I’ll get to the ridiculous AAJA “media coverage guidelines” on basketball star Jeremy Lin in a moment.
First, some background. I’ve been poking fun of the “Asian American Journalists Association” for more than a decade. The idea of color-coded journalism steeped in identity politics has always grated on my nerves. But no one does a better job of parodying AAJA than AAJA itself. As I reported after a 1999 “Unity of Color” journalist confab co-sponsored by AAJA:
Ignore the smoke screen platitudes about “valuing differences.” Unity demands unanimity. If you don’t accept the left-leaning agenda of advocacy journalism, you’re enabling racism. If you don’t support the pursuit of racial hiring goals as a primary journalistic goal, you’re selling out. If you don’t buy the idea that a first-generation Filipina should feel ethnic solidarity with a fourth-generation Japanese-American simply because they share the same hair and eye color, you’re denying your “identity.”
This pressure to bow and scrape before the false god of skin-deep diversity was overwhelming at two typical workshops I attended.
“Tracking Hatred” was a session on hate crimes and the media. The moderator, reporter Gary Fields of USA Today, gained national attention in 1996 with an extensive series on the purported epidemic of racist church-burnings in the South. After printing a year’s worth of Fields’ fear-inducing pieces claiming an increase in black-church burnings and blaming “a climate of racial hostility,” USA Today debunked the hate-crime conspiracy theory.
So did the president’s National Church Arson Task Force, the New Yorker, the Associated Press, and investigative reporter Mike Fumento, who noted the irony that “no media outlet in the country had done more than USA Today to build the myth in the first place.” Yet, no one at Unity ’99 questioned Fields’ authority.
The session was more of a late-night college gripefest than a professional forum on providing accurate news coverage. One panelist, Brian Levin, railed about critics on the “extreme right” who question the legitimacy of federal hate-crimes legislation. Reporters nodded approvingly. Levin, an activist academic whom Fields frequently quotes, glossed over the constitutional perils of punishing people for their personal biases or political beliefs. Instead of a coherent discussion on case law, participants shared dubious anecdotes.
When one news reporter complained that her editors wouldn’t let her write a story about an alleged hate crime against a personal friend, the panel expressed collective empathy without asking for any of the facts or noting the obvious conflict of interest. The session climaxed with an emotional appeal from Karen Narasaki, an Asian-American activist whose organization peddles an annual hate-crimes audit – which the panelists unanimously praised and distributed to the audience.
The second workshop was titled “How to Arrive, Thrive, and Survive as an Editorial Writer or Columnist.” I served on a panel with writers who were black, Hispanic and Native American. I was not there because the organizers had actually read my work before inviting me. I was there because my brown face – not my dissenting opinions – counted first.
My fellow panelists won hearty applause for ridiculing reverse discrimination and dissing U.S. Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas. Calmly and civilly, I argued against ethnic pigeonholing and expressed my opposition to racial preferences. No cheers here.
…Treating minority journalists as trinkets to be tallied and displayed does not enhance diversity. It fosters cynicism. A newsroom that looks like America is worthless if it doesn’t reflect the diverse and discordant beliefs of its readers. Journalism doesn’t need more like-minded foot soldiers who march in political unity. It needs straight shooters who think fearlessly for themselves.
AAJA has made quite a business for itself mau-mau-ing everyone else to avoid ethnic and racial group-think, while it enforces that same very orthodoxy among its predominantly left-wing, Obama-worshiping membership. “Asian America” is itself a phony ethnic construct tying vastly different generations of immigrants, immigrant children, and grandchildren from across Asia and the Pacific Islands.
Now, the group is milking NBA sensation Jeremy Lin for all he’s worth. After pressuring ESPN to discipline two sports guys who used the phrase “chink in the armor,” the AAJA sensitivity police squad is back with a “handbook to covering Asian America.”
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). Discussion of genetic differences in athletic ability among races should be avoided. In referring to Lin’s height or vision, be mindful of the context and avoid invoking stereotypes about Asians.
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. Lin’s experiences were fundamentally different than people who immigrated to play in the NBA. Lin progressed through the ranks of American basketball from high school to college to the NBA, and to characterize him as a foreigner is both inaccurate and insulting.
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. Rex Walters, who is of Japanese descent, was a first-round draft pick by the New Jersey Nets out of the University of Kansas in 1993 and played seven seasons in the NBA; Walters is now the coach at University of San Francisco. Wat Misaka is believed to have been the first Asian American to play professional basketball in the United States. Misaka, who’s of Japanese descent, appeared in three games for the New York Knicks in the 1947-48 season when the Knicks were part of the Basketball Association of America, which merged with the NBA after the 1948-49 season.
“CHINK”: Pejorative; do not use in a context involving an Asian person on someone who is Asian American. Extreme care is needed if using the well-trod phrase “chink in the armor”; be mindful that the context does not involve Asia, Asians or Asian Americans. (The appearance of this phrase with regard to Lin led AAJA MediaWatch to issue statement to ESPN, which subsequently disciplined its employees.)
DRIVING: This is part of the sport of basketball, but resist the temptation to refer to an “Asian who knows how to drive.”
Both of the ESPN employees that AAJA targeted say they had no intention of offending. One of them is married to a woman of Asian descent. But even as it admonishes others to “be mindful” of “context,” AAJA chooses to ignore the context and intent of the supposed RAAAAAAACISM it decries.
Have there been truly tasteless jokes made about Lin?
But I contend that the p.c. overreaction and opportunism have been even more vulgar. Jeremy Lin is no victim and he doesn’t need the AAJA herd or anyone else to shield him.
If the Asian American Journalists Association has anyone to blame for the collective impulse to lump people together by race and ethnicity, look no further than the ideological agenda of AAJA itself.
I daresay its sanctimonious selective enforcement of sensitivity standards is the fatal chink in AAJA’s armor.