On a recent Sunday morning, I was glued to the boob tube watching a professional basketball game from the opening jump ball to the last waning second. Haven’t done this for years, but suddenly I too have been swept up by the global phenomenon of linsanity.
By now, everybody knows linsanity refers to Jeremy Lin, the basketball star from Harvard who was passed up as a draft pick, later warming the bench for two other professional teams before coming off the bench for the NY Knicks in an act of desperation by the coach. Lin promptly led his team to a win, the first of nine in eleven games.
He became the toast of New York, and an instant worldwide sensation.
When the Knicks took on the Dallas Mavericks -- last year’s NBA champ -- I saw the real deal. Lin drove through a forest of opponents for layups or passed to wide-open teammates. He sank long-range three pointers in crucial moments or drew defenders, allowing his teammates to go unimpeded as they threw in three-point bombs. He was fearless and physical as the game dictated.
In the post game analysis, the great Magic Johnson unequivocally declared that Lin’s star presence would be in the NBA for a long time. None of his fellow panelists disagreed.
Lin’s heroics on the court immediately drew a following from members of Asian communities around the world, individuals heretofore thought too small, too short and too frail to compete in this high-contact sport. But they also call for reflection on the tragic fate of Danny Chen and Harry Lew, two American soldiers who recently took their own lives in Afghanistan.
Both Chen and Lew faced unrelated yet disturbingly brutal bouts of hazing by their fellow soldiers. Sadly the misery they experienced led both to the fateful decision that their young lives were no longer worth living.
These incidents – the awe surrounding Lin’s rise and the deaths of Chen and Lew -- reflect a failure of American values: The former because America continues to regard people of Asian ancestry as not American; the latter because the military not only failed to prevent such racism in their ranks but also to impose an appropriate penalty on those behind the hate crimes.
Make no mistake. That is what they were. Yet when perpetrated against African Americans, for example, they evoke high decibel outcries. Not so when the victim is Asian American.
It will be up to the Asian American community to make noise in order to rectify these wrongs. During the first Gulf War, friendly missiles shot down two American helicopters. The pilots who pulled the trigger were exonerated but not Captain Jim Wang of the Awac flying surveillance.
The late Sam Chu Lin, a mainstream media star who became a voice of conscience, rallied the Chinese American community and with the help of the Committee of 100 made sure that Captain Wang had proper defense counsel leading to dismissal of all charges against him.
Wen Ho Lee was the designated scapegoat and sacrificial lamb in the political struggle between a Republican-led Congress and Democratic President Bill Clinton. Lee would have rotted in jail as a spy for China had the Asian American community not come to his support. Sam played an active role in this case as well.
In Lee’s case, the American public took no pains to make the distinction as to whether the Taiwan-native was Chinese or not. To this day, some still consider him a spy though the court cleared him of all espionage charges. Those that still accuse Lee of spying have also forgotten that the court did find that the FBI was lying under oath.
Maybe Jeremy Lin with his continued success will erase some of the prejudices that reside in America against Asians. Perhaps linsanity, had it occurred a couple of years earlier, might have blunted some of the bias that led American soldiers to regard ethnic Asians in their ranks as more gook and less fellow soldiers.
But we can’t count on Jeremy Lin to carry the entire load for racial equality on his shoulders, broad as they may be. We, the Asian American community, must stand up and demand our rights as full fledged, tax paying, law abiding citizens to all the respect pertaining thereto.
It won’t happen sitting on the bench.
Dr. George Koo is a contributor and board member of New America Media.
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