Xia said Asians were first viewed in America as "coolies," laboring on railroads, laundry or in restaurants. Then they were a stealthy and diabolical wartime enemy, then rivals stealing American jobs with cheap labor. Today the labor stereotype has transferred to another arena, with Asians viewed as math-and-science robots toiling over books and computer screens.
Xia calls Lin's rise in a game as athletic as basketball "stunning" and "a real turning point."
Nobody deliberately excluded Lin because of his ethnicity, Xia said: "That's not the point. . The pervasive and insidious nature of racism keeps us from seeing what's right in front of us."
Lin has declined to dwell on racial issues, but he did tweet that when he first joined the Knicks, "Every time I try to get into Madison Square Garden, the security guards ask me if I'm a trainer."
There have been countless Asian-based puns, like the New York Post's "Amasian" headline. The Knicks' own TV network showed a graphic with Lin's head popping out of a fortune cookie. Boxing champ Floyd Mayweather tweeted that Lin was getting attention just because he's Asian. And Fox Sports columnist Jason Whitlock tweeted a cruelly racist remark about Lin's manhood. (Whitlock later apologized.)
Whitlock's tweet drew the most outrage. "Asian-American men in particular have faced a direct, in-your-face emasculation," said Helen Gym of Asian Americans United in Philadelphia. Whitlock's remark "has been said a million times. It's a typical saying when you want to take somebody down."
It didn't work with Lin. Women were in the stands this week with "Be My Va-LIN-tine" signs. Websites were matchmaking Lin with women of all ethnicities. A YouTube video shows an Asian girl dumping her white boyfriend for an Asian man after watching Lin on the court.
"He's giving Asian men some swag," said Jeffrey Ng, founder and creative director of the Staple Design clothing and creative agency in New York City.
When Ng started selling hip-hop apparel 15 years ago, there were no Asian-Americans in his business. Meeting with clients, "I always felt this, like, why are you here? No matter how good my clothing was, I had to first answer the question of, why are you in this room?"
"Lin had to work twice as hard to overcome that first question of, 'Why are you on this court?'"
Peter Kim, an actor in Los Angeles, said Lin's success could open up more opportunities in his business, which puts few Asians in leading or romantic roles.
He recalled that when Lin beat the buzzer to give the Knicks the win against the Raptors, the crowd exploded — and the game was in Toronto, not New York.
"That alone should show how significant Jeremy Lin is to the Asian people," Kim said. "He's not just an athlete playing for a team. He's playing for a whole culture and our representation to the rest of the world."
Jesse Washington covers race and ethnicity for The Associated Press. He is reachable at http://www.twitter.com/jessewashington or jwashington(at)ap.org.
Ren Hsieh's foundation for Asian athletics: http://www.dynastyproject.org
Jason Whitlock's apology: http://on-msn.com/waJonC
Charles Barkley loses the Yao Ming bet: http://bit.ly/wqKsMt
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