Jeremy Lin & Racism: 3 Ways to Stop Dangerous Stereotypes

Asian basketball star Jeremy Lin has become the subject of jokes and racist comments. What can you do to prevent stereotyping in your organization?

By Barbara Frankel

Jeremy Lin, Photography by Gary King

Photography by Gary King

An emerging Asian superstar in a Black-dominated sport, basketball wonder Jeremy Lin is suddenly the subject of stereotypes, jokes and racism. Why do fans, commentators and journalists think it’s funny to make Asian jokes? Is Lin’s celebrity at least in part due to his “difference”?

Bigotry in sports is nothing new. From Don Imus’ rant about the Rutgers women’s basketball team to Jimmy the Greek’s infamous claim that Blacks were naturally superior athletes, we’ve seen the furor erupt and the marketplace repercussions.

But this one’s a little different. Lin, if you’ve somehow missed the excitement, is a point guard with the New York Knicks. Despite the presence of big-name athletes like Carmelo Anthony and Amar’e Stoudemire (both Black in a sport where Black players are the majority), the Knicks have been struggling this year. Enter the previously unknown Lin, the American son of Taiwanese immigrants. His heroics, including some amazing last-minute plays, vaulted the team to a seven-game winning streak that ended Friday night and excited fans and sports followers. Yesterday, he led the team to another amazing victory, which has the sports world buzzing.

The controversy erupted when boxer Floyd Mayweather tweeted: “Jeremy Lin is a good player but all the hype is because he’s Asian. Black players do what he does every night and don’t get the same praise.” FOX Sports columnist Jason Whitlock has already apologized for his tweet, which insulted Lin’s sexual ability, using a negative stereotype about Asians.

To top all this off, Madison Square Garden showed a fan’s video of Lin’s head popping out of a fortune cookie, and fans have taken to calling him “Yellow Mamba,” allegedly a play on Kobe Bryant’s nickname of “Black Mamba.”

And then early Saturday morning, an ESPN commentator and the ESPN mobile website used the phrase “Chink in the Armor” regarding the Knicks’ loss to the Hornets Friday night. ESPN immediately pulled the headline and apologized, but the damage was done. (The ESPN commentator was fired Sunday.)

This was their apology: “Last night,’s mobile web site posted an offensive headline referencing Jeremy Lin at 2:30 am ET. The headline was removed at 3:05 am ET. We are conducting a complete review of our cross-platform editorial procedures and are determining appropriate disciplinary action to ensure this does not happen again. We regret and apologize for this mistake.”

What’s going on and why are stereotypes so dangerous? What can your organization do when someone who’s very different from the majority takes on a major role?

Don’t Wait on Teaching the Power of Words 

As former NBA player John Amaechi, who is gay, told DiversityInc’s audience this fall: “In a world where diversity is important, sometimes people wonder about all the initiatives you can do for diversity, but what you can really do is teach people to really be there when they are talking.” This becomes the opportunity for an understanding that goes beyond stereotypes. Sixty-six percent of The DiversityInc Top 50 Companies for Diversity have mandatory diversity training for all their employees.

In other words, don’t wait for an incident to occur. Make sure ALL your employees have mandatory cultural-competence training and that managers are vigilant in creating an atmosphere that’s always inclusive.

Education Is Your Most Valuable Tool

Stereotypes are dangerous in every way. They destroy confidence and the ability to work and function successfully. They damage relationships, in the workplace and outside.

The greatest danger is in people accepting these stereotypes, making them “a normative behavior. That’s what happens eventually; behavior shifts and these are no longer the norm,” says Dr. Claude Steele, former provost of Columbia University and now dean of Education at Stanford University.

The best way to diminish the power of stereotypes is by education. As our recent panel on Muslims and stereotypes demonstrates, understanding the reality often changes perceptions.

Values Emanate From the Top 

Your organization’s values must be consistently and emphatically stated from the top. Take the recent example of JCPenney CEO Ron Johnson standing up proudly for the organization’s decision to hire Ellen DeGeneres as a spokesperson.

The organization’s values and mission should be expressed clearly on the website in the mission statement and in the CEO’s statement.

The visibility of the CEO—and the leader’s ability to hold people accountable for results—is most essential in ensuring everyone in the organization understands what’s acceptable and what’s not.

Learn more about what everyone’s been saying about Jeremy Lin and racism:

Jeremy Lin And Racism: Frequently Asked Questions
An SB Nation editor explores the psychological sources and differences in connotations and racial history.

Is This Jeremy Lin Fortune Cookie Graphic Racist? Knicks, MSG Didn’t Think So
Here’s a screen grab of Madison Square Garden’s depiction of Jeremy Lin as good luck in a fortune cookie.

Asian stereotypes appearing in coverage of Knicks’ Jeremy Lin
Madison Square Garden responds to the fortune-cookie image of Lin, saying it was created by a fan, while TV personalities such as David Letterman and Jon Stewart and a FOX Sports columnist also are cited for instances of racism mixed with humor.

Video: David Letterman’s Top 10 Worst Jeremy Lin Puns
From “Super Lin-tendo” to “Amasian,” Lin puns and references are everywhere in the media, many of which tie into his Asian heritage.

Columnist apologizes for racist Lin tweet; is that enough?
A complaint by the Asian American Journalist Association prompts FOX Sports’ Jason Whitlock, a Black man who tweeted a racist Jeremy Lin comment, to give an apology. A reader poll asks, “Is it enough?”

Is Knicks Jeremy Lin Overhyped Because He’s Asian? Floyd Mayweather Thinks So
A part of “Linsanity” is based in Lin’s ethnicity. But is the hype really because he’s Asian, as boxer Floyd Mayweather tweeted, playing a sport that has typically been dominated by Blacks? OpposingViews argues that it’s not.

