I’m often asked where I’m from or what I am in casual and professional settings. The conversation goes something like this:
Curious: “Where are you from?”
Me: “Virginia Beach.”
A pause with a perplexed or impatient look is a normal reaction, and then another question.
Curious: “I mean, what are you?”
While I normally know what they’re after, my response to each question is by design to prove a point. Outside of the U.S. Census, I believe my ethnicity is irrelevant. See and know me for who I am. But if you really need to know, I’m Filipino.
Look, I get the fascination with race and it’s a reality of the world we live in.
Still, I’ve never been one to play the race card because I believe in my heart the human race has come a long way since the 1960s. That said, recent events bother me.
Before I’m accused of having soft skin or being oversensitive, it’s best to understand my background, which includes an Army career and a two-year tour as a drill sergeant.
No other career field has racial diversity like the armed forces and I’ve been exposed to ethnic groups in the U.S. and abroad. I’ve seen up close and personal the destruction of a combat environment, as well as the results of dictatorships and oppressive regimes, so I’ve seen it all.
There’s no soft skin here.
Race has been front-page news for the wrong reasons since New York Knicks guard Jeremy Lin exploded on the scene.
Sports fans will be hard pressed to find a more compelling story in the last year. Tim Tebow, while fascinating, doesn’t compare. Lin has captivated the world and drawn a following from people, including me, who normally don’t watch basketball.
Lin is everything good that sports are about, from a humble underdog, a tale of perseverance to pure talent. And while Lin is of Asian descent, that shouldn’t be the focus. The primary sports story should highlight his on-court abilities.
Sadly, three events in the last week have put a spotlight in the dark corner where it doesn’t belong.
Second, professional boxer Floyd Mayweather joined the fray on Feb. 13 with a tweet.
Lastly, the self-proclaimed worldwide leader of sports, ESPN, found itself in hot water on Feb. 18 with a shocking mobile website headline, “Chink in the Armor,” which accompanied a story on Lin’s Friday night struggles during a loss against the New Orleans Hornets.
To ESPN’s credit, the headline was pulled and the network offered a prompt apology, but the damage was done.
Twitter exploded with outrage and the AAJA was once again called to action with a statement of concern to the four-letter network.
Meanwhile, what I find puzzling are the people who defend, downplay or fail to see the issue with the three incidents, especially the last one involving ESPN. Moreover, what is curious about the latest issue on race is two involve other minorities, a group one would believe is aware enough to not go down that road.
Make no mistake about it. Every racial group has associated derogatory racist terms that clearly offend, incite emotional – or worse, a physical – response and are best left unspoken. The same is true with racial stereotypes.
And that anyone in 2012 can casually dismiss the controversy surrounding the last week is disturbing. For every positive step forward we take, something happens to put us back. No amount of analyzing or justification excuses the missteps.
Aren’t we supposed to be beyond a point in time when national media watchdogs or professional journalism organizations are compelled to call out racial insensitive content from reputable media outlets?
A standard I utilize for any draft is if it draws a negative “did I just read, hear or see that” reaction, it’s likely wise for me to go another route with a re-write, re-tape, do what you have to do. The other standard I go by is asking myself, “Will my PR folks cringe or will I be called on the carpet?” See response to first standard if the answer is in the affirmative to both questions.
The good news to take from this is the lesson learned, including numerous teaching points on all levels.
And considering two of the three incidents involve high-profile sports media, journalism professors around the world just struck gold.
Media ethics professors should discuss the dangers of social media and the immediacy of Twitter.
Print professors have another how-not-to template when instructing the art of producing headlines.
Broadcast media professors can reinforce the dangers of a live mic.
You get the picture.
As for the phenomena known as Linsanity, how quickly we forget it was just a month ago that America celebrated the life of Martin Luther King, Jr.
His speech, “I Have a Dream,” remains a personal all-time favorite and serves as daily inspiration.
But perhaps King said it best to cause people to stop and reflect when it comes to appreciating what Lin has accomplished in energizing the Knicks:
“I have a dream that my four little children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin but by the content of their character,” King said.
Noticing Lin is Asian-American is fine.
However, the world is a better place if we look beyond that and simply celebrate Lin as a human being and his success as a professional athlete.