StarWright, Star Bright

Thoughts, cosmic and mundane
FEBRUARY 20, 2012 11:53AM

Do Asian-Asians Heart Jeremy Lin Like Asian-Americans Do?

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I know that the answer to that question is no. 


To Asian-Americans, especially the men, Jeremy Lin is our Great , Slam Dunking, 3-Point Sinking, Yellow Hope, shatterer of, weak, emasculating stereotypes.


Asians are not the subject of such stereotypes in Asia. Hence, when people there express their adoration of Jeremy Lin, even when they say that it's wonderful to have an NBA sensation who looks like them, it's not the same as it is as for an Asian American.


This may seem obvious. Of course people aren't stereotyped and scorned in their own cultures. Duh! 


But this just points up both the all-embracing nature of the stereotype and the fact that something can be so blindingly obvious that one has never actually explicitly thought the thought. And then when the thought actually occurs, it's startling, partially because it contradicts other ideas one simultaneously holds.


In this case, the obviousness of the fact that Asian-Asians don't stereotype themselves rubs up against the other fact that American culture paints all Asians, not just Asian-Americans, with the same stereotypical brush. We're all thought of in the same terms regardless of whether we were born here or are just tourists. Nerdy, hard working, non-confrontational (polite way of saying being a pushover), athletically challenged, etc.


So it was that when the Lin-sanity started, I began thinking about the many Chinese graduate students that I have known here in America. This then lead to my mulling over the year I spent teaching English in China, and thinking about all the Chinese I met there. And the lightbulb went off.


Those Chinese feel none of the angst and anguish that Asian-Americans do. They walk around China perfectly happy with their Chinese identity. And when they come to America as adults, they feel fine about their Chinese identity here too.


That last part amazes me when I stop to think about it because Asian Americans, especially the men, walk around with such a psychological burden. Being constantly depicted in the media and considered by society in general as unmanly, un-sexy weaklings takes a toll. Even our liberal, ideologically anti-racist, non-Asian friends unconsciously carry this prejudice.


(Witness the bias documented by dating site OKCupid, whose user base is overwhelmingly liberal and (self appointedly) hip. Their analysis of user e-mail patterns finds that Asian men are cold shouldered by the women they message with far, far greater frequency than is the case for caucasian men.)


And yet the Chinese who come to America as adults don't much feel the sting of any of this, as far as I can tell.


That "as adults" part is key. They feel fine because they did not grow up feeling persecuted about their Chinese identity. 


They have never been self conscious about or outright ashamed of having such F.O.B. parents. They have never been made to feel like they are uncool punching bags, pushed around in the halls of high school by packs of larger, more aggressive kids of other races. The media that they draw their lessons from does not emasculate their men and fetishize their women as exotic sex objects (for conquest by manly white men, naturally.)


Of course they feel fine about who they are. They have not internalized two centuries of scorn. Most don't even know how they are stereotyped across the Pacific. Over the weekend I watched a news segment from Taiwan via satellite (or maybe it was Hong Kong - someone changed the channel before I could determine) explaining to their viewers what the stereotypes of Asians are in America and how Jeremy Lin is helping to break those down.


Being an emasculated model minority is far from the worst of fates. Compared with what black people have historically been subjected to, or the stigma of illegal immigration that hangs over Hispanics, along with the threat of deportation for those who actually are illegal immigrants, being a model minority is pretty cushy. 


We get better jobs, pay, and access to the middle class life than a lot of white people. Objectively it's pretty sweet. It might make the psychological burden I just described seem like a first world problem.


But humans do not merely live objectively. We live our subjective experiences, and being weighed down by any kind of scorn, no matter how unconscious and subterranean, is a real burden. Just witness how black students started scoring higher on exams after Obama's election just because of the boost in confidence it gave them, confidence to overcome the onus of low expectations.


That is why even I, someone wholly indifferent to sports, will root for Jeremy Lin. I don't plan to ever actually watch any of his games, because I can't bring myself to care about basketball no matter who's playing.


And he will still mean something dearer to me than he does my cousins in Taiwan and China. Even the ones who actually give a damn about basketball.

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