What we can learn from Jeremy Lin
CHICAGO I admit that when I first saw the headline "Ben & Jerry's apologizes for Jeremy Lin fortune cookie frozen yogurt," I innocently wondered: "Why?"
I'd always heard that the fortune cookie was actually an American invention dating back to the early 1900s when Chinese restaurants started serving them at the end of meals. It made a certain sort of sense that the quirky company would honor the basketball player's meteoric rise to fame by developing a product called "Taste the Lin-Sanity" -- a vanilla frozen yogurt with crumbled fortune cookies and honey swirls. A nice homage to Lin's American and Asian roots, right?
Saturday, Ben & Jerry's apologized on its Facebook page and BenJerryBoston Twitter account: "We offer a heartfelt apology if anyone was offended. ... Our intention was to create a flavor to honor Jeremy," and assured everyone that fortune cookies were out of the recipe.
I can't tell if there had been more indignation before the ingredient was dropped -- the Boston store's general manager told The Boston Globe that "There seemed to be a bit of an initial backlash about it" -- or after the change was publicized. But the result is the same: We now know better.
Watching Lin-sanity take root has been simultaneously uplifting and horrifying. Wonderful seeing a U.S.-born son or daughter of immigrants fulfill the promise of the American dream while being cheered on by basketball fans of every color and age. But a real drag to see racism against Asians and Asian-Americans that, let's face it, hasn't been as openly discussed as that against blacks and Hispanics.
Aside from outrage at the UCLA girl who made national headlines last winter when she complained on YouTube that Japanese students were bothering her by talking to family on their phones in the library during the aftermath of the tsunami, you don't hear about it much, but it's there.
Just ask anyone of Korean descent how many insensitive remarks they had to ignore after Kim Jong Il died last December. You could also ask Minhee Cho, a New Yorker who achieved a bit of Twitter fame last month after she tweeted a copy of her Papa John's pizza receipt showing that the employee who had rung up her walk-in order typed in "lady chinky eyes" in place of her name.
Lin's quiet dignity through abuse about his roots continues to this day as he is stereotyped by bumbling headline writers and any number of jerks who are proud of their insulting Asian-themed puns. Though he has become a hero to many for being a good basketball player and role model, his legacy might be in bringing attention to the overuse of language that insults the Asian-American community.
Absent Lin's star power, few would have paid attention to the Asian American Journalists Association's recent guidelines for news coverage of Lin and of Asian-Americans in general.
The advice is simple. First, stop and think. Also: Avoid discussion of athletic ability among races, get the difference between Asian and Asian-American right, do your homework about the country in question -- in this case Taiwan, not China. And don't even try to be cute with references to driving, eye shape, ethnic foods, martial arts, the color yellow, or word plays involving broken English.
Consider yourself informed.