Former NBA star Kenyon Martin made a fool of himself recently after saying that Jeremy Lin “wants to be black” for wearing dreadlocks, somehow forgetting about the Chinese character tattoos on his own arm. Rather than respond with some (well-deserved) mockery, Lin has instead opted to kill Kenyon with kindness, aiming for something higher than victory in a personal feud.
On November 3rd, the Brooklyn Nets guard, who has sported a number of different hairdos (all fabulous) over his seven years in the NBA, penned an article in The Player’s Tribune to explain his latest look. In the thoughtful article, Lin writes how he had wanted to get dreadlocks for years and was encouraged by his teammates to do so, but said that he was worried he’d be “appropriating black culture” if he went through with it.
However, after an African-American Nets staff member told him that he could use the dreadlocks not to be dismissive of another culture, but to learn about it, Lin finally felt comfortable enough to head down to the barber shop with teammate Rondae Hollis-Jefferson.
Afterward, Lin said that he still isn’t honestly sure if he made the right decision, but that he would like to use his dreads to start a wider-conversation among people in America.
This process started out about hair, but it’s turned into something more for me. I’m really grateful to my teammates and friends for being willing to help me talk through such a difficult subject, one that I’m still learning about and working my way through. Over the course of the last few years and all these hairstyles, I’ve learned that there’s a difference between “not caring what other people think” and actually trying to walk around for a while in another person’s shoes. The conversations I had weren’t always very comfortable, and at times I know I didn’t say the right things. But I’m glad I had them — because I know as an Asian-American how rare it is for people to ask me about my heritage beyond a surface level.
Again, I may not have gotten it right with my idea to get dreads. But I hope that this is a start, not an end, to more dialogue about our differences. We need more empathy, more compassion and less judgment. That takes actual work and communication. So let’s start now — please join me.
However, Kenyon Martin, who played for the Nets for four years in the early 2000s helping them to the finals twice, apparently does not appear to have picked up on the message that Lin is trying to convey. A few days later, he made an Instagram post to tell the world how he felt about Lin in dreads:
“Do I need to remind this damn boy that his last name Lin? Like, come on man. Let’s stop it with these people. There’s no way possible he would’ve made it on one of our teams with that bullshit going on on his head. Come on man, somebody need to tell him, like ‘alright bro, we get it. You wanna be black. Like we get it. But your last name is Lin.'”
After receiving criticism for that statement, Martin backed down a bit, posting another video on Instagram in which he said: “That man grown. That man can rock whatever hairstyle he want to rock. That don’t mean I have to like it or agree with it. Ain’t about race. Ain’t about none of that. Grow up people. It was a joke. But I don’t like it. I don’t agree with it.”
Following these two statements, Lin could have responded in a variety of ways to shut Martin down. Of course, he chose the classiest one possible:
Hey man, it’s all good. You definitely don’t have to like my hair and definitely entitled to your opinion. Actually I legit grateful you sharin it tbh. At the end of the day, I appreciate that I have dreads and you have Chinese tattoos bc I think its a sign of respect. And I think as minorities, the more that we appreciate each other’s cultures, the more we influence mainstream society. Thanks for everything you did for the Nets and hoops… had your poster up on my wall growin up.
Indeed, Martin does actually have a Chinese tattoo on his arm reading “患得患失,” which he believes to mean “never satisfied” but actually means “indecisive.”
Unfortunately, many of Lin’s fans have not shown the same level of class to Martin, flooding his Instagram posts with comments calling him a racist and others using racial slurs against him. Martin has since deleted his posts pertaining to Lin.
Yet again, Lin has responded to the controversy with the grace and intelligence you’d expect from a Harvard graduate, saying that the whole thing isn’t about winning or losing, but about coming together to make a difference. Watch his comments below:
— Dan Serafin (@DanSerafin) October 6, 2017
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