Jonathan Zimmerman: In Jeremy Lin, A Stereotype That Should be Celebrated
Jonathan Zimmerman, a professor of history and education at New York University, is the author of “Small Wonder: The Little Red Schoolhouse in History and Memory.”
I’m an Ivy League graduate and a crazed basketball fan. That gives me two very good reasons to celebrate the meteoric rise of Jeremy Lin, the Harvard-educated point guard who has brought the New York Knicks back to life.
But I’m also a university professor. So I’m troubled by the much-heard refrain that Lin — whose parents are Taiwanese immigrants — has “overcome the Asian stereotype.” In the popular mind, this story goes, Asian Americans are quiet, studious and really good at math. By scoring 20 or more points in each of his first six NBA starts, including 38 against Kobe Bryant and the Los Angeles Lakers, Lin supposedly dealt a decisive blow against an insidious ethnic caricature.
But isn’t that stereotype — especially the part about studying hard — a very good model to follow? Why should anyone want or need to “overcome” it?
Here’s one sad answer: In our college admissions process, especially, we punish Asian Americans who hew too closely to the stereotype. Rather than rewarding students for their individual effort and achievement, we effectively penalize them for doing so well as a group....
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