Saturday, February 18, 2012

Jeremy Lin and the "Asian Stereotype"

Jonathan Zimmerman, a history and education professor at New York University and one of the most prolific op-ed writers in the country, offers his take on the Jerermy Lin phenomenon:

I’m troubled by the much-heard refrain that Lin — whose parents are Taiwanese immigrants — has “overcome the Asian stereotype.” In the popular mind, this story goes, Asian Americans are quiet, studious and really good at math. By scoring 20 or more points in each of his first six NBA starts, including 38 against Kobe Bryant and the Los Angeles Lakers, Lin supposedly dealt a decisive blow against an insidious ethnic caricature.

But isn’t that stereotype — especially the part about studying hard — a very good model to follow? Why should anyone want or need to “overcome” it? 

The rest of Zimmerman's piece questions admissions policies at Harvard and Princeton that may discriminate again Asian-American students.  Here is the his conclusion: 

So we should congratulate Lin for overturning one stereotype: that Asian men can’t excel at sports. But let’s not forget that he was quite a studious fellow, too, earning a 4.2 grade-point average in high school and a perfect score on his SAT subject test in math. He graduated from Harvard with a 3.1 GPA in economics, one of the most demanding majors.

In that sense, Jeremy Lin didn’t overcome an ethnic stereotype; he confirmed it.
Yet the more we glorify Lin for breaking the typical mold, the more we denigrate the hundreds of thousands of Asian Americans who study hard and succeed. If you’re Asian, our society says, excelling at school simply isn’t good enough. And that’s what I call Linsanity.