Ignorance is No Excuse


by Kevin Alexander Gray

Jeremy Lin may be an ethnic novelty, but there’s nothing new or fresh about the way some folks have reacted to his displays of skill. “One can never underestimate the capacity of people to be ignorant or stupid.”


Ignorance is No Excuse

by Kevin Alexander Gray

Imagine the outrage if a black athlete was referred to as a “nigger in the woodpile.”

I’m a basketball fan.

I root for the Chicago Bulls, NY Knicks and Houston Rockets. In that order.

The only time I don’t pull for the Knicks or Rockets is when they play the Bulls.

Yet like many, I too have a touch of Jeremy “Lin-sanity.”

I like Knicks' guard. I’m impressed by his game - except the turnovers and his waiting just a tad to late to dish it off in the paint. Hopefully, teammate Carmelo Anthony will help make him a better player.

Even so, what I like most about the young athlete is his humility, graciousness and patience with ignorance.

Facing bigotry isn’t a new thing for the first American-born player of Taiwanese descent in the NBA. While playing at Harvard, during a game against Georgetown in Washington, a spectator yelled “Sweet-and-sour pork!” from the stands.

One would hope that attitudes and behavior would change at the professional level.

Then again, one can never underestimate the capacity of people to be ignorant or stupid.  Even among grown ups, the educated and those others one expects to know better – the worse often comes out.

During a game against Georgetown in Washington, a spectator yelled “Sweet-and-sour pork!” from the stands.”

In one interview Lin spoke of watching Michael Jordan on TV as a kid and then running outside to his backyard goal to try to duplicate MJ’s shot. Yet having a black hero isn’t enough to satisfy some.  Boxer Floyd Mayweather tweeted: “…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.”

Some of the bigotry even perplexes Lin: “People say things like ‘he’s deceptively quick’ or ‘he’s quicker than he looks.’ What does that mean?” Maybe the answer can be found in Knicks’ fan and movie director Spike Lee’s tweets describing Lin as: Jeremy “Kung Fu Hustle” Lin, Jeremy “Crouching Tiger” Lin & Jeremy “Hidden Dragon” Lin.

After a stellar performance from Lin, Fox Sports columnist Jason Whitlock took to his Twitter to congratulate Lin. “Jeremy Lin is legit!” he tweeted. Then he followed with a penis joke: “Some lucky lady in NYC is gonna feel a couple of inches of pain tonight.”

There was also the Madison Square Garden Network airing a spectator-made poster depicting Lin’s face above a fortune cookie with the slogan “The Knicks Good Fortune.”

On the Nick and Artie show which runs weekday nights on Cumulus Media’s San Francisco station KNBR 1050, one host urged listeners to call in with the most racist joke about Lin they could think of. He offered a “joke” about “Lin having to do teammate Carmelo Anthony’s laundry as an example of what he was looking for.”

ESPN editor Anthony Federico was fired and anchor Max Bretos (whose wife is Asian) suspended for 30 days when they led a story with the headline — “Chink in the Armor: Jeremy Lin’s 9 Turnovers Cost Knicks in Streak-stopping Loss to Hornets.”

One host urged listeners to call in with the most racist joke about Lin they could think of.”

Some suggest that “Frederico is 28 years old. Could his ignorance be generational? …50-somethings know that chink is a racial epithet for Asians, we heard it growing up. Would a 20-something know this?” Perhaps the “consequence of this offense should have been sensitivity training and a second chance?”

Federico said he understands why he was fired. “ESPN did what they had to do.” He said he has used the phrase “at least 100 times” in headlines over the years and thought nothing of it when he slapped it on the Lin story.

A gracious Lin, gave Federico and Bretos a pass: “They've apologized, and so from my end, I don't care anymore. You have to learn to forgive, and I don't even think that was intentional.”

Yet the ESPN staffers weren’t the only ones to use the term and Lin in the same sentence. Knicks radio voice Spero Dedes did it too.

On his final call of the Knicks’ loss to the Charlotte Hornets, Dedes said “For the first time in what has been a remarkable two-week run, Jeremy Lin shows a chink in the armor. The Knicks’ seven-game winning streak ends against the Hornets as they fall for the first time since February the 3rd.”

Doubtless, “chink in the armor” is a common phrase. It means there's a dent in the armor caused by an imperfection borne in the forging process or a by a sword fight. The chink is the weakest point in the shield.

The word was used since the 1880s to demean Chinese Americans.”

Chink is also a well-known slur. It derives from the sound the hammer made when the Chinese workers of the 1800’s, often enslaved and exploited, struck the iron or steel spikes into the railway ties.

California Rep. Judy Chu (D) slammed the ESPN headline, saying she did not believe using the phrase was an innocent mistake: “…if he [Federico] was using it all those times, that is extremely sad. The word was used since the 1880s to demean Chinese Americans and to deprive them of rights, and it is used on playgrounds specifically to humiliate and to offend Asian Americans. So I don’t know where he’s been all this time.”

Some people just can't seem to get their minds around an Asian-American basketball player who's got game.

Back in 1997 when a young Tiger Woods was burning up the PGA, Frank “FuzzyZoeller referred to Woods as “that little boy” and urged him “not to order fried chicken or collard greens for the Champions Dinner next year.” People could not get their minds around an black golfer who could play the game.

Even so, imagine the outrage if a black athlete was referred to as a “nigger in the woodpile” which – in racist parlance and “the mind’s eye” is analogous to the ESPN headline. What if someone ran a headline: “Special Olympics athlete retarded in efforts to win gold medal."

Lin is facing a barrage of mindless ignorance. In a court of law, pleading ignorance is no excuse. A good parent will tell their child the same. They would also add – ignorance in curable.

Kevin Alexander Gray is an activist and writer based in Columbia, South Carolina.