If you were looking for material to highlight the absurdity of Jeremy Lin's emergence as the new darling of the NBA, you would have a lot to work with.
Lin went to perennial hoops pushover Harvard. His surname offers limitless combinations for those who favor puns. He was crashing on his brother's couch as recently as a couple weeks ago. Sarah Palin bought a "Linsanity" T-shirt and thinks he can unify the country or something. And of course, there's enough data that places his early performance up there with the game's giants.
But in a burst of thoughtlessness and insensitivity, some fans took the easy way out and MSG network gave them a platform:
All too easily, the image reduces Lin and his game to a simple-minded stereotype about his heritage. This also isn't much better than calling him "Yellow Mamba" or "Yellow Melo."
There's so many other ways to pay homage to Lin without minimizing his accomplishments to the most basic of ethnic tropes.
Of course, it bears mentioning that the fortune cookie was almost certainly founded in Japan and popularized in America. It's got nothing to do with the Taiwanese and less to do with Taiwanese-Americans.
So there's that.
Beyond that, when I look back at the tweet that forced FoxSports columnist Jason Whitlock to issue an apology and the Facebook post from a New York City councilman that caused a little online backlash, I'm reminded that amateurs should tread carefully with racial humor.
Most of us aren't qualified.
This realization takes a certain kind of self-awareness and humility. Lots of people think they're funny, and that their personal brand of humor fares well outside of their social circles.
Not really. Instead, we're all too often burdened with a lot of retrograde stereotypes that don't even approach this level of quality.
Call me a comedy elitist. Say that I'm too sensitive. Yearn for those less-P.C. days of yore when folks didn't get all uppity about locker room chatter around the water cooler.
If it wasn't already obvious, just know that I'm comfortable being on the side of this argument. As someone who works with words for a living, I'm a firm believer that they have consequences. Political correctness doesn't scare me and it shouldn't scare you.
Jon Bois gets at this in thoughtful primer on Lin and racism for SB Nation:
The primary objective of this conversation isn't to go around calling people racist and trying to make them feel like shit. It's to encourage people to critically assess their words and demonstrations. Racism can manifest itself in a thousand different ways. "I hate _____ people" is only one of them.
... I am a white American male who has personally experienced relatively little in the way of bias, but who has seen friends and strangers alike subject to undue words, insinuations, actions and circumstances thanks to nothing but their race. It's a real bummer, and it sucks to see resistance to it filed under "snobbiness" or "political correctness" or whatever, when all it really is, is a desire to respect and do right by other people and not be a shithead.
The reminder here is that it isn't about you or your sensibilities. Perhaps you were blessed with a Teflon constitution and apathy to spare. But that doesn't have much to do with the people around you.
Jeremy Lin is much more than a fortune cookie. Treat him as such.