“Knick”names and Jeremy Lin- Problematic or Terms of Endearment?
I’m conducting a study of discussion of Jeremy Lin, a New York Knicks basketball player, during Linsanity on RealGM’s NY Knicks Basketball forum and came across this post by Moose on Mon Feb 06, 2012 9:48 am.
“Just to be clear…I’m pretty sure Lin has accepted the fact that he is Asian. As long as the nicknames aren’t mean-spirited, I don’t think he would get offended by giving him a nickname that represents his culture.
If you are Asian, and someone nicknames you dragon and that offends you, I’d like to know why…perhaps you have some personal beef against dragons.
Its not a bad thing for people to be different, and if others are being playful, and not hurtful in acknowledging those differences, then I think that’s better than the alternative, and a step in the right direction.
Some people may find it unsettling, but no one is attacking anyone here. I just felt like posting this before we have 12 pages on why everything is racist.”
The post is thought-provoking and reflects that the previous several posts had begun a debate of what nicknames are appropriate in general.
The Pork Fried Point Guard
The Last Dragon
are a few that were discussed. And most of these were confronted with accusations of stereotyping and racism. Knicks 80_20 commented, “Do we have to use stereotypes? Really?” and another poster moocow007 explained, “Its like me saying that maybe we should give Shumpert a nickname of Sweet Chitlins or Manly Hamhocks.”
So which is it? Are these nicknames stereotypes and, so, problematic or as Kidknick commented “in poor taste”? Or are these legitimate “Knick”names suggested by Lin’s adoring fans? In this blog I offer standards by which to determine the answer to this and similar questions.
THE DEFINITION STANDARD: Are these “Knick”names stereotypical at all? Stereotypes are most commonly defined as a characteristic associated with a group. From this bare bones definition Noodles, Master Lin, The Pork Fried Point Guard, and The Last Dragon could be considered stereotypes because they imply that all those who are Chinese eat noodles and pork fried rice, are intelligent, and know karate (or like dragons if taken literally). By the definition standard I would have to say yes, these reflect stereotypes.
THE NEGATIVITY STANDARD: Even with these as stereotypes, should this warrant their no longer being considered as “Knick”names? Not necessarily. Why? Because that would impose negativity on an otherwise neutral stereotype. Sure, it is not a great idea to attribute a behavior to a group of people and then label one of the people from that group with a stereotype. However, this particular stereotype is being used as a “Knick”name by fans whose intent is to show devotion and admiration. After all, we use nicknames for our dearest friends and closest family members. Even a nickname like “Feet” that invokes sensory awareness of bad odors can be used, as is the case with a friend of the family, as a bonding tool to show someone they are welcome and amongst friends and family. People used the nickname “Feet” so often that I didn’t even know Feet’s real name for a couple of years. Are these “Knick”names used with a negative intent? By this standard I would have to argue, no.
THE CONTEXT STANDARD: We all communicate stereotypes casually with friends and family as well as strangers and acquaintances. When we do so, context matters in order to understand the meaning of the stereotype. Most people would argue that a friend saying “you know how women are” followed by some insult as you are trying to get over a break up with your girlfriend is a lot different than a coworker uttering the same sentence after interviewing potential (female) candidates for a vacancy with the company. So by the context standard I would have to argue that the context made it clear that they were not being racist. Indeed, Master Lin even sounds decidedly flattering and respectful.
The three standards just discussed can extend beyond the comments on the Knicks forum. Indeed, these standards should be applicable across stereotypical comments if they are to be useful to help determine the extent to which a communicated stereotype should be viewed as problematic. Well, let’s see if these standards generalize and in doing so let’s introduce a fourth and final* standard by which to make such a judgment.
Let’s look at the example that got caused a commotion in the media when an ESPN headline and an anchor each used the phrase “Chink in the Armor.”
THE DEFINITION STANDARD: This statement is not stereotypical. Instead, it is an ethnophaulism (fancy word for ethnic slur– impress your friends!!). Even though this comment does not pass the definition standard, an ethnic slur might be problematic still. Consider the N word, the Q word, the C word, the S word, and so forth.
THE NEGATIVITY STANDARD: Although the tone of the headline is negative, the negativity is not inherent in the word Chink. Instead, it stems from the full phrase. This full phrase is also what creates the humor because whoever is causing the chink in the armor is not doing well AND also happens to be Chinese. The Chink part is merely a double entendre intended to reflect that Lin is Chinese. In general ethnophaulisms are considered negative. However, even the N word and the Q word can be used positively despite being two of the most objectionable ethnophaulisms that exist. As a result, I don’t think the use of the word Chink in the headline is intended to be negative.
THE CONTEXT STANDARD: In the context of the headline, was the meaning in context racist or otherwise prejudicial? I would argue no or at least that it is unclear from the headline. The persons who spoke/wrote the story- and who were later suspended/ fired for doing so could be said to be racist. However, it would be a leap to make such a claim based entirely on what some would argue is a clever headline.
Now here is where things get tricky. Introducing…
THE CONSEQUENCE STANDARD: What are the consequences for communicating this way? By using the phrase “Chink in the Armor” I would argue the media single handedly reminded the culture that Chink exists as a word, demonstrated through legitimate power that saying it was an appropriate thing to do, and, especially thanks to the added negative media attention caused by the suspension and firing, made it cool to say. In this way, by the consequence standard, the headline is problematic. If you read the fine print (stated here) of the consequence standard, then you know that this standard trumps all of the other standards against which such comments can be measured.
So let’s use the consequence standard to revisit the “Knick”names for Jeremy Lin posted on the forum:
The Pork Fried Point Guard
The Last Dragon
Can what was said about the consequence standard related to the headline Chink in the Armor be said to apply to these “Knick”names? Consider that by saying these, it suggests- at least prior to the backlash they earned- that they are legitimate ways to refer to a person and that doing so is an appropriate thing to do. Moreover, because these were embedded in what ultimately is a humorous discussion, they make “Knick”names cool to say. Can you imagine how many people during Linsanity repeated these to others outside of the forum? And it’s not likely that in each of these cases there were people in the conversation willing to backlash against these “Knick”names.
The verdict from The Communicated Stereotype is ultimately that these “knick”names are terms of endearment because of the first three standards. But with the addition of the fourth standard, these terms can be viewed as problematic too because they ultimately, albeit it inadvertently, promote stereotypes.
* TCS reserves the rights to add, change, or delete standards.