Once again, the Jeremy Lin phenomenon has unearthed a massive trove of anti Asian American racism. Unlike the unfortunate ESPN headline, this racist remark is far more blatant. One anchor is talking about the physical attributes that help Jeremy Lin become such a great basketball player, when Greg Kelly interjects by asking, “What about his eyes?” The other anchor laughs, although it’s not clear whether it’s because she thinks Kelly is funny or if she is uncomfortable with how offensive the question is. You can imagine how Kelly would defend his remarks.
“I didn’t mean for it to be hurtful/I was just trying to be funny/It was a serious question!!”
It’s probably a good time to explain why many of us don’t care about intent when it comes to racism. Just because you didn’t meant to be racist doesn’t mean you didn’t say something racist.
Why? Well first, because racist statements reflect racist attitudes that emerge even in the absence of intent. It’s socially unacceptable (at least in the media) to use overt, mean-spirited racial attacks—so overtly racist remarks are never made. It’s NOT because racist attitudes are gone. Racism deals with implicit attitudes and assumptions.
It’s why an old, grandmotherly lady could say something as good-natured as “I love how you Asians are all so good at math.” That would still be a racist statement. It’s why your non-Asian buddy can say something like, “Damn you’re pretty athletic … for an Asian” and that would still be a racist statement. Of course, we don’t end up hating on everyone who says something racist—context, reputation of the speaker, and other factors matter. Which one of us has never uttered a racist statement before? (By the way, people aren’t judged in a vacuum; some folks are able to get away with racist remarks.)
But that doesn’t change whether a statement was racist or not.
Second, intent doesn’t matter because despite how the speaker explains himself, it’s nearly impossible to figure out what he really meant to say. That’s why we often look to the surrounding factors to infer intent. For example, the ESPN editor said he didn’t mean to be racist when he used the term “Chink in the Armor” to describe Jeremy Lin.
We could take his word that he was just using a term ESPN always uses. But we have circumstantial evidence that racist attitudes are at play.
The editor could have avoided controversy by coming up with an alternative headline/saying. According to Jeff Yang, these include: “Knicks got stung!” “N.O. says NO to JLin” and “Oh, bee-hive!” Using “Chink in the Armor” would be more understandable if Lin was a defensive mastermind and Kobe scored 53 points on him. Armor implies defense, and Lin is an offense machine so it would have been more accurate to say “Chink in the Sword.” That, of course, makes absolutely no sense. So it appears that the editor used a cliche that didn’t fit. All we’re left is the inference that when they saw Jeremy Lin, they thought “Chink” so to the editor (and to ESPN) the “Chink in the Armor” term was particularly apt.
As for the Greg Kelly video, take a look at his facial expression after he asks about Jeremy’s eyes. You be the judge of what he meant when he asked that question. It’ll be interesting to see if Kelly is going to defend his statement. If he does, we should ignore anything he says that has to do with his intent.
[H/T shimizuball for the video]