Unless you’ve been living under a rock for the past few weeks, you’ve likely heard something about professional basketball player Jeremy Lin. Coming completely out of nowhere to suddenly be the talk of not only the sports world but also dominating the national news as well; Jeremy has seemingly followed the same unimaginable and unbelievable career path as Ted Williams. Remember him, the guy with the “golden voice”who meteorically shot to stardom after being put on YouTube. Lin, despite being awarded as one of the best basketball players in California, received little college attention and ended up playing at Harvard—a prestigious place for academics but hardly noticeable for athletics. After being passed up in the draft, he was signed, then waived by a couple teams before landing with the New York Knicks and the rest is history. Besides the sports aspect, there has been another faced to his story—his ethnicity—he the first American-born player in the NBA of Chinese or Taiwanese descent; and this is where the story begins.
“Linsanity,” as it is so-called, has brought up some discussion regarding race and ethnicity in America and American sports. How could Lin have been passed over by so many teams, both in college and the NBA? Did his ethnicity have anything to do with that? Then came the headline, one similar to the original title of this blog post which was "A Ch*nk in my Armor: What I learned from Jeremy Lin"—one that I am very reticent to even repeat. The thing is, when I first heard about this story, I didn’t even realize such a word could be used as a racial slur; I was quite naïve. I consoled myself that it’s better to be naïve about things like this—knowing all these nasty things won’t help me any; and then I came to my senses.
Some Americans—and I should clarify by saying white middle-class Americans (mostly males)—believe that if they are not aware of racism and prejudice in America, it must not exist. It’s sort of like the Ostrich with its head in the sand, we tend to busy ourselves with so many other things we (intentionally?) blind ourselves to what is going on around us. It’s amazing how whenever the issue of race comes up in a political discussion, pundits seem to always deride those who are “playing the race card.” Oddly enough, those saying race and prejudice isn’t an issue in America anymore happen to be white.
There are four methods of racism/exclusion, as suggested by writer Miroslav Volf. There is the violence of expulsion, the violence of assimilation, the subjugating of the other, and the exclusion by the indifference of abandonment. Americans have been guilty of all of these forms of racism and prejudice. America practiced violent expulsion through slavery, “internment camps” during WWII, and so on. America practiced the violent assimilation by way of our cultural imperialism demanding adherence to the “American Way” and the abandoning of all former ways and cultures in order to jump into the “Melting Pot.” We see the subjugating of others in America in the “separate but equal” laws of the south, lack of funding for schools and job training for minorities in the inner-cities, and the antagonism displayed toward immigrants from Mexico (otherwise known as “illegal”). America has practiced abandonment through the current political climate in which recipients of government aid are deemed lazy and as entitlement moochers. Rather than address the situations and structures from which they have descended into poverty, America chooses to simply look down our nose at them before turning the other way. We are all guilty. I am guilty.
I was foolish enough to think that since I didn’t realize the word “Chink” could be used as a racial slur, I was innocent—the opposite is true; my ignorance is my sin. I am a racist and I am prejudiced, for even though I may not knowingly participate in racist acts, I still participate in and often promote a culture which is explicitly racist and prejudiced toward anything other than itself. My ignorance is my shame, rather than reaching out to those around me who are different and listening to their stories and hearing their concerns, I have transgressed through my lack of understanding—for that I can only apologize. As I write this I am aware that I am not addressing other forms of prejudice such as gender, religion, sexual orientation while also painfully conscious of the still other forms of racism and prejudice I am not aware of and unknowingly participate in daily—perhaps even in the words of this article—this is my indignity.
It is my prayer going forward that I will remove my own blinders that limit my ability to see prejudice around me, conquer my hesitancy to connect with those different than myself, strive to become aware of the pain and prejudice that many of my fellow human beings deal with on a daily basis and to have the courage to ask forgiveness. But if forgiveness is to happen, I must tell what I am sorry for—and for me to be sorry, I must recognize the wrongdoing that I have done. I pray my eyes will be opened and for my heart to be sensitive. May God forgive America and may God forgive me. Amen.
Volf’s work comes from Injustice and the Care of Souls
Sheryl A. Kujawa-Holbrook and Karen B.Montagno, Editors