Jeremy Lin (Sam Yeh AFP/Getty Images)

In an open letter to young African Americans, Miami Herald columnist Leonard Pitts Jr. says that the most important takeaway from the Knicks' phenomenon Jeremy Lin should be that he refused to be defined by others because he knew that he was capable of things they'd never expect. He encourages African American youths to do the same.

… There is a word for expecting things from people based on the racial, religious, gender or cultural box you have put them into. The word is “stereotyping,” a form of mental laziness in which people believe they can know who and what you are simply by seeing you.


You should know all about that. After all, the stereotypes about you are manifold. You are supposedly given to innate criminality, promiscuity, rhythm, athleticism and, more to the point of this column, stupidity, i.e., the inability to conquer chemistry, master math or otherwise do well in school.

As troubling as it is to know other people believe such things about you, it is infinitely more troubling to know you too often believe such things about yourself. It is difficult to escape that impression when one hears you using the Ku Klux Klan’s favorite racial epithet. Or defining yourselves as thugs. Or suggesting that speaking English is “acting white.” Indeed, one is reminded of the axiom that if you repeat a lie long enough, people will accept it as truth — even the people being lied about.

It takes a prodigious strength of mind and sense of self to resist that. How many times do you suppose Jeremy Lin had people tell him there was no way a Chinese guy could compete in a game dominated by African Americans? Yet there he is, ballin’ at the highest level.

Read Leonard Pitts Jr.'s entire column at the Miami Herald.