Jeremy Lin and race: Bigotry in sports is nothing new
From Floyd Mayweather’s tweet to fellow teammates bowing karate-style to Lin after a game-winning shot, the racism toward Lin is nothing new among sports players—and Lin says he’s used to it.

Reaction to Lin’s success shows underlying racism
A San Francisco Gate blog discusses Asian stereotypes and whether Lin’s breakout can change social perceptions of the race and culture.

The Article I Didn’t Want To Write: Jeremy Lin & Racism
Are people more comfortable making puns about Asians than other racial groups? A blogger explores why as well as why people don’t seem to understand the implications and offense it can cause.

Linsanity May Reinforce Racial Stereotypes
Is Jeremy Lin’s story one of an underdog rising to the top, or is it an example of the problem of continuing stereotypes toward what is considered to be racial norms?




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  • Angela Calhoun

    My question is this, why does the media (commentators and jounrnalists), and the fans thinks it’s ok to make funny jokes or derrogative statements about any atheletes cultural background, especially in the sports industry?

    • I agree with your comments. When Jeremy said he was use to it. I thought how do you ever get use to it. As an Africcan American we need to speak out against such intolerance. It doesn’t matter if the person is Asian, Hispanic, American Indian etc. Commentators do not have to get caught up in the hype. Intergration is one thing however what I see is a disrespect beginning to come out of the African American community. It wasn’t that long ago maybe a few days. We would have been angry if those remarks were addressed to us. We don’t have to do or say everything just to get along. Remember it is Jeremy today, it may very well be you tommorrow.

  • Brian Stuart

    Bluntly, the relatively few comments about Jeremy Lin’s ethnicity have been more positive than negative. With the exception of the Mayweather comments, no one has publicly disparaged Lin because he’s Asian. To the contrary, most people celebrate his ability in a field that has relatively few Asian players.

    As to the headline “Chink in the Armor,” this is the typical overreaction to a innocuous phrase that has nothing to do with race. The phrase clearly has to do with a flaw in armor rather than Lin’s race. According to one report, most younger Asians were unaware of the offense until ESPN called attention to it. However, much like using the word “niggardly” or the phrase “calling a spade a spade,” people overreacted and a person got fired over an offense that could have been handled through an apology.

    We need to emphasize that Jeremy Lin is an American and a success rather than focus on silliness.

    • Luke Visconti

      What you may think is “innocuous” or “overreaction” is gravely important to other people. If the goal is workgroup cohesiveness (or, in a larger sense, societal cohesiveness), then your dictatorial decision on what passes for offensive language is counterproductive to accomplishing the goal. Another way of thinking about this is that, if using a “chink” or “spade” is going to cause discomfort and workplace or societal disruption, then use another word. Unless, of course, your goal is to cause disruption. Your IP address is from an area that is 37% Asian. Why don’t you try a local tavern that caters to that 37%, wait until about midnight and yell “chink in the armor” and see what kind of disruption happens to you? Luke Visconti, CEO of DiversityInc

    • This is shameful for a Black champion to minimize the achievement of another athlete because of his race! This is proof that physical ability does not always coincide with social ability!

  • Franklin E Rutledge

    Wow! Just kidding.
    I love sports. I love every discipline and venue of it. Every sport has its majority ethnic group. For me, I don’t care about an athlete’s ethnicity, gender or color. I am thankful that J Lin can play to excite me to watch pro basketball again. I left being excited about pro basketball after Michael Jordan finally retired. I would watch it occasionally. But now, I can’t wait to see high lights of the NY Knicks. Of course, I am not watching the Knicks, I’m watching Lin. Today I have another Pro Basketball Player that excites me. His name is Jeremy Lin. Notice the small letters for pro basketball after Michael Jordan, and the capital letters after Jeremy Lin. Pro Basketball for me is now alive, and I am Black.
    It is very stupid for Mayweather to make statements like he made. Some people just don’t think; Michael, Tiger, Lebron, Rondo, Koby and the king of all Ali. White people, Black people and people around the world stopped to watch these guys do their thing. The William Sisters bring the highest rating when they place. Everybody in college sports awed Mia Moore. What is Mayweather talking about? Nothing, a bunch of nothing. God bless Jeremy Lin.

  • Karen Hernandez

    I agree with Luke. Put yourself in the other person’s shoes and think before you speak. Carefully-chose words can be tools for celebrating diversity— unthinking words can be weapons to attack it. Put down your weapons and use your tools.
    “Be the change you wish to see in the world.” Gandhi

  • Brenda J-Yazd

    How incredibly sad that Lin cannot be considered a phenominal player and a tremendous asset to his team instead of a good asian player.

  • Once upon a time, the NBA (and now defunct ABA) were primarily dominated by Caucasian players. It would be interesting to check history to see if the same reactions to African-American players as they began playing in the professional leagues were made then as they are being made now to an Asian-American player. If the reactions are the same, then we haven’t gone too far as a country, and we should be concerned when people make the kinds of remarks they have been making. However, if the reactions are different, and especially if the reactions are less hostile than they were in the earlier days, then maybe we have progressed, and maybe we should not be too sensitized to the “not politically correct” ramblings of the ignorant.

  • How can calling someone a c—k be okay? What is wrong with our society? People need to think about names that hurt within their ethnic group. If its not okay with you, why would you call other ethnic groups hurtful names? Think before you speak…

  • Kevin Joubert

    I think that the newspaper headline is entirely inappropriate. Often times, racist, angry and intolerant comments are pointers to a reluctance to change. People fear change. I’ve reflected on times that I’ve been resistant to change and I have learned a valuable life lesson….

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