The society and NBA treated the two events differently, and media theories of ‘race and orientalism’ explains this phenomenon within the context of media conglomerate. The media performance of Leonard video controversy vis-à-vis racial discrimination against Lin reveals two contrasting stories of the way media prefers one to the other. Jew community dominated NBA for the first half of the twentieth century, and benefited from the sports the same way as African-African are utilizing it as a space to get away from the marginalized lifestyle. Media Conglomerates also play a critical role in setting the narratives, and choosing which narrative to emphasize. For example, anti-semantic comments in a video chat can make a big trouble even if the speaker is White American (Leonard) vis-à-vis hate speech that Lin receives being a celebrated start on almost routine basis without a major push from the mainstream media. Although, there exists parallel between Asian minority and Jew minority of United States, and both over represents in demographics of American national population due to their fast growth on the upward success ladder. Media performance of Meyers Leonard and Lin Jeremy are significantly different from each other due to two distinct races attacked, Jews and East-Asians, respectively. Media conglomerates highlighted and effectively managed Leonard’s issue because orientalist media theories emphasize on the euro-centric or western-centric world-view, which limits the point of view of Africa, Middle-East, and Asia merely to the reflection of west.
The sport of choice for youth in a densely populated and urban environment in United States is basketball because, for obvious reasons, basketball court takes less room than other games like soccer or football that require a reasonable field (Wade, 2013). Although, the benefit of games like basketball, that requires less room, is most suited for economically marginalized communities. In the physical sense, it keeps you fit while cheap to play, and all one need is a ball and shoes. Lisa Wade, Doctorate in Sociology, provides aforementioned justification for the population (disadvantaged) that tends to take basketball. History of basketball suggest that the first half of twentieth century is the time when community of Jews represented the game, like African-Americans today. The isolation of Jews families in inner cities, after migrating from other part of the world, resorted to basketball as a way out of the ghetto. Interestingly, young population of marginalized communities make their way to college, especially within the context of burdensome college tuition fee. Stereotypes associated with Jews were different from those that are associated with African-American population today, and Paul Gallico in the 1930s stated, “the game places a premium on an alert, scheming mind, flashly trickiness, artful dodging and general smart aleckness.” Moreover, stereotypes about Jews for having God-given better balance and speed due to short-heights, and being short heighted used to be an advantage in sports.
The large news conglomerates is generally referred to as ‘mainstream media,’ which is grouping of various large mass news media companies with ability of influencing people at mass level. The mainstream media reflects and shapes the societal debates in present moment, along with the ability of shaping debates at future point of time, and is opposite of alternative media that relies on decentralized mechanism of many producers of content. The power of social media is effective in bringing to lime light the discussions of users on network, and it allows mainstream media to provide mass media outreach. However, mass media is not decentralized, and large news conglomerates homogenizes the narratives in mass media. The concentration of media ownership is of concern to global population, and not only to a specific country, and the successive mergers of broadcast media and newspapers in countries around the world results in creation of media bias. The comparison of two racial events in United States with significantly divergent reaction in media emphasizes the fact of conglomerates’ pursuing the fictionalized ‘image of Orient’ approach through utilization of social sciences, literature and arts.
Race & Orientalism in the Media
Necla Mora (2009) emphasizes on the Eurocentric view point in media, which is termed as ‘Orientalism’ by Edward said in the year 1978 in the book with the same title. The way west used mercantilist approach in the nineteenth century to colonize the world, orientalist emphasizes a similar treatment of acquiring knowledge in the post-World War-II world. Orientalism criticizes the process of acquiring information through science and media as reflecting interests of groups, rather than adopting an objective process. Edward Said elaborates on the narrow scope of ‘organized writing,’ and explains Western perception of the East as mysterious place, which is why the phrase, “the marvels of the East,” is used. Moreover, the popular TV Show Game of Thrones also refers to the spatial location of seven kingdom as ‘Westeros,’ and the world where dragons and myths exist, referred to as ‘Estrous.’
