Buzz Bissinger spouts off on race and Jeremy Lin - and we all cringe

I get it. There are plenty of people who don’t like the Knicks, are sick of two weeks of Linsanity and consider the Jeremy Lin hype to be premature and therefore overrated.

And then there’s Buzz Bissinger:

You know it’s quite the man who thinks there are worse things you can call Jeremy Lin – AND THEN PROCEEDS TO NAME THEM. All the while, reminding Asians of our place on the racial slur ladder, touting that racial slurs haven't hindered Lin's success (at least in the last 17 days), and making sure he cites other black athletes to legitimize this type of thinking.

Here are more Buzz-kills:

  • ”But I don’t think fans are going wild over him now because of his breaking the Asian-American pro-basketball barrier. They like him because he is talented and exciting, at least so far. They also like him because he is light-complected and, in his Christian beliefs and prayer penchant, echoes much of white America.” (Jeremy Lin: Reality checking the hype, Daily Beast)
  • WARNING ALERT: THE FOLLOWING MAY BE CONSIDERED POLITICALLY INCORRECT AND INAPPROPRIATE ON SEVERAL LEVELS. REPEAT THIS IS A WARNING ALERT. IF YOU ARE OFFENDED, SKIP OVER, OR LIGHTEN UP AND GET A LIFE.YOU CAN HANDLE THIS: He has not solved Michael Vick’s dog-killing problem that continues to make him the most hated athlete in America, although he could by opening a Vietnamese-style restaurant with him and carefully planning the menu together. (OK, OK So Jeremy Lin is on fire, Daily Beast)

So, yeah, let’s start with a few things.

I don’t know what racial universe Bissinger lives in, but one in which he calls Asians “light complected” and dismisses anti-Asian racial stereotypes as not rising to a level of real concerns is pretty much beyond comprehension. It’s a bizarre black-white racial paradigm in which Asians have made an unwelcome entry and must therefore be equated with white privilege and whose singular breakout success must be posited in direct opposition to the success of black athletes.

That narrative devalues the unique experience and history of Asians in America and the reality of anti-Asian racism and violence. It also misses the much broader showing of multiracial solidarity and consciousness raising which has grown as a result of Lin's presence on the national stage.

You know what was on a lot of our community's minds right before Jeremy Lin began his meteoric rise with the Knicks? This racist ad by a candidate for the U.S. Senate in Michigan which ran during the Super Bowl:

In Philadelphia, we’ve had a federal civil rights case because school officials ignored the beatings of young immigrants at South Philadelphia High School. We've got a local restaurant called "Chink's Steaks" named after the non-Asian founder, whose "chinky eyes" (so said his widow) were the inspiration for the restaurant's name. When Asian Americans complained, none other than former District Councilperson Joan Krajewski basically told the community to mind its own business. We’ve dealt with mass deportations in Philadelphia’s Cambodian American community and Asian store owners targeted, followed home, assaulted and murdered – and Bissinger thinks these are the experiences of the “light complected”?

Bissinger can choose to look at the varied offenses against Lin as individual and separate incidents only a handful of which rise to his level of “real racism.” But taken in their totality, the racial stereotyping clearly shows a country that lacks language and a framework for talking about Asian America.

Notably, Bissinger apparently believes that the best way to make his point against Linsanity is to fit Asians into his racial hierarchy – be the white guy throwing around racial slurs and determining which one of them ought to be considered more offensive than the other. Remind his readers that Lin being perhaps the first national Asian American breakout star in this 24 hour media universe has nothing to do with his race. Or peddle in cheap shock jock quips about Asians, dogs, and restaurants and defend it all by telling wussy PC cops to go F-themselves for not having the guts to say what they really think.

A few reminders:

  1. Asian Americans don’t peddle in Oppression Olympics or games around black-Asian divisiveness. There is an important dialogue to be had around racial politics, sports stereotyping and racism that requires serious intent and effort. Bissinger’s bullying and ignorant intrusion reveals his messed up racial politics and is Exhibit A on how not to do it.
  2. Asian America is very much a factor in making Jeremy Lin a media sensation. Allusions to "what’s the big deal?" shows a mindeset that renders our presence invisible and irrelevant. We’re a community that’s been largely ignored, derided and “othered” in major league sports. What we’ve seen in the past two weeks is a visible, passionate and beloved community that has galvanized and rallied behind Lin as well as sought to explain, challenge and define the lines around anti-Asian stereotypes and racial slurs. The fact that we have to apologize for or be on the defensive for celebrating the first Asian American breakout star in the NBA is beyond the pale.
  3. There is an entire multiracial community out there getting conscious and conscientious about responsible racial discourse. Spike Lee’s on Twitter giving a one-man crash course against racial stereotypes. SNL did a spot-on skit spoofing the lines around Lin and other athletes. And then there’s Sheryl Underwood’s awesome reminder to Floyd Mayweather at 00:58 into this clip:

There is a greater sense of multiracial solidarity right now that’s brought pride, encouragement and hope for all of us as a nation, and hopefully and especially for our young folks struggling with difficult racial dynamics on school playgrounds, in their classrooms, and on rec center courts. Is it going to solve anything on its own? Hell no. We have a long way to go. But I’m glad we are here in this place talking about more possibilities than we were two weeks ago.

