As NBA player Jeremy Lin’s prowess on the court continues to attract international attention and grab headlines, the Asian American Journalists Association (AAJA) would like to remind media outlets about relevance and context regarding coverage of race. In the past weeks, as more news outlets report on Lin, his game and his story, AAJA has noticed factual inaccuracies about Lin’s background as well as an alarming number of references that rely on stereotypes about Asians or Asian Americans. Please give careful consideration to the following tips to ensure fair, accurate and sensitive portrayals of Lin and others who are Asian American. AAJA and AAJA MediaWatch stand ready to assist any news organizations that have questions or concerns about news coverage and race. We all have the same goal: good journalism.
Stop to think: Would a similar statement be made about an athlete who is Caucasian, African American or Latino? Use caution when discussing Lin’s physical characteristics, particularly those that feminize/emasculate the Asian male (Cinderella-story angles should not place Lin in a dress).
1. Jeremy Lin is Asian American, not Asian (more specifically, Taiwanese American). It’s an important distinction and one that should be considered before any references to former NBA players such as Yao Ming and Wang Zhizhi, who were Chinese.
3. Journalists don’t assume that African American players identify with NBA players who emigrated from Africa. The same principle applies with Asian Americans. It’s fair to ask Lin whether he looked up to or took pride in the accomplishments of Asian players. He may have. It’s unfair and poor journalism to assume he did.
4. Lin is not the first Asian American to play in the National Basketball Association. Raymond Townsend, who’s of Filipino descent, was a first-round choice of the Golden State Warriors in the 1970s.
“CHINK”: Pejorative; do not use in a context involving an Asian person on someone who is Asian American.
DRIVING: This is part of the sport of basketball, but resist the temptation to refer to an “Asian who knows how to drive.”
EYE SHAPE: This is irrelevant. Do not make such references if discussing Lin’s vision.
FOOD: Is there a compelling reason to draw a connection between Lin and fortune cookies, takeout boxes or similar imagery? In the majority of news coverage, the answer will be no.
MARTIAL ARTS: You’re writing about a basketball player. Don’t conflate his skills with judo, karate, tae kwon do, etc. Do not refer to Lin as “Grasshopper” or similar names associated with martial-arts stereotypes.
“ME LOVE YOU LIN TIME”: Avoid. This is a lazy pun on the athlete’s name and alludes to the broken English of a Hollywood caricature from the 1980s.
“YELLOW MAMBA”: This nickname that some have used for Lin plays off the “Black Mamba” nickname used by NBA star Kobe Bryant. It should be avoided. Asian immigrants in the United States in the 19th and 20th centuries were subjected to discriminatory treatment resulting from a fear of a “Yellow Peril” that was touted in the media, which led to legislation such as the Chinese Exclusion Act.
- Latour: How not to cover Jeremy Lin (boston.com)
- Lin-sanity: The chink in AAJA’s armor (michellemalkin.com)
- All The Racist Jokes You Shouldn’t Make About Jeremy Lin, According To The Asian American Journalists Association [Jeremy Lin] (deadspin.com)