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The entire scuffle between Jeremy Lin’s dreads and Kenyon Martin’s Chinese tattoo have taken centre stage in the world of social media – particularly within our Asian diaspora social media groups and threads. I am also sure this is a thing in the black community’s social media groups and threads, but being only privy to what is going on in our Asian spaces I can only speak on that. In saying this, I am so glad that Huffington Post has come out with this article calling this scuffle a “false equivalency” which I agree with. I do think having dreads is appropriating black culture, and not just American black culture but also African nations culture as dreads have a place in their history and have symbolic meaning in terms of fighting oppression etc. 

In saying that I agree that Martin’s Chinese tattoo is wrong and insensitive ( as stated in the Huffington Post article) but I do not agree that he is appropriating Chinese culture to the extent that Lin is with the dreads. It is interesting because when a white person has a Chinese tattoo our community stays silent and doesn’t call out the white person, but when it is a black person or another person of colour we will do so. On the other side of the coin I have seen many black American activists calling out white people with dreads as well, so I think a question to ask ourselves is whether we are perpetuating anti blackness? I have read comments in many Asian groups and have also observed how many Asian diaspora members are now getting into the “oppression olympics” talking about why Lin was right and Kenyon’s is wrong and how we Asians have it worse. I think we need to get off this “oppression olympics” and look at how racism affects us ALL, whether we are black or yellow. As POC we should also be more aware when we are appropriating another culture and I guess in this case Lin didn’t make himself aware.

In saying that, since news of Kenyon’s having a Chinese tattoo have come out, he has had to apologise to Lin stating that “his wording was wrong”. I think both Lin and Kenyons are in the wrong, but the equivalency is different. Here is why according to Huffington Post:

Yet there’s a certain reality that belies the accord the two reached: There’s a false equivalency in saying Chinese tattoos on a black man and dreadlocks on a Chinese-American man are the same type of offense.

Borrowing a cultural marker like dreadlocks, which embody both joy and struggle unique to the black community, is not the same as having a Chinese tattoo, a symbol that doesn’t carry the same weight of oppression. Yes, appropriating Chinese culture through a tattoo is exoticizing and insensitive. But the the act of putting on and taking off dreadlocks ― which are related to the systematic economic and social oppression of a racial group ― demonstrates a greater level of disregard.

Lin implied the two were showing equal signs of “respect” for each other’s cultures, and the media and commenters largely took his side.

Although the two ultimately arrived at a place of empathy and understanding, it’s important to note that Martin was unfairly vilified because he had a point when he initially called Lin out for his locs. Neither of their actions ― culturally appropriating tattoos or dreads ― were signs of “respect.”


To Lin’s point, the adoption of Chinese tattoos, tribal tattoos and other similar varieties is problematic. It doesn’t cross a using-someone-else’s-culture-for-personal-gain line in the same way, say, Kylie and Kendall Jenner’s Chinese takeout purse does. But the issue of appropriation boils down to the fact that most Asian people don’t like their culture reduced to an accessory. There’s also the issue of modern-day and historical discrimination against Chinese people, so turning Chinese customs into an accessory can come across as cherry-picking parts of a culture to accept ― rather than embracing an ethnic group as a whole. And ultimately, a practice like making Chinese tattoos a Western trend without an actual connection to the culture can feel exoticizing.

But Lin’s retort to Martin’s criticism was basically saying the tattoos and dreads are uniform in their demonstration of “respect,” and that’s just not accurate. Yes, cultural appropriation of Asian culture is oppressive in that exoticizing a culture can create a depiction of Asians as “others” or perpetual foreigners. But Asian-Americans are not held down by this characterization in the same way black people are for something as fixed as hair ― and the struggle it represents.

Let us know what you think.

Images via Huffington Post

To read the full article, please click on: Jeremy Lin’s Dreads And Kenyon Martin’s Chinese Tattoo Are A False Equivalency 

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