Different Racisms: On Jeremy Lin and Singular Models

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About Matthew Salesses

Matthew Salesses was adopted from Korea at age two and lives in Boston with his wife, baby, and cats. He has written for The New York Times Motherlode blog, NPR, Hyphen, The Rumpus, and other venues. His new book is I'm Not Saying, I'm Just Saying. See more at his eponymous website. Contact him via email or @salesses.


  1. Great essay…! It is horrible growing up with a dearth of children’s books that come anywhere near what one’s own situation is….For me, Judy Blume and “Harriet the Spy” probably came the closest…but, yes, what an earth-shattering experience when I discovered (much much later) Maxine Hong Kingston’s “China Men”…the most recent gem is Jean Kwok’s “Girl in Translation” (this strikes closest to home)…..

    • Thanks, Leia. How did Judy Blume and Harriet affect you? I read a lot of books about kids who were “different,” but weren’t different like I was different. A Wrinkle in Time, for instance (which I love).

      • My friends and I devoured Judy Blume books for the funny, down-to-earth dialogue and the forbidden descriptions of puberty and budding adolescent sexuality… The characters seemed so fully fleshed out and so real… It was like peeking into someone’s secret diary…when we got older, we used to read “Forever” and “Wifey” together out loud in the back of the summer camp school bus….and die laughing over our “in jokes” about “Ralph” and “F#⃣#⃣k me, warm sunshine..!”…..I remember being shocked when I saw the real Judy Blume in person at Barnes & Noble when “Summer Sisters” came out… She was so petite and mousy- haired and friendly- looking….I always imagined to look like a severe and frigid replica of Jackie O.!

        “Harriet the Spy” was one of the first hard cover books I received for my birthday… I treasured that book, too…. It validated a child’s thoughts that were very carefully catalogued in her journal that she carried everywhere…. Even when her secret journal is stolen and read by the people she thought she trusted, she still maintains her independent train of thought and resists efforts to conform….Harriet was also a tomboy, dressed in jeans, glasses, and hooded sweatshirt, which was really important when you are surrounded by frilly girly girls….

        Somehow “Little House on the Prairie” and “Nancy Drew” did not quite do it for me….

  2. Michelle J. Kwan says:

    Your daughter is extremely lucky to have a father who thinks about her future in this way. I want this to give you hope knowing that many Asian-North Americans share the same feelings and sentiments that you have. I do not watch mainstream television because I am aware of the lack of representation of people who look like me. I no longer work in the fashion industry as a model because I am aware that the amount of fashion work booked by ‘oriental faces’ is far less than others with obvious European features.

    My partner (also Asian) although has experienced racism growing up, does not often question the lack of representation in media or treatment of individuals with our phenotype as much as I do. He tells me that I’m over sensitive when I point out my frustrations with media representation. As a young adult who strives to be a professional woman in media, I see how my odds of booking screen time are staked far less when competing with ‘dominant’ faces.

    As poignant and real I find your posts, I do see the sliver lining. I think of individuals like Jeremy Lin as inspiration for young Asian-American children. Yes, he has experienced tremendous struggle as a talent in a sport with little representation of Asian descent. Every pioneer experiences the joys, struggle and of course – pain of being the first to step forward and break the ice. Perhaps I am more idealistic than you, but I find your posts empowering to individuals who can relate to your stories. Let’s keep the conversation going. Storytelling is powerful, and the more we keep sharing them, the more awareness and possibilities for challenging/changing stereotypes will come from this kind of education. Hopefully this will lead to further empowerment of Asian-Americans struggling with identity to share their stories as well.

  3. Wonderful article. So much of what I read to my children and what we see on tv is distressing because of the way we are absent. There may be people who look like us, but they are minor or stock characters, not reflecting the immense diversity within non-white races. They are not like anyone we know, but appear time and time again, in book after book, show after show. Eventually we conclude that this entertainment has nothing to do with us. And are later saddened to realise that if we met these characters, the heroes of this work, they probably wouldn’t like us.

  4. Alice Zindagi says:

    I love it.

    My dating history tells me that I’ll most likely end up married to an Asian man some day, and it does make me wonder. How will my future children view themselves? Will they attach to their white parentage because it’s an easier life? Or will they raise a middle finger to the racists and proudly embrace their Asian heritage? Will they even go so far as to deny their white heritage? I know many half-Asian people who do this.

    But more importantly, I wonder what kind of nasty racism they’ll have to face:


    I won’t even pretend to know what it’s like to live as an Asian, but I’ve seen the hurt and the pain. Racism exists. It’s horribly rampant for Asian children in this country. I don’t want my future children to be one of the half who are targeted by racial bullying. I don’t want any Asian child to go through that. Maybe it’s a pipe dream, but I hope that by the time I have children we’ve cultivated a better environment for Asian-American identity.

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