It has been amended with the correct link added. Since I'm critiquing the errors of others, I take full responsibility for my own mistake.)

Watch Jeremy wearing "bigger glasses" to get smarter, playing Fruit Ninja to improve his dexterity, and knocking over another student to get a library book. If you still don't understand satire, then watch Jeremy get bonked on the head because he's reading math flashcards while he practices jumpers.

A side benefit is that you'll see that Asian Americans aren't so inscrutable at all. We've got a sense of irony that has helped us stay sane amid the many forms of racism we've endured from the Congressional ban on immigration from Asia to the mass internment of Japanese Americans.

But we've never had a chance to revel in the glory of an Asian American rising above all the slights and stereotypes he and the rest of us have faced to become a true superstar -- one that we can embrace with total sincerity alongside millions of Americans of every race, color, and creed doing likewise.

That's why we need this America. And in an era in which we are all anxious about economic and social crises but looking to discover the true value of diversity and global interconnectedness, you need this just as much as we do.

Thank you in advance.

This post was updated from a previous version.

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