Veteran director Spike Lee has never shied away from racial discourse, whether he's publicly arguing with Clint Eastwood over WWII history or taking Hollywood to task for not financing black films at the Sundance premiere of his recent Red Hook Summer. Some label these instances as tirades rather than discussion, but Lee's unabashed look at race and racism in films such as Bamboozled, Jungle Fever, and the seminal Do the Right Thing have offered necessary critique in increasingly self-proclaimed "colorblind," "postracial" America.
Do the Right Thing revealed, profoundly if briefly, an Asian American presence in urban race relations: Korean immigrant storeowners in a tense, multiethnic Brooklyn neighborhood, whom Lee acknowledged as straddling precariously between America's rigid (and inadequate) Black/white racial dichotomy. Though Lee has been criticized in his later career for omitting Asian Americans from his historically based films -- notably, a Yuri Kochiyama-free Malcolm X and the absence of Vietnamese Americans in the post-Katrina New Orleans documentary, When the Levees Broke -- the director has recently taken to a public platform to remark on Asian American history in the making.
The man loves him some Jeremy Lin.
Lee, a rabid New York Knicks fan who once had a legendary feud with Indiana Pacer Reggie Miller in defense of his beloved home team, is one of many invigorated by Lin's impressive Knicks debut and the media bonanza it has created. As expected (sadly), racist and racialized comments about Lin and his recent success have surfaced, such as sportswriter Jason Whitlock's tweet which reinforced the insipid and insidious "small Asian penis" stereotype and Floyd Mayweather, Jr.'s speculation that the Lin hype has more to do with the novelty of his being Asian while his demonstrated skills are comparable to Black players who do not receive as much praise.
While Lin fans brace themselves for what is probably just the beginning of a deluge of similar comments, they can perhaps to turn to @SpikeLee for a bit of comfort and inspiration. Lee took to his public Twitter account to ask fans to help him create new nicknames playing on Lin's surname, and responding to almost everyone, whether with approval, indifference, or complete dismissal. Lee criticized racist, Orientalized nickname suggestions and his tweets imply that he had a quite a few racist offerings to wade through:
[Note: This was enthusiastically retweeted by the author, who follows @SpikeLee on Twitter]
That last tweet just says it all, doesn't it?
Whether he knows it or not -- or even if he intended his Twitter rally to be nothing more than social media banter -- Spike has planted his feet a little more firmly into Asian America. And I for one, appreciate it. Lace up, Mr. Lee. You're on the team.