Eight years ago, William Hung went on American Idol, and single-handedly set the cause of the Asian dude back 10 years.
Eight days ago, Jeremy Lin became the starting point guard for the New York Knicks and got those 10 years back, and then some.
It's a bit of a funny thing being a North American of Asian descent. The stereotypes that precede you are ubiquitous, often unflattering, but by-and-large tolerated for reasons that I will leave a sociologist to cover. It's no big thing though, and no Asian person I know would ever acknowledge those stereotypes as representing any kind of real adversity - just a social annoyance for which you learn a compendium of sharp retorts to use when necessary at an early age. Reality is too nuanced to get caught up in uncreative rhetorical exchanges with morons, right? Right. Society has moved on, and is all post-racial now, right? Right. After all, Asians are a prosperous demographic, and model minority, right? Right.
So... why is it that every North American of Asian descent has jumped on the Jeremy Lin bandwagon with the kind of zeal usually reserved for... well, no-one?
The kind of Asian-Solidarity that has emerged in the wake of #Linsanity is fascinating to me, precisely because it's the kind of thing that I thought I should be immune to. I identify more as being Canadian than as being Asian. I'm a hockey guy, and Paul Kariya broke through as a sports star of Asian descent long ago. I dislike NBA basketball. I hate every New York sports team.
And yet, I am 100% down with #Linsanity.
This past weekend, I was out in San Diego for a friend's wedding. At the reception, I happened to be seated at a table with two other North Americans of Asian descent. As often happens when dudes are first introduced and playing the small-talk game, the conversation soon drifted sports-ward. I can't remember which one of us first broached the subject, but at some point the question "did you watch the Knicks/Lakers game last night?" was asked, and instantly the bonds of AZN brotherhood were formed. We couldn't help ourselves. None of us were Knicks fans. If you had asked us the previous week, I doubt that we could have named more than 3 players on the Knicks between the 3 of us. And yet, there we were, raving about Jeremy Lin's 38 point demolition of the Lakers as if we were stereotypical Asian parents talking about a son who had gotten into Harvard.
I would have been disgusted with myself if I hadn't been so happy about it.
How did I get here? Where did this compulsion to throw my unquestioning support behind an obscure benchwarmer solely because he is Asian come from (and make no mistake, I would not have spared this story 10 minutes of attention if Jeremy Lin had been, say... Maltese)?
I'm not going to try to speak in generalities here. All I can give you is my own assessment of myself - and here's what it comes down to for me: I am a huge Jeremy Lin fan, because he has given the public's concept of "The Asian Dude" just enough of a jolt to question the old stereotypes, and to have people looking for new ones.
Yes, Jeremy Lin went to Harvard. Yes, Jeremy Lin has supportive (but undoubtedly demanding) parents. Yes, Jeremy Lin has a brother who is a dentist who let him sleep on his couch. Yes, Jeremy Lin is a nice guy, and a hard worker. All a standard part of the standard Asian dude package.
But being able to throw out a ridiculous spin move on Derek Fisher is not a part of that package. Going shot for shot with Kobe Bryant in the 4th quarter is not a part of that package. Blowing by John Wall and throwing down a one handed dunk is most assuredly not a part of that package.
When I look at my Twitter feed, and see it blowing up with puns and nicknames and barely-understandable ebonics phrases that border on being a little on the racist side, I love it, because all of a sudden, the old stereotypes don't apply the way they used to. The Twitterverse has had to get a little bit creative with incorporating racial elements to their Asian dude humour. Some attempts have been less successful than others (that means you, Jason Whitlock), but by and large, I'm kind of enjoying it. I mean, let's be honest here, "Yellow Mamba" has a pretty bad@$$ ring to it, doesn't it? And when I see myriad African-American commentators use the phrase "my yellow n*gga", I gotta be honest - it feels kinda validating in a Dave-Chappelle-Skit kind of way.
It just feels refreshingly different. And a million miles away from American Idol.