The race and orientalism in media is inherited from the knowledge production, coupled with media content production and distribution processes, during period when the west viewed East as ‘the Orient,’ while considered itself as ‘the Occident.’ Precisely, controlling and authorization of views from ‘East’ enabled west to monopolize power and knowledge, and use it at their advantage through misrepresentation and generalization of Middle East, Asia, and North Africa. The nineteenth century is also the time when artists and writers from West travelled ‘East,’ and the political-economic power ensured control and authorization of the views those artists and writers reflect. The stereotypes still exist, and treatment of Meyers Leonard for anti-semantic comments are reflective of the ‘Occident’ narratives; and explains the difference in treatment of Basket Ball player Jeremy Lin, suffering from racial decimation against Asians. The prioritization of ‘anti-Semitism’ and viewing East with ‘Orientalist’ discourses is racial discrimination against the minority Asian population.
Media performance of the Meyers Leonard yield that the criticism from different segment of the society, and punishment from various sports institutes, advertisement, and gaming companies can simply be categorized as harsh (Friedman, 2021; Greer, 2021; Guedes-Reed, 2021; “Meyers Leonard: NBA player deeply sorry for anti-Semitic slur,” 2021). On the contrary, Meres Leonard video controversy relates to using anti-Semitic slur on twitch stream. NBA player Meres Leonard represents Heat, and he used the word ‘kike’ while live-streaming on March 11, 2021, which resulted in criticism from mainstream national and international media. After Meyers Leonard officially apologized, and mentioned that he was not aware of the words’ meaning. Leonard is Heat’s center and suspended from activities and facilities of the club for using anti-Semitic slur. He was playing ‘Call of Duty: Warzone’ on Monday, March 11, which gained news feed in social media the latter day, and promoting backlash online. Online users mentioned NBA and Heat in their respective comments, and raised concerns for the rights of Jews community. Defector’s Patrick Redford noted that the Leonard’s stream reacted to the slur containing messages in the chat room, which resulted in removing some of the messages by moderator of the chat room; however, moderator had to eventually switch the mode to ‘emote-only.’ Leonard was playing game the next day when all this happened, and during the live stream he received a call from his wife, to which he responded with stopping game. As soon as the clip got viral, Leonard started deleting the tweets from archives.
The consequences of using anti-semantic slur for Leonard were at socioeconomic and political levels. For example, Leonard is a vivid gamer, and one of the consequences is multiple gaming companies ending partnership with him; additionally, banning Leonard from streaming on their platforms. A portion of Leonard’s apology on twitter includes, “I am deeply sorry for using an anti-Semitic slur … I didn’t know what the word meant at the time, my ignorance about its history and how offensive it is to the Jewish community is absolutely not an excuse and I was just wrong.” After the end of investigation, NBA imposed 50,000 U.S. dollars fine on Leonard, along with suspension from all the activities and facilities for one week. Additionally, he also need to participate in the cultural diversity program for seeking better understanding of the cultural and racial issues. In a similar way, according to WPLG’s Will Mando, Meyer Leonard met via zoom the next Tuesday with members of Jewish community, and the students from University of Miami Hillel partnered with Jewish community relations council to have an opportunity to participate in the question and answer session. The purpose of the session was to enhance the learning processes of the former Heat center vis-à-vis the antiemetic slurs used. The response from the Jewish community was welcoming after receiving apology of NBA player (Guedes-Reed, 2021), moreover requested him to join for repentance event commonly known as, ‘teshuvah.’
Jeremy Lin also suffered racial decimation against Asians, but unlike Meyers Leonard, attention paid to the discrimination of Asian population is lesser. Basketball player, Jeremy Lin is an American professional basketball player representing Santa Cruz Warriors. Lin became the symbol of inclusive culture in United States generally, and more specifically at NBA, and the cultural phenomenon became known as ‘Linsanity.’ As first American of Chinese or Taiwanese decedent to play at NBA, Lin belongs a group of few Asian Americans to actually participate in the league. After becoming first American-Asian to win NBA Championship in the year 2019 for Toronto Raptors, he is widely known for his Christian faith. During his career, Lin encountered racial slurs against Asian ancestry. Journey of Lin is overwhelmed with incidents of encountering racial slurs against his Asian ancestry, even since the time he was at sixth grade in school. During his time of playing at Harvard, the most open remarks he received were, “Open your eyes, sweet and sour port, and Wonton soup, pseudo-Chinese gibberish, Orchestra is on other side of campus, and Go back to China.”