It’s too bad that Bissinger, locked into his angry Buzz schtick and a black-white racial paradigm, unsurprisingly misses it all.

It's Time To See People of Asian Ancestry As People

Representing a multicultural district with people from a good percentage of the United Nations, I am appalled at how difficult many find it to just accept the humanity of people of diverse cultures.

The Asian-American community--or, more precisely, the Asian-American communities--does not focus its attention under normal circumstances on avoiding racial slights of one kind or another, but as Asians gain prominence under more and more circumstances there is a need for the kind of consciousness-raising that Helen is engaging in here. Whether the issue has been Jeremy Lin or sexual tourism or the treatment of Asian-Americans at South Philadelphia High School, Helen has done highly commendable work in undercutting the hidden assumptions that the people of a different race are so different that their achievements and needs should be explained away for the convenience of others.

There are going to be many more Asian and Asian-American success stories in sports, business, law, medicince, entertainment, and the full panopoly of occupations and professions that make up American life. People of Asian descent are neither superhuman nor bereft of normal human motivations nor exempt from the need to have fair laws, fairly applied. People of Asian descent have every right to be treated with the same consideration that one would treat a member of any ethnic group, even a group of descendants of those who came over on the Mayflower.

A key part of the greatness of our American heritage is the degree to which people of conscience throughout the generations have stood up to stop the marginalization of groups that were somehow different from stereoptypical Americans. It is necessary that this empathy continue to grow throughout the 21st Century.

Bissinger's opinion is incoherent.

In the video clip, he says:

"Well, I feel that [this is mainly because he's Asian American] very strongly, and I know people don't like to hear it..."

But in the article he linked, he says:

"But I don’t think fans are going wild over him now because of his breaking the Asian-American pro-basketball barrier. They like him because he is talented and exciting, at least so far. They also like him because he is light-complected and, in his Christian beliefs and prayer penchant, echoes much of white America."

And further in the clip, he says:

"...I do think that whites identify with Jeremy Lin who's a different nationality in a sense, but they like what he represents: hard work, hustle, etc. "

So - let's recap. Whites like him because he's Asian, but his being Asian isn't the reason why they like him, and they like him because he's better than Asian players are supposed to be. Also, they like him because he works hard and hustles, (as opposed to, say Chris Paul?), and they like him because he isn't dark-complected. Oh, and being Asian American makes him a "different nationality, in a sense."

Bissenger's simply trying to milk Linsanity to sell himself. Contradicting himself and rationalizing what, in his own words, is a racial stereotype against black players, and saying that an Asian American is a different nationality (in a sense), serves to show that he actually has no consistent opinion,and is only exploiting the hype, without any reflection on how he's evaluating the impact of racism.

Sure - that's what media figures do, but it is sad that he would, as you have pointed out, do so at the expense of minimizing bigotry - both against Asians and African Americans.

And btw - in the name of full disclosure, I hate the Knicks and I hope that Lin turns out to be a flash in the pan (although that seems very unlikely at this point - his performance thus far has been pretty much unprecedented for someone so early in their career. Magic Johnson said he's convinced, and he knows just a tad about b-ball).

The most remarkable thing about Bissinger

Bissinger alludes to a common stereotype about Asian Americans - the model minority myth where Asian American realities are erased in order to mold them into a caricature of a "good" group of color (quiet, hard working) so that they can then school other groups of color on issues like education, jobs and bizarro "bootstrap" theories of upward mobility. The only thing is that Bissinger actually believes that Asians are the model minority. At this point we're not even a race anymore - we're just the light-complected pets of white America. Except when we get to exercise our presence and then well, the race thing is just racist in Bissinger's world. Also, Asians being Asians works when you get to make fun of them, especially with jokes from three decades ago.

Hate the Knicks?

How can you hate a perpetually mediocre and underachieving team?

That would be like someone hating the Sixers,

Isn't sports hatred supposed to be reserved for winning teams?

Special dispensation

Isn't sports hatred supposed to be reserved for winning teams?

Sure. Except when they're from New York.

It's like they say: "There's no crying in baseball - except for the Mets."


ESPECIALLY when they're from New York. Bret's got roots in Boston. I think he's humoring my Linsanity but gloves are off if they make the playoffs.

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