Again, Mayweather is both right and wrong. True, it is Lin's unusual background that makes him a minority within his field and thus warrants unusual recognition beyond his resonance in the Asian community. But that fact is not due to Lin being Asian per se. Were Lin a native Amazonian or from the North Pole, his unusual profile might likewise be a force multiplier to what he could earn from his undeniable skill and his contribution to his team's sudden success. The career of Tiger Woods is similar in that both his talent and his unusual background ensured the sort of recognition that other gifted golfers could only dream of.
In that regard, I am sure in the last 50 years that there have been all sorts of Harvard Law Review editors who had far more articles published during their tenure than did Barack Obama. Yet few were well known outside of Harvard and had secured book deals before graduating -- given that it was apparently deemed far more unusual for an African-American with a Kenyan-sounding name to serve as editor. (And one might argue further that Lin's actual performance, at least so far, better warrants his extraordinary publicity than did Obama's so-so record as a Harvard Law Review editor.)
In other words, what is not the norm always garners undue attention, sometimes warranted by actual performance, sometimes not. This is a fact that transcends race.
There are a few final politically correct paradoxes on display here. We are conditioned to think that diversity and race-based proportionality are mandatory goals in American government, the public workplace and the highly prized professions. If so, why not in the most high-profile and most highly compensated jobs in our society, such as those in professional basketball and football, where African-Americans are represented at rates seven to eight times greater than their percentage of the general population?
Mayweather has no problem with the fact that African-Americans are vastly over-represented (if such an objectionable term means in comparison to relative percentages of the general population) in high-profile, merit-based sports -- especially boxing, basketball and football. Indeed, he seems to wrongly denigrate Lin as a sort of affirmative-action player whose identity trumps his talent in earning him a stature otherwise impossible without race-based considerations. But that is precisely the line of argument, fairly or not, that others have made against affirmative action in general. In other words, how can one be for racial diversity considerations in the police or fire department, but not in the NBA or NFL?
Yet, in a mixed-up America, we still like to think that achievement eventually trumps identity politics. Whether it's Tiger Woods, Barack Obama or Jeremy Lin, their accolades will depend mostly on how well they perform.
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