At one point of time, Harvard teammate Oliver McNally, called him with ethnic slur, ‘chink.’ In February 2012, Jason Whitlock posted on Twitter, “Some lucky lady in NYC is gonna feel a couple inches of pain tonight;” the Fox sports columnist is referring to Lin achievements at Knicks-Lakers game. Asian American Journalist Association demanded for apology from Whitlock, and to which he responded, “I debased a feel-good sports moment. For that, I’m truly sorry.” Unlike Leonard’s incident, Lin responded in defense, “People just aren’t used to seeing Asians do certain things, so it creates a very polarizing effect.” Furthermore, Lin spoke for the rights of Asian-Americans, and stated, “I feel like Asians in general don’t get the respect that we may deserve whether it comes to sports, basketball, or whatever it might be” (Chow, 2019).
Orientalism refers to the scientific study of languages, cultures, people, and religions to the Near East and Far East. The major contributing factor to the mentality of orientalists is development era of eighteenth and nineteenth century, that is, era of industrial capitalism. The difference between the media performance of Meyers Leonard and Jeremy Lin lies in the East-West divide. Jeremy Lin is mostly on the defense of his race, while Meyers Leonard received criticism and punishment for uttering anti-Semantic slur, and he was pressurized to rectify his attitude. This attitude towards Meyers Leonard is due to the Europe-centric, or west centric, attitude of media. For example, the media portrayal of Meyers Leonard represents severe punishment, despite the minority Jews population. However, Lin is American-Taiwanese, and due to discriminatory, isolating, external, and prejudice-filled opinions of “Western European white man on the Eastern people and cultures” (Mora, 2009; p. 419). The comments that Jeremy Lin receive on a regular basis during games, along with other private and public events, indicate the perception of East by the West. Historically speaking, racial divided in American society reflects in the mass media owned by media conglomerates with biases towards people of color.
Opponents of Anti-Semantic slurs and viewpoints rely heavily on creating pressure at mass media, finance, economy, politics, and technological level, while failing to see the potential in collective and unbiased approach towards people of all the races. For example, the Jews population of United States can benefit from the unity with African-American community, and the gains are for both the communities. However, it is hard for people like Jeremy Lin to make it to the top, and even more difficult to stay there despite receiving hate-speech. Meyers Leonard received punishment at every level, and on the contrary Jeremy Lin seems to be alone in the fight for inclusiveness of the society. Orientalism in mass media highlights issues that media conglomerates want to promote, and that is due to the corporate nature of mainstream media, coupled with stakes of multiple stakeholders. Anti-Semitism in the west is unacceptable due to the treatment of Jews during first half of twentieth century, and it presents White’s viewpoint. On the other hand, racism against people of color is beyond the scope of White ruling elite of the world.
Alternative Media: The Case of Meyers Leonard and Jeremy Lin
Digital media as a public space where people from different walk of life, and from around the world can collectively participate for bringing a change of someone’s attitude, or policy of an organization or state. Digital media is a public space, and unlike mainstream media, it has the capacity to transform the lives of people. In the case of Meyers Leonard, a comment (anti sematic slur) created an outrage, while in the case of Jeremy Lin something similar happened, but mainstream media did not take notice. The benefit of alternative media is to facilitate the users in consumption and contribution of information and viewpoints that reflects concerns of one or more community. Alternative media also allows users in analyzing the effects of raising concerns. Alternative media does provide opportunity to collaborate and accelerate the process of reform in various ways, but in order for actions to take place at state level, alternative media lacks traditional pillars of organization (Downing, 2008). Hierarchical structures of organization, coupled with delegated authorities with individuals for promotion of agreed agenda, is lacking in the case of discrimination against Lin, while Leonard video controversy received the due share because it is the exact story mainstream media is always looking for. Downing (2008) argues the role of social media in social movements, and these isolated events of racial discrimination can be viewed within the same lens. However, the difference in attitude towards one community indicate systematic bias at national and international level, especially on part of the media conglomerates.
