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Jeremy Lin sees his dreadlocks as cultural appreciation not appropriation

Kenyon Martin didn’t approve of Jeremy Lin’s new hairstyle. That didn’t stop Lin from getting his message across.

Miami Heat v Brooklyn Nets Photo by Abbie Parr/Getty Images

Brooklyn Nets point guard Jeremy Lin is known to change his hairstyle from time to time. On Wednesday, he showed the world his newest style of choice: dreadlocks.

So...about my hair! Link in bio!! @chap #dreaded

A post shared by Jeremy Lin (@jlin7) on

In a piece on The Players’ Tribune titled "So... About My Hair," Lin opened up about his frequent hairstyle changes, how he viewed his decision to lock his hair as honoring African-American culture, and the ways he has seen his Taiwanese culture appropriated in America:

I’ll be honest: At first I didn’t see the connection between my own hair and cultural appropriation. Growing up, I’d only ever picked from one or two hairstyles that were popular among my friends and family at the time. But as an Asian-American, I do know something about cultural appropriation. I know what it feels like when people get my culture wrong. I know how much it bothers me when Hollywood relegates Asian people to token sidekicks, or worse, when it takes Asian stories and tells them without Asian people. I know how it feels when people don’t take the time to understand the people and history behind my culture. I’ve felt how hurtful it is when people reduce us to stereotypes of Bruce Lee or “shrimp fried rice.” It’s easy to brush some of these things off as “jokes,” but eventually they add up. And the full effect of them can make you feel like you’re worth less than others and that your voice matters less than others.

So of course, I never want to do that to another culture.

But that didn’t stop Kenyon Martin from chiming in.

The former Nets great made a series of remarks calling Lin out as someone who merely wants to be black.

First, he posted and later deleted a photo of Lin’s dreads with the caption: “I’m confused, puzzled, in shock, disappointed in his teammates and the Nets as an organization for allowing this foolishness!!!”

Then he followed up with two videos where he continued to bash Lin’s choice to sport dreads. Those videos have since been deleted but were cut together and posted on YouTube:

“Do I need to remind this damn boy his last name Lin?" Martin said in his video "Like, come on, man. Let's stop it with these people. There is no way possible he would've made it on one of our teams with that bulls--t on his head. Come on man, somebody need to tell him, like, 'all right bro, we get it. You wanna be black.' Like, we get it. But your last name is Lin.'

“I see I done ruffled a few of y’all feathers, so... good. Take y’all comments to the bank and see what they give y’all for them. That’s what I think about them, first and foremost. But that man (Lin is) grown. He can rock whatever hairstyle he wanna rock. It don’t mean I have to like it or agree with it. Second of all, I’m grown. I can say whatever I wanna say about whatever I wanna say about. It ain’t about race, it ain’t about none of that. Grow up people, it was a joke. But I don’t like it, I don’t agree with it, so it is what it is. I love it. I’m having a fabulous Wednesday, man. Y’all do the same... Go Cowboys.”

Lin responded to K-Mart with respect for his opinion, his Nets legacy, and, of course, the Chinese characters Martin tattooed on his forearm:

“Hey man. It’s all good you don’t have to like my hair and definitely entitled to your opinion. Actually i legit grateful you sharing it [to be honest]. At the end of the day I appreciate that I have dreads and you have Chinese tattoos [because] I think it’s a sign of respect. And I think as minorities, the more we appreciate each other’s cultures, the more we influence mainstream society. Thanks for everything you did for the Nets and hoops...had your poster on my wall growin up.”

He went more in-depth about his back-and-forth with K-Mart after scoring 16 points in Brooklyn’s preseason win over Miami on Thursday:

“First I’d hope that a lot of Asian fans don’t go on his page and say racist things to him. I think that’s not the right way to go about it and I think in a lot of way to pit us against each other, like, ‘I won versus Kenyon Martin winning.’ I don’t think that’s the right way to go about it. It’s not really about winning or losing. The whole point is that we’re trying to be unified so I feel like even sometimes when people come to me and say, ‘Oh man you embarrassed him.’ It’s like ‘dude that’s not what this is about.’ Right, that’s not the whole point of this discussion is to pit it into two sides to see who wins. The whole point is that we all have to get on the same page. We need to have people stop going on his page and saying racist things. Like, that’s not OK. That’s what I would say, at the end of the day, kind of like what I said in my article. We just need to spend a little more time thinking about what we say, thinking about what it’s like to be somebody else. At the end of the day he said what he said, but im not really that offended. If that’s how he thinks, that how he thinks.

“My job is to be gracious and loving. I think if I can share a little bit of my side, then the next time he might have a different viewpoint. He might have a different viewpoint in a week, but not if my whole fan base comes behind and calling him – I didn’t see it – but I heard people were saying the ‘n’ word on his page. That’s not what I stand for and that’s not helping us move in the direction new want to move in. And I think both sides need to come together. Then I think like I said in my comment, as minorities if we are able to appreciate it – if Asians are able to be passionate about issues that aren’t just related to Asians. If African Americans are able to be passionate about issues that aren’t just related to African Americans, I think we’ll see something big start to happen. I think we’ll be able to influence mainstream society and that’s the ultimate goal. All this pitting me against him – or whatever that creates division I don’t stand for.”

Finally, Lin appeared on SportsCenter late Thursday night, where he spoke to ESPN’s Cary Chow about how people of different backgrounds should come together in America, regardless of which culture is under the eight-ball:

Hey, wait. I have hair, too.

Like Lin, I’ve changed my hair up quite a bit in my life. My mother’s half Filipino and half black, and my father’s of Trinidadian descent. I’ve had a Mohawk, a tape-up, and a No. 2 with waves that made you seasick. I’ve had the Usher cut (AKA “The South of France); I’ve been bald for a week. The list goes on.

Dreadlocks, though, tend to be sported primarily by people of African and West Indian descent. In other words, it’s not every day you see an Asian-American rocking dreads. But that doesn’t mean those people doesn’t exist.

I’ve never locked my hair. It didn’t seem like me, and it’s a long, treacherous process to get them to a good place. So I asked Twitter late Thursday night:

For some, hair is just that: hair. But for others, it’s a symbol of a freedom they may not have been afforded in their life.

I fall somewhere in the middle. I love my hair, and there are certain things I wouldn’t do with it. Locks are one of those things, but not because I’d be appropriating another culture: It just wouldn’t look good on me.

Hair can be a touchy topic, both literally and figuratively. But Lin changing his hair and provoking K-Mart’s comments opened the lines of communication between two cultures in the same country. And given the divisive climate in this country, that’s more progress than we’ve seen in a while.