Illustration by Leigh Douglas.

Apparently, all it takes for ESPN to lose their standards of professionalism is for Jeremy Lin to lose a game.

For those who haven’t followed the story, ESPN recently ran a headline on NBA player Lin’s recent loss titled “A Chink in the Armor.” True, ESPN apologized and is conducting a review of its editorial process, which involved firing the editor who chose the headline. But no amount of review can mask the fact that Asian Americans are subjected to levels of casual derision that, applied to any other underrepresented group, would come off as callous and bigoted. It’s this blasé application of racial slurs that is the most troubling in this case.

The New York Times recently ran a piece on the
apparent lack of sensitivity in sports journalism. Its writer, David Carr, elegantly outlined Lin’s career and lamented the fanboy-ism endemic among sports reporters which, unfortunately, manifests itself in racial caricatures on a regular basis. We would take it a step further and
argue those sports reporters — ESPN or otherwise — wouldn’t have made such an egregious misstep had their culture not subtly condoned it. By their culture, we mean ours — the American melting pot that ostensibly celebrates its diversity every chance it gets. If this is what passes for a celebration, we don’t want to be there for the after party.

It’s a two-part gaffe. As a supposedly post-racial culture, we have made casual racism only mildly distasteful. On top of that, racism against Asian Americans hasn’t recieved the same attention as other underrepresented groups.

UCLA student Alexandra Wallace’s racist “Asians in the Library” rant earlier last year serves as a solid
example of how easy it is to take advantage of the
seemingly endless tolerance of America’s “model minority” — a term that has negative connotations in itself. Model, as in modeled after “normal” white Americans? And what does that make other underrepresented groups? Failed models? This is exactly the sort of language that we shouldn’t be using.

Lest we forget, over 100,000 Japanese Americans were placed in internment camps during World War II. Yet the American populace at large is remarkably ignorant of the marginalized status of Asian Americans. The well-being of the nation’s underrepresented groups isn’t a matter of convenience, and while it may be slightly hyperbolic to equate the ESPN slur with a hate crime, it stands as an equally abhorrent example of the American sense of
convenient colorblindness.

Asian Americans have a long and involved history within the United States; to trivialize their experiences with a slur like “A Chink in the Armor” is almost more dangerous than outright aggression. Modern racism is increasingly taking this more insidious form, and we need to be ready for it. Racism is alive and well, and ignoring even seemingly minor infractions in political correctness does nothing to hasten its demise.