First, imagine something with me. What would it have been like to be part of the Civil Rights Movement in America? To see the Washington Monument towering above, and hear the chants of the hundreds of thousands of citizens and leaders — African American or not, Christian or not — gathering together?
What would it have been like to be on the outside, to look on with interest, wondering whether to participate or not?
And what is it like, for those looking back on it now, wishing they had done more than just observe? For those who could have been part of something bigger than themselves?
Let me say first that I’m definitely not comparing the recent craze over Jeremy Lin to the Civil Rights Movement in terms of any of its underlying causes, like systemic racism, or the oppression and suffering of African Americans (which I could never pretend to truly understand). I’m not drawing comparisons about any political aspect of fighting the government for equality and rights. Jeremy Lin is a basketball player, and an entertainer — not a politician or a national leader.
But I do think it’s helpful to look to the Civil Rights Movement as another example of the empowerment and united voice of one people, that can arise in a moment in history. I do think we can draw inspiration from it.
I’ve been thinking about this lately, because I’ve been wondering: Are we underestimating the significance of this moment in history for Asian Americans, and possibly Asian American Christians?
After all, something is going on here, that is much bigger than Jeremy Lin. Let me try to explain.
Over the past couple of weeks, the Internet has exploded with news, articles, blogs, music, and everything you can imagine about “Linsanity.” For those on Facebook, the top of their newsfeed has been dominated every day with topics such as “Jeremy Lin,” “New York Knicks,” and “Asian American.” Some have found that annoying, while others can’t get enough of it. Regardless, this topic has been in peoples’ faces, and it’s something you can’t ignore, but have to contend with — like it or not.
That is power. One fascinating thing about the Internet and social media, is that it has given people a voice, who have not historically had a voice in the matters of our times. Whether you live in a position of great societal power and privilege, or on the margins of society, you can make your perspective and voice known.
And Asian Americans are doing just that. They’re writing, singing, and bringing attention to not only Jeremy Lin, but so many issues related to him, like any movement of artists should do. They’re sharing all of these works of creation with their friends. In short, they’re not letting people overlook the significance of this moment. And I love it.
I love that Asian Americans, and Asian American Christians as well, are being empowered to speak up. I love that people are passionately debating and disagreeing about these matters.
I love it because in a way, this moment is more about the response to Jeremy Lin, than it is about the guy or basketball player himself.
Here’s another question. When Wat Misaka played for the New York Knicks in 1947, what was the response of the Japanese American, or Asian American community? What about when Bruce Lee made headway as a pioneer in American cinema in the 1970s? Does anyone know or remember?
The truth is, Asian Americans were not positioned in those times to be able to mobilize, to make their voice known to the larger communities and media, or to force others to contend with who they were. There’s been a sadness behind that void, that’s been expressed by many in our community and broader culture. Who are we? What do we stand for? Is our historical silence and passivity because we’ve been oppressed, or because we don’t know the answer to these questions ourselves?
But consider what’s been happening online, in a world where power dynamics can be equalized, or turned upside down, by the will and demand of the people. People are mobilizing in a different kind of way. Asian Americans are using their voice in powerful ways, as they have been online for a while now. Leaders and artists are emerging in the public eye.
This is a significant moment for us.
Over the past year, I’ve had a number of conversations with Asian American Christian leaders, some of whom are contributors to Next Gener.Asian Church, and we’ve discussed our lack of ethnic or national identity. We’ve looked with admiration to the Civil Rights Movement, at the collective passion behind nonviolent sit-ins in theaters and restaurants. At those who stood side-by-side, backs to the wall, in the face of fire hoses and attack dogs.
At the same time, we suspected that any “movement of the people” would probably look different for Asian Americans. Maybe it wouldn’t be as overt and visible. Maybe it would take place in different venues, where we can be part of the same voice, though geographically separated.
Let me emphasize again: I’m not saying this moment is equal in significance to what the Civil Rights Movement meant to our African American brothers and sisters. Their moment will forever be unique, and part of their national identity. They endured suffering that no other race could possibly understand. But I think there are lessons and inspirations we can draw from that event.
After all, Asian American history (and our understanding of issues) is still relatively young and immature, and there’s much for us to learn and grow. There are far more leaders who will emerge in future generations, as the Asian American population continues to grow at high rates. This moment could just be the beginning of greater things to come. But that gives me hope, in what lies ahead!
In closing, let’s think back on the March on Washington in 1963. It began at the Washington Monument, and ended at the Lincoln Memorial. Did you know that the march failed to start on time, because its leaders were meeting with members of Congress? Did you know that much to the leaders’ surprise, the assembled group of 250,000 began to march without them?
They weren’t waiting for anybody. They knew they were a force to be reckoned with.
Jeremy Lin is a person, but he is also a symbol and figure of so many things, which is part of why he’s generating such interest and discussion. But instead of putting all our expectations and hopes on who he is, and what he does or doesn’t do, shouldn’t this be a time for us to be empowered to lead wherever we might be, as he’s doing in his setting? Whether we’re writing, speaking up on social media, or whatever the case may be, those are our opportunities. And so let’s keep doing that!
The march ended at the Lincoln Memorial, where there was a program of music and speakers. When I think of that, all the articles and songs that we’ve created in the past couple of weeks come to mind. Here are collections of articles and media that DJ Chuang and Angry Asian Man put together.
So what about you? If you’ve heard of other articles, songs, or other pieces that you or others (especially, but not only by, Asian Americans) have written or created, but aren’t here… list the links in the comments so we can read and learn! You can be part of what’s going on.
When Jeremy Lin scored his 38 points against Kobe Bryant and the Los Angeles Lakers last Friday, delivering his most impressive performance on the biggest stage of his life, Angry Asian Man blogger tweeted, “Did tonight really happen? Or did we all just have the same amazing dream?”
Those two lines captured so much of what many of us feel. Every game for a while, we’d hold our breath and wonder, “Will Jeremy Lin prove himself to be a one-time fluke? Isn’t he just one bad game away from going back to the Knicks’ bench?” Part of us can’t believe this is happening, and deep inside we fear that we’ll all wake up and it’ll be over… not just for him, but for us.
At some point, the hype will be over, and the media will move on. The social media news feeds will be quiet and focused on other subjects. When that happens, what will have arisen out of this all? What will we have taken from this? I hope it’s more than just basketball and a few video highlights. Hopefully it’ll be a body of work, of our communal voice, that will be forever recorded in the history books of our time. Hopefully it’ll be something that will inspire others, and that we can build upon for future generations of leaders and artists.
Who knows how significant this moment will be, when we look back? History and time will be the judge of that. But when all is said and done, whenever our moment comes along, I hope we will be able to say that we as a people were ready for it… and we let it move us forward in ways we couldn’t have expected or envisioned. That seems to be the way God would work.