Jonathan Karp argues that Jew community and East Asian Community has many similarities, despite the fact that they have different cultural norms, values, and history (2019). The term he used for both the minorities is, ‘overrepresented minorities,’ and mostly when it’s about minority population making its way up the ladder then either its Jew or East Asian. Parallels between East Asians and Jews suggest that both the groups remained victims of the societal discrimination, immigration restrictions, and both has received stereotypical notion of ‘model minorities.’ Despite the upward mobility of both the communities, prejudices and stereotypes about both the races are evident in the case studies analyzed in this paper. Lin is the first East Asian to win NBA championship, but remains defensive of all sort of attacks due to his race origin tracing to Taiwan, East Asia. On the other hand, Leonard’s punishment for unknowingly uttering anti-sematic slurs created trouble for him. The analysis of the two case studies of racial discrimination in media reflects two different stories, that is, a story that media conglomerates want to tell, while the other story that they want to take seriously and resolve.
The role of media conglomerates in highlighting, and effectively managing, Leonard’s issue as part of an attempt to create inclusive society is not in the same heated way as Lin. Lin receives racist comments on regular basis, and the most penalty one receives for being racist to an Asian American is in the form an apology stating reason for comments to be nothing more than humorous conversation or remark. Lin is the first American-Asian to win NBA Championship, but the mainstream media treats both incidents differently. Although, social media (alternative media) plays a critical role in facilitating the debates through giving voice to millions of users; nevertheless, they lack the ability of organization which mainstream media fulfills. Mainstream media has conglomerates that operate at global level and reflects orientalist worldview that reflects East in the image of West. Interesting finding of the research is the parallel between Asian and Jew communities in United States, which over represents minority population due to their fast growth pattern for achieving high standard of living over last few generations. Just like African-American community today, Jew community in the first half of twentieth century started playing basketball as an escape from marginalized lifestyle. Narrative building for performing effectively through media conglomerates, and they have to set their respective agendas for focusing on issues that mean most to them, unlike alternative media. Alternative media, on the other hand, provides public space for the audience and general use to share their feedback through online interaction; however, it lacks the ability of organization, which media conglomerates fills effectively.
Chow, C. (2019, February 22). Jeremy Lin: “There’s definitely some bittersweetness to my career.” The Undefeated; The Undefeated. https://theundefeated.com/features/jeremy-lin-on-being-the-only-asian-american-in-the-nba-at-times-it-kind-of-sucks/
Downing, J. (2008). Social movement theories and alternative media: An evaluation and critique. Communication, culture & critique, 1(1), 40-50.
Friedman, G. (2021, April 8). NBA player Meyers Leonard to speak about his anti-Semitism controversy at U of Miami Hillel event. Jewish Telegraphic Agency. https://www.jta.org/quick-reads/nba-player-meyers-leonard-to-speak-about-his-anti-semitism-controversy-at-u-of-miami-hillel-event
Greer, J. (2021, March 11). Meyers Leonard video controversy, explained: Heat center apologizes after using anti-Semitic slur on Twitch stream. Www.sportingnews.com. https://www.sportingnews.com/us/nba/news/meyers-leonard-video-twitch-stream-slur-heat/14mycjpws9mez1oop6yqtcv4cv
Guedes-Reed, C. A. (2021, April 9). Miami’s Jewish community embraces NBA player after apology for anti-Semitic slur. Www.timesofisrael.com. https://www.timesofisrael.com/miamis-jewish-community-embraces-nba-player-after-apology-for-anti-semitic-slur/
Karp, J. (2019). Overrepresented Minorities? Asians and Jews in the Modern US. [online] Cornell University. Available at: https://events.cornell.edu/event/Jonathan-Karp [Accessed 6 May 2021].
Köse, M. and Küçük, M., 2015. Orientalism and Perception of the Other. Journal of Social and Cultural Studies , 1 (1), pp.107-127.
Meyers Leonard: NBA player “deeply sorry” for anti-Semitic slur. (2021, March 10). BBC News. https://www.bbc.com/news/world-us-canada-56346211
Mora, N. (2009). Orientalist discourse in media texts. Journal of Human Sciences, 6(2), 418-428.
Said, E. W., & Jhally, S. (2002). Edward said on orientalism (Vol. 40). Northampton, Massachusetts: Media Education Foundation.
Wade, L. (2013). When Jews Dominated Professional Basketball – Sociological Images. The Society Pages. https://thesocietypages.org/socimages/2013/11/25/when-jews-dominated-professional-basketball/