Curiously controversy continues to overtly and covertly surround Jeremy Lin’s existence as a member of the National Basketball Association (NBA). The most recent controversy you ask; Lin’s decision to change his hairstyle. For the unfamiliar Jeremy Shu-How Lin is one of the few basketball players in the NBA, an American professional basketball association of Asian descent. Lin’s ethnicity is Taiwanese/Chinese. Lin entered the Association the hard way, undrafted. He was not deterred, and maintained a sense-of-self and a belief in his abilities in a profession where those of his ilk are not often seen. He was cut by a number of teams before receiving a chance to prove his mettle with the New York Knicks in 2012.
Recently, Denise Young Smith, Apple’s Vice President Diversity and Inclusion, an African American female, was quoted as saying:
“There can be 12 white, blue-eyed, blonde men in a room and they’re going to be diverse too because they’re going to bring a different life experience and life perspective to the conversation,” Young Smith said on-stage at the recent One Young World Summit, held in Bogotá, Colombia.
In few words Apple’s representative revealed the multi-talented nature of racism. Words spoken clearly, providing a visible dose of self-hate, laying waste to what she was hired to do, appearing more like mere caretaker for the tech industry’s woeful diversity, done in black, possessing a white-washed mine. Words spoken clearly making it appear that she occupied the position for window dressing purposes only; speaking honestly when she didn’t realize she was speaking a bit too honestly; telling the world what she really thinks. One of the problems with racism [or sexism] is sometimes the victims of these social diseases forget that the victims too have to check themselves, because they too are infected by the same disease(s). Seemingly, I have digressed but I have not. I hope I am making sense.
Once given a chance, Lin demonstrated he belonged. Over a twelve game span, the term Linsanity was born. Linsanity was actually larger than Lin himself, captivating Knicks’ fans, the Asian world, the imagination of those who have been told they too do not belong. Draining game winning shots, directing the team like the next coming, lifting a moribund Knicks’ franchise for a brief period, while resurrecting – in my mind – the lives and history of the African American athletes who too looked differently when they pleaded, demanded to be given a chance to prove they belonged. How soon we forget.
Moses Fleetwood Walker, Jackie Robinson, Larry Doby, ghosts of baseball’s past sins, would have never criticized Lin’s role as a first. Charles Cooper, Nat Clifton, Earl Lloyd former professional basketball players would have likely applauded and extended a hand, recognizing when their color was a barrier to others in joining the NBA before they were given a chance. Kenny Washington, football’s first, would have blocked for him, shredding criticism, reminding the rest of us you can’t place five white men on the court and call your decision and exercise in diversity, while the Asian ball players sit on the bench looking around, bemoaning never being given the opportunity to show their mettle.
What controversy? After the twelve game display, comments were leveled at Lin’s way revealing a lack of appreciation for history and why Lin’s dazzlingly display, particularly in a historical context, had meaning beyond the individual himself.
Waging criticism of Lin’s rise to fame (his teammate, Carmelo Anthony’s remarks); purporting not having any idea who or what he was (comments by then star in the league, Kobe Bryant); expressing outrage (comments made by multiple athletes in the league at the time) when Lin was offered a contract by the Houston Rockets, even though it seemed Lin’s good fortune would benefit other union members of the Association.
Sure that time has passed. Lin is no longer with New York or Houston. He has in fact changed teams on multiple occasions. Today there is no more Linsanity. Lin is still in the league however, now on the New Jersey Nets. One thing seems constant; the diseased mind still continues to lurk, occasionally appearing in the oddest places.
The new criticism is about hair. Lin has elected to wear his hair in dreadlocks, ropelike strands of hair formed by matting or braiding. Kenyon Martin, an African American, and former professional basketball player, after he discovered Lin’s choice, did what we tend to do in this age of digital miscommunication – he said what he shouldn’t have.
“Do I need to remind this damn boy his last name Lin?” Martin said (h/t Nets Daily). “Like, come on, man. Let’s stop it with these people. There is no way possible he would’ve made it on one of our teams with that bulls–t on his head. Come on man, somebody need to tell him, like, ‘alright bro, we get it. You wanna be black.’ Like, we get it. But your last name is Lin.'”
Without engaging in a detailed debate surrounding the origins of civilization, or who did what when, the inherent racism found is Martin’s statement is readily identifiable. First, he ignores dreadlocks, as a hairstyle, has been documented throughout history. A quick reference to Wikipedia reveals that during both the Bronze and Iron Age, dreads appeared in “Near East, Asia Minor (considered the western two-thirds of the Asian part of Turkey), Caucasus (located between the border of Europe and Asia, situated between the Black Sea and Caspian Sea), ancient Persia (present day Iran, Afghanistan, and Tajikistan). Also evidence of dreadlocks was discovered among the ancient Israelites (ancient Israelites are considered to be an outgrowth of the indigenous Canaanite populations that long inhabited the Southern Levant, Syria, ancient Israel and the Transjordan region), in ancient Greece (depicted in frescoes), and Egypt (seen with mummified remains). Martin should have done a preliminary search before hitting send.
The charge of cultural misappropriation is dangerous in this context, in that it reaches and grabs a number of different cultures, peoples and religions, all incorporating the same hair style. By way of example, pray tell which myth survives reality when one group attempts to claim credit for matters as common as dance, bread, alcohol beverages.
I muse because I believe Martin’s sin is not his failure to undertake a modicum of research; instead his is a greater sin, the byproduct of endemic racism. Seemingly never wanting to give Lin his due, criticizing him for matters unrelated to his professional path. The same way Jackie Robinson and others were criticized for anything and everything. The faux argument over hairstyle and choice is no different, more of the same.
The website Root.com wrote about Lin’s hairstyle, missing the mark widely. Electing to tell a joke of the incident and comments; ignoring history’s wide and encompassing clutch; the act of pretending to support Lin while burying him with faint praise. Absolutely, Lin has complained of racism – before and after the Linsanity label – however he didn’t this time, instead asking Martin about the tattoos on his arm, which contains Chinese characters – cultural misappropriation I guess. The same cultural misappropriation I too have engaged in when electing to purchase Chinese artwork over the years, or having bookcases made in Hong Kong years ago, prior to Mainland China opening her doors. My suggestion – any future references to Jeremy Lin’s hair also include a visit with history’s lessons, of course, after checking our racism